Wrong Person Deported after Officials Mistake Identity in New Bedford, MA

Special thanks to Fred Harwood at the South Coast Today for bringing this story to our attention. It appears that officials have deported the wrong man to Guatemala in their raid on the community of New Bedford, MA a few months ago. This is just one more drum beat in the consistent call for an end to these raids and better oversight and review mechanisms within ICE... pass the drum, share the story.  (For more comprehensive coverage of the New Bedford raids from South Coast Today go HERE)

In case of mistaken identity, government deports wrong Bianco detainee By Aaron Nicodemus Standard-Times staff writer May 02, 2007 6:00 AM

Federal immigration authorities have admitted they deported one of the illegal immigrants from the Michael Bianco raid back to Guatemala by mistake — and against the orders of a federal judge.

In a case of mistaken identity, officials from the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have notified U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns that they deported the wrong J.S. Castro back to Guatemala.

The problem was Mr. Castro was supposed to be protected against deportation by an order from Judge Stearns, after attorneys laid out a case that Mr. Castro and 53 other Bianco detainees being held in Texas signed removal orders or waived their rights under duress, or without their full knowledge.

ICE had meant to deport another J.S. Castro, a Bianco detainee also from Guatemala, who is still detained in El Paso. That Mr. Castro was not protected by the judge's order. Federal authorities notified Judge Stearns that they are trying to find the Mr. Castro they deported to Guatemala and bring him back to El Paso, where he would presumably be incarcerated while ICE officials sorted out their mistake.

When contacted for comment on Tuesday, ICE spokeswoman Paula Grenier forwarded calls to an ICE spokeswoman in El Paso, who did not return a call for comment.

The Rev. Marc Fallon of Catholic Social Services in New Bedford said he knew the Mr. Castro who was deported. Mr. Castro lived in a South End apartment, he said, with seven other Guatemalans who all worked at the Michael Bianco factory. He was a member of a Catholic charismatic group called Nuevo Amancer, Spanish for "New Dawn." The group of approximately 80 people met once a week to sing religious and traditional songs along with guitar and electronic keyboard accompaniment in a former restaurant in the North End.

Mr. Castro and some of his friends also created a fund to support a tiny stone chapel in Aldea Xabaj, their home village located in the town of San Andres Sajcbaja in the Kiche region of Guatemala.

"They were up here earning money, and they just wanted to do the right thing for their church," the Rev. Fallon said. He said an attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services spoke with Mr. Castro this weekend and that he had found his family in Guatemala.

"I'm shocked and horrified, but I'm not surprised," he said of the mistaken deportation. "This is what happens when an agency operates unto itself and without outside scrutiny. I know of another case several years ago where they deported the mother of a family by mistake, leaving the husband and child behind."

Other immigration advocates were similarly outraged.

"This is the latest in a long line of errors that have gone on in this case from the get-go," said Corinn Williams, executive director of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts. "This is another example of ICE run amok. There's a Hurricane Katrina level of incompetence surrounding this case."

Ondine G. Sniffin, an attorney with Catholic Social Services, said the mistake is evidence that the government is treating the detainees callously.

"These people are not human beings to them, they are just numbers," she said of ICE. "I'm not surprised it happened; I'm just surprised they admitted it."

She said the government has treated the illegal immigrants on the same level as terrorists or hardened criminals.

"There is just no consideration for these people as human beings," she said.

Ali Noorani, executive director for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition in Boston, said the mistake is evidence that the immigration system is "overwhelmed."

"Rather than detaining and deporting people who are working, they should be trying to fix the system," he said. "When mistakes happen, lives are ruined."

Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@s-t.com


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