Revealed: How US immigration officers use dubious identity papers to deport people

Revealed: How US immigration officers use dubious identity papers to deport people

Sharing is caring!Facebook0Twitter0Google+0Pinterest0In March 2013, Patrice Talbot was taken out of York County Prison in southern Pennsylvania and to...

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In March 2013, Patrice Talbot was taken out of York County Prison in southern Pennsylvania and told he was being deported. Officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, later showed Talbot thetemporary one-way passport, known as a laissez-passer, they said they had secured for him from Cameroonian officials. ICE was required to produce a travel document in order to send him back to his native country of Cameroon, which he said he’d fled in 2002 after enduring arrests and brutal beatings by police. Talbot had been living without papers in Philadelphia after being denied political asylum in the United States almost nine years earlier. He says he was afraid to return home.

Yet nothing about the Cameroonian passport seemed right. The photograph was so dark and grainy he hardly recognized himself. The single sheet was not printed on embassy letterhead. And instead of bearing the signature of the ambassador, the passport was signed by someone he had never heard of — Charles Greene, of Houston, Texas. Talbot expressed his concerns to the ICE officer assigned to his case, Mistyann Schram. When Talbot was charged in August 2013 with resisting deportation, a federal judge stated in a ruling that she also doubted the document’s validity. By then, others had raised questions about the role of Greene, a Methodist minister who served in a voluntary capacity with the Cameroonian ministry, in deportations. According to documents reviewed by Al Jazeera America, Greene had issued a Cameroonian passport in the spring of 2013 to someone who was not even a citizen of that country.

Talbot spent almost two years fighting his deportation from the York detention center. But despite the red flags surrounding the passport, he was sent back to Cameroon in January 2015 on a charter flight with the document in hand.

Talbot’s story is not the only one of its kind. In a report released today, “Smuggled into Exile,” the New York-based advocacy group Families for Freedom raises concerns about other cases in which ICE officials deported people based on falsified identity documents. The group identified at least four individuals who were removed from the United States from 2012 to 2015 with travel papers of dubious validity or without any papers at all. It says the actual number may be much higher.

Abraham Paulos, executive director of Families for Freedom and the report’s editor, says this practice is not the only example of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, bending international norms and its own rules in order to expedite deportations. Meanwhile, the consequences for people who are removed without valid laissez-passers or other paperwork can be significant. People who arrive in their country of origin without proper identity documents may have difficulty working or accessing local services and can even be subject to arrest.

“To us, the travel document is much more than a piece of paper,” Paulos said. “It is the weight that hangs in the balance of our freedom or imprisonment.”

In an email, Sarah Maxwell, ICE’s Philadelphia-based spokeswoman, denied that the agency knowingly deports people without valid papers. “Consistent with every removal effected by the agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does its due diligence in working with the receiving country’s designated representative, who is responsible for verifying the citizenship of the deportee and issuing the requisite travel documents,” she wrote. Greene has also defended the accuracy of the passports he issued.

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