A federal judge in Georgia issued an order dismissing the case this week after lawyers for Mark Lyttle and the federal government filed a joint motion saying they’d reached a settlement. Lyttle will receive $175,000 for the suffering he endured, said the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit on his behalf.
“What happened to Mark Lyttle is outrageous and unconstitutional,” said ACLU lawyer Judy Rabinovitz. “People with mental disabilities are entitled to due process in immigration court, and it is fundamentally unfair, as well as inhumane, to force them to endure such proceedings alone, without the assistance of a lawyer.”
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman did not immediately have a comment Friday afternoon.
Lyttle, who was born in North Carolina, was serving prison time there for a misdemeanor offense in 2008 when prison officials say he gave Mexico as his place of birth, drawing the attention of immigration agents. His lawyers acknowledged he eventually signed papers allowing his deportation, but argued he didn’t understand what he was doing because he was mentally disabled and was manipulated by immigration agents.
Lyttle was then flown to Texas and “forced to disembark and sent off on foot into Mexico, still wearing the prison-issued jumpsuit,” the lawsuit said.
Shortly after, he was turned away at a U.S. border crossing in Texas and spent the next 115 days wandering Central America. He was arrested and imprisoned in Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua because he couldn’t prove his identity or citizenship, the lawsuit said.
Prison officials told his family he’d been released but didn’t say he’d been handed over to immigration agents, his brother said when the suit was filed.
Lyttle finally made it to the U.S. embassy in Guatemala, where an employee tracked down his family. They sent copies of his adoption records, and a passport was issued. His family wired Lyttle money for a plane ticket.
On April 22, 2009, Lyttle landed in Atlanta, where he was detained by agents who tried to quickly deport him again, the suit said. A lawyer hired by his family found him in detention and got him released.
The Department of Homeland Security filed a motion on April 28, 2009 to terminate deportation proceedings, stating that he was, in fact, a U.S. citizen.