Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A 'complicated, convoluted' case of mistaken identity and deportation

The border turnstile leading into Tijuana, May 2008
The border turnstile leading into Tijuana, May 2008
Photo by Tricia Wang 王圣捷/Flickr (Creative Commons)

As far as wrongful deportations go, there have been some complicated cases lately. Last month there was that of Jakadrien Turner, the non-Colombian, non-Latina U.S. citizen teenager from Texas who was sent to Colombia after she provided authorities with a fake name. Now in Los Angeles there's the case of Ramiro Fonseca Pardo, a longtime legal U.S. resident who was sent to Mexico via Tijuana after being mistaken for someone else with the same name.

"It's one of the more complicated, convoluted cases anyone has ever seen," said spokeswoman Virginia Kice of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency had planned to appeal an immigration court judge's decision to terminate Fonseca's case last week, but today announced it would not, letting the matter rest.

According to his attorney, Fonseca, 64, had been a legal U.S. resident for almost 40 years when immigration officials came to his home in August of 2009, informing him that he had an outstanding removal order and that he'd been accused of drug smuggling.

"He kept insisting he was not the person they were referring to," said Fonseca's attorney, Jessica Dominguez. But in a matter of hours, she said, Fonseca was sent across the border anyway.

As it turns out, Fonseca had the same name as a person accused of drug smuggling years ago and ordered deported, the individual who was apparently being sought. How the wires became crossed is unclear, but Dominguez that said her client might have unwittingly become a victim of identity theft after losing his wallet, with his legal permanent resident card in it, back in the 1980s.

After he was sent last summer to Tijuana, where Fonseca said he had to sleep on a stranger's floor, more complications ensued. Out of desperation, Dominguez said, Fonseca paid $25 for a fake green card, which he used to try to regain entry to the United States.

What it did get him, eventually, was the ear of border authorities who looked up his information and discovered there had been an error. He was allowed to return to the U.S., but now there was another problem: He had attempted to enter the country illegally with a false document.

After much wrangling in immigration court, a judge last Friday in Los Angeles terminated deportation proceedings against Fonseca, but ICE officials reserved the right to appeal and review the decision. Dominguez and immigrant advocates held a press conference this morning; the agency has since announced it will drop the case. From an ICE statement:

The immigration judge terminated Mr. Fonseca’s case based upon a motion filed by his legal representatives.  After careful deliberation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has decided not to appeal the judge’s decision.

Civil rights groups have complained that federal immigration enforcement programs have been mistakenly landing a growing number of U.S. citizens and others in the custody of immigration authorities by mistake; in recent years, so have legal challenges brought against the government for wrongful deportation, with plaintiffs complaining of a lack of due process.