Jacqueline Stevens, a professor of political science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., examined the records of people locked in immigration detention facilities in southern Arizona between 2006 and 2008. She found 82 U.S. citizens wrongly held as immigrants convicted of crimes, with the largest group young men of Mexican descent convicted of marijuana possession.
Her paper, "U.S. Government Unlawfully Detaining and Deporting U.S. Citizens as Aliens," was published in the Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law. She estimates 4,000 of the current 400,000 immigration detainees are citizens.
Stevens found some egregious cases. One man who was born in Lawrence, Mass., was deported to the Dominican Republic when he was 19 and finally proved his citizenship a decade later. Another man, Mario Guerrero, the son of a U.S. citizen, was wrongly deported and then charged with falsely claiming to be a citizen when he returned to the United States, spending seven years locked up.
"Some of these U.S. citizens found the Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody so physically and emotionally debilitating that they capitulated to ICE officers who pressured them to sign statements falsely conceding their lack of U.S. citizenship," Stevens said. "They preferred deportation to ICE confinement."