He is a minor who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with his mother — one of tens of thousands who have traveled illegally from Central America in recent months.
And like so many others, the 11-year-old boy and his mother were held in a detention center in Artesia, New Mexico for more than a month. But what was different here is that the boy is a U.S. citizen, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Since the child’s father is a U.S. citizen, immigration law considers him a U.S. citizen as, well even though he was born abroad, the Times said.
It wasn’t until an immigration lawyer who was visiting the detention center learned of the child’s situation, and that he was legally a U.S. citizen, that the fact emerged that he should not have been treated as a violator of immigration law.
"I don't think they asked him the right questions," the Times quoted the boy's attorney, Stephen Manning, as saying. "He should never have been there."
A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman declined to discuss the case, citing confidentiality, but said it was “a complex matter.”
The Times added: “She did say that if an immigration detainee claims U.S. citizenship, the person could be released from custody while Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials investigate. Ultimately, an immigration judge decides whether a person is eligible to remain in the United States.”
The oversight of the boy’s U.S. citizenship touches on one of the key concerns that supporters for the children have about plans to expedite the processing of their cases, including speeding up their appearance before an immigration judge.
"I think the fact that a U.S. citizen was detained and for this long before anyone actually realized that there was even the possibility that they had detained a U.S. citizen shows you just how little respect and attention is being given to people's cases," said Laura Lichter, former president of American Immigration Lawyers Assn. "What this shows you is that there really is no due process here and that the system is only working in a way to deport people from the country. It is not working to protect people's claims."
Manning noted that when federal officials learned about the boy’s citizenship, they released him and his mother quickly. It is not clear if she qualifies for any kind of legal avenue for staying in the United States.
The Times said that Manning did not want to give any details about the child that might identify him, such as the country from which he came and the state to which he was traveling to reunite with relatives.
The newspaper reported that some 63,000 single parents – most of them mothers – with children have been arrested at the border, many in Texas. Many unaccompanied children also have been arrested in the influx of people who have come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in the last year.
They are said to have fled an unlivable Central America, where poverty and gang violence have soared over the years.
There have been rumors, too, about how people who travel illegally to the United States and turn themselves in to the Border Patrol can get some sort of immigration relief.
People on all sides of the immigration debate have called on the Obama administration do take action on the border crisis, though the different sides have called for widely varying steps to be taken.
Those who favor a hard line on immigration want the immigrants to be returned as quickly as possible, while those who want more leniency say speed would deny many of them due process.