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‘A Nightmare That Has Stayed with Me’: ICE Detained and Nearly Deported California Man Even Though He Is a U.S. Citizen

A U.S. Citizen was detained and almost deported because immigration officers refused to believe he belonged in the country, according to a lawsuit obtained by Atlanta Black Star.

Brian Bukle, 62, born in the British Virgin Islands, was automatically naturalized through his parents in the 1960s when he was nine, but in June 2020, while he thought he would be going home from prison to reunite with his son in time for Father’s Day, he was told that Immigration and Customs Enforcement “wanted” him out of the country.

“I came this close to being deported and losing everything, a nightmare that has stayed with me to this day,” Bukle said.

Brian Buckle Almost Deported
Brian Buckle, 62, was almost deported to the British Virgin Islands in June 2020, despite being a U.S. citizen. (Photo: Apollo Victoria/Survival Media Agency)

Civil advocates believe Bukle was subjected to the treatment because of his race. The U.S. government settled a wrongful arrest lawsuit with Bukle on Dec. 5 for $150,000. Data shows ICE disproportionately selects Black immigrants for deportation.

According to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Black immigrants are more likely to be targeted for deportation and come in contact with ICE than immigrants of other races. While 7 percent of noncitizens in the U.S. are Black, they account for 20 percent of those facing deportation triggered by the criminal justice system, the organization that advocates against anti-Black racism in the immigration process said.

Bukle was incarcerated in 2018 for two years for assault and possession of a firearm. While in custody, he told California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation staff that he was a U.S. citizen on numerous occasions, and it was noted in their files. However, prison staff still labeled Bukle as a “potential ICE hold.”

Yet, both of the man’s parents were naturalized in March 1968, while he was a minor and already a permanent resident of the country, which under federal law automatically made him a citizen for over 50 years when he was set to be released on June 16, 2020.

The lawsuit alleges Bukle’s twin brother had been issued a certificate of citizenship, which is required to obtain a U.S. passport, and the travel document had been renewed several times. His brother also received his certificate in the 1980s, and so did his sister in 2006. In addition, all of the applications identified Bukle’s parents as the route to his siblings’ citizenship. The documents also confirmed that their naturalization started the same day Bukle’s mother and father completed the American citizenship process.

Still, the immigration officer who sent the request to the prison to detain Bukle for 48 hours after he would have been released for transfer to an ICE detention center said he had probable cause to do so based on “biometric confirmation of [Mr. Bukle’s] identity and a records check of federal databases . . .” the lawsuit says.

Bukle maintained that he was a U.S. citizen and repeatedly asked prison staff to remove the immigration hold. But instead of being picked up by his family on June 16, 2020, Bukle was picked up by ICE the next day.

“You’re not a citizen. You’re a foreigner,” one prison guard reportedly told the man.

Two security guards employed by G4S Secure Solutions Inc. went to the prison and arrested Bukle before transporting him to the ICE sub-field office in Bakersfield, California. However, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and the law firm Sidley Austin LLP, which filed the lawsuit on the man’s behalf, claim the security guards had no authority to arrest Bukle even though they were outsourced by ICE. The practice also was banned during the summer in another lawsuit settlement.

Bukle also told ICE officers at the field office that he was a U.S. citizen through his parents’ naturalization. However, the lawsuit says “Deportation Officer R. Cruz” checked the database and found only evidence of his father’s U.S. citizenship status, not his mother’s.

He told Bukle, “We’re going to send you back.”

Bukle then asked the immigration officer to speak to his brother to confirm his status, but Cruz refused. The older man spent 36 days in an ICE detention center before a lawyer intervened on his behalf, and he was released.

The ACLU said the attorney pushed ICE “to admit what the documents in its possession had shown all along.”

If Bukle were to be expelled to the British Virgin Islands, he would’ve been separated from his family and living in a country he only knew as a toddler.

“ICE and CDCR didn’t care about me or my life,” he said.

Bukle is just one of several potential U.S. citizens arrested, detained, or deported by ICE in the past few years, the civil rights groups allege.

Kevin Silva, a Black Latino man, was deported to the Dominican Republic after ICE officers refused to reverse his detainment order because of the Guyer Rule.

The outdated policy prevented U.S. citizen fathers from passing citizenship to children born out of wedlock. It stopped him from automatically becoming a citizen at 11 years old when his father was naturalized.

The South Poverty Learn Center, one of the organizations that launched a legal challenge to Silva’s deportation, said the policy also disproportionately impacts Black immigrants and was implemented to limit the number of “people of color” who entered the country.

Congress partially overrode the Guyer Rule by passing the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which allows “foreign-born, biological, and adopted children of U.S. citizens to acquire U.S. citizenship if they satisfy certain requirements before age 18.” Still, Silva, who is in his mid-40s, was already an adult at the time.

“The ripping away of the families and lives of people who came to the U.S. as children simply because their parents were unmarried is an antiquated and immoral act of which all of us should be deeply ashamed,” said Bacardi Jackson, interim deputy legal director for the SPLC’s Children’s Rights Practice Group in an August statement. “Such a cruel and unjust punishment for the crime of being born outside of European norms is all the more despicable for its uneven effect on Black and brown families.”

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