Francisco Diaz Jr. is a U.S. citizen; he should not have been deported to Mexicali, Baja California; and he should be allowed to return to his family in Las Vegas. Those are the claims of his family and Las Vegas immigration attorney Rex Velasquez, according to a recent story in the Las Vegas Sun.
Diaz was originally deported in 1999 by an immigration judge. That judge cited his status as a registered permanent resident with multiple felony convictions as the reason for his deportation. The ruling came as a shock. Diaz, who was 25 at the time, had believed his entire life that he was a citizen.
He was born two months premature to his teenage mother, Adela Espana, in 1973 in Mexico. The girl, then 14 years old, was a U.S. citizen and was traveling to Mexico to see family.
According to U.S. law, a child born out of wedlock to a legal citizen acquires the mother’s citizenship at birth. When the young family returned to the U.S., Espana and Francisco Diaz Sr. declared their desire for the child to be a U.S. citizen. The elder Diaz was not a citizen, and they were informed by Immigration and Naturalization Services (now split into Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) that the child and the father should instead apply for permanent residency. The couple took the advice, and that decision has led to nothing but heartbreak for Espana ever since.
By age 16, Junior, as he is known to his family, began getting in trouble with the law. It was while he was in prison for cocaine possession in 1998 that he learned there may be a problem with his citizenship. By 1999, he had been deported. Since that time, he has been deported twice more, been in and out of prison, and been charged with defying deportation, a felony.
Public defenders have repeatedly tried to argue that had his mother not been directed to apply for a green card and officials had recognized Junior’s citizenship, deportation would never be a consequence for his criminal misdeeds.
Junior, who was recently severely beaten in Mexicali, now sits in a wheelchair and has said he is resigned to life south of the U.S. border.
“I met guys in prison who spent $40,000 on their immigration cases and they still lost,” he said.
His mother still hopes he can come back to Las Vegas and wires him $300 a month for living expenses and to help him mount a case for return.
Velasquez is helping with that case and has agreed to work on it pro bono.
“A case like this is one of those things that gets my adrenaline pumping, because everyone else has missed it, and I can’t believe that,” he said. “It’s just a shame, because it never should’ve happened in the first place.”
Junior is not the first U.S. citizen to be erroneously deported. In 2008, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about Pedro Guzman, a mentally handicapped U.S. citizen who was wrongly deported but allowed to return to be with his family. And in 2012, the ACLU announced that the U.S. government settled a case out of court with Mark Lyttle, another citizen who had undergone a similar experience.
Diaz applied for a passport at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana last week with the help of Velasquez. If the passport is granted, it would signal the State Department’s acknowledgement of his citizenship and a possible fresh start.