BROWNSVILLE — A man who was found to be a U.S. citizen by a federal judge in Brownsville this week was detained by Border Patrol in Donna until his attorney sued the federal government demanding that the agency recognize the judge’s ruling, according to court records.
J.G.F.M., a pseudonym, was born in Mexico. His father was a Mexican citizen and his mother was a U.S. citizen by birth, according to the writ of habeas corpus petition filed by attorney Jaime Diez on Tuesday.
A federal criminal complaint filed against J.G.F.M. last year stated the man was arrested by Border Patrol agents June 22. According to the complaint, he was previously ordered removed from the United States on March 27, 2019.
“The defendant was convicted of Possession of Marijuana on Jan. 23, 1998,” the document stated, detailing that a records check conducted by Border Patrol agents indicated the man had not applied for permission to re-enter the country.
However, according to the petition filed by Diez, J.G.F.M. is actually a United States citizen through his biological mother. The man became a legal permanent resident in 1988, according to the document.
His legal troubles stemmed from two criminal convictions. The same year he became a permanent resident, J.G.F.M. was convicted for possession of marijuana and sentenced to five years in prison; and in 1998 for delivery of heroin and sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to the document.
The convictions resulted in J.G.F.M.’s placement in removal proceedings. He was ordered removed in September 1998, and upon his re-arrest in June 2019, was served with a notice of intent to reinstate a prior order of removal, entered by authorities on Nov. 19, 2001.
Diez filed a petition for review of the final order of removal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in July, which was granted and transferred to the U.S. District Court in Brownsville. Early this month, a bench trial was held before U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera, Jr. that resulted in the court determining J.G.F.M. is a U.S. citizen.
In response, Diez notified the U.S. attorney handling his client’s illegal re-entry case of the court’s decision. The U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) filed a motion to dismiss the charge, but the judge did not formally sign the order until the next day, Diez said in a phone call on Friday.
The attorney then notified the family. Shortly thereafter, Diez said he received a call from the family saying that J.G.F.M. would be released from the Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville, and that they were told to pick him up, the attorney explained.
Trouble began when J.G.F.M.’s brother arrived at the facility and was told that the man would not be released and that Border Patrol was going to pick him up, according to the lawsuit. “Nobody from Border Patrol would actually check. We told them. His brother had a copy of an order from this judge finding him to be a citizen,” said Diez.
The petition filed by Diez on Tuesday stated that “respondent has on numerous occasions told Border Patrol that his brother has a copy of the order signed by the district judge finding him to be a U.S. Citizen. However, he has been told that the paperwork they have orders them to remove him.”
Diez said Friday the agency refused to review the documents or speak with him because he did not have a G-28 form — notifying the government that he’s representing the client in immigration proceedings — on file with the agency.
“In the morning I had to file a habeas saying, ‘Well, you have a citizen detained, you will not answer to anyone, and you’re about to deport him.’”
Diez said one of his primary concerns was that Border Patrol would deport his client to Mexico with no way to communicate unless someone allowed him to borrow a phone.
“What if he were killed because he’s there and he has no papers, no documents, and no money?” he asked.
The attorney said he located J.G.F.M. with the help of the USAO, which he notified immediately after filing the lawsuit. The man was released the same day into a Whataburger parking lot. “They still kept him for a whole night and pretty much 12 hours, terrorizing him, because they did not believe what he was telling them,” he said.
According to Diez, his client was first transferred to detention in Brownsville, then to Harlingen, and then finally to a temporary detention facility in Donna where tents are set up to house detainees for no longer than 72 hours. Upon his release Tuesday afternoon, J.G.F.M. was allegedly not told where he was going and thought he was being deported to Mexico.
Diez said the agency never apologized to his client following the ordeal.
“They never told him, ‘By the way, we have determined that we actually made a mistake in your case because it’s unusual.’ There are no consequences for what they do,” he said, adding, “It’s illegal to detain a U.S. citizen, especially when a judge tells you that person is a citizen.”
The attorney argued that in a reasonable scenario, agents would have asked J.G.F.M. for his attorney’s name and communicated directly with counsel, making the prolonged detention unnecessary.
“They terrorized him mentally — for last the several months he was detained. Now, his life has changed forever with this thing.”
On Friday, Diez confirmed that J.G.F.M. was back with family, and that the man’s children were excited to have him home.