American Citizen Faced Deportation

Despite ID and birth certificate, Chicago man detained for three days

By Alex Perez and BJ Lutz
|  Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 1:45 PM CDT
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Despite ID and birth certificate, <a title=Chicago man detained for three days." />

Despite ID and birth certificate, Chicago man detained for three days.

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A Chicago man who spent the weekend in jail and faced deportation on suspicion he is in the country illegally said what happened to him illustrates the need for America to change the way it deals with immigration.

Eduardo Caraballo said his self-described nightmare began last week when he was arrested in connection with a stolen car case. He maintains his innocence and says the car case is still being investigated, but says the real problems began when his mother posted his bail Friday.

Instead of being released, he was told by authorities that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was detaining him because he was an illegal immigrant.

"That's crazy. Because I was born in Puerto Rico. I never knew that Puerto Rico wasn't part of the United States," the 32-year-old said Monday.

Caraballo said he repeatedly told officers that he was born in Puerto Rico and therefore an American citizen.  His mother also presented his birth certificate, but despite that and his state-issued ID, officials told him he was facing deportation.

"I'm pretty sure they know that Puerto Ricans are citizens, but just because of the way I look -- I have Mexican features -- they pretty much assumed that my papers were fake," he said. "They were making me feel like I can't voice my opinion or I can't even speak for myself to let them know that I am a citizen."

He says officers asked him specific questions about the Caribbean island that he could not answer, mostly because he moved to the mainland when he was 8 months old and has only been back to Puerto Rico once since birth.

Almost three days later, and after his mother contacted Rep. Luis Gutierrez's office, immigration officials released Caraballo at about 2 p.m. Monday.

And now, Gutierrez, who's fighting for national immigration reform, wants answers.

"You know what this proves to you? That in Arizona, they want everybody to be able to prove they're legally in the country. They want everybody to prove that they're an American citizen. Here we had an American citizen, that the federal government, not state authorities, but the federal government, with all their technology and all their information capacity that they have, could not determine, for more than three days, his status as an American citizen. It's very, very, very dangerous ground to tread," the Chicago Democrat said.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office declined to answer specific questions about Caraballo's case, but in a statement released Monday afternoon said that he was released once his citizenship was confirmed.

Caraballo said he is considering legal action and hopes his story is a lesson.

"Immigrations should analyze the way they judge people. They can't just judge people by their color or their features, by the way they look, they should actually investigate thoroughly, and they should do that before they put the hold on somebody," he said.

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