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28530: Hermantin(News)A U.S. citizen no more, Haitian to be deported (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Thu, Jun. 29, 2006

A U.S. citizen no more, Haitian to be deported
A Haitian-born man is being held at Krome awaiting deportation, the first known case in recent times of a naturalized American losing citizenship after being convicted of a crime.

Lionel Jean-Baptiste is back where he started when he first arrived as a refugee 26 years ago: Krome.

Haitian-born Jean-Baptiste is being held at the West Miami-Dade detention facility for foreign nationals after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers picked him up June 14 -- nearly a year after the Supreme Court refused to hear his case.

Jean-Baptiste, 58, made immigration-law history as the first naturalized American in recent times stripped of his citizenship after being convicted of a crime. The case marked a departure from typical denaturalization practice in which immigration authorities revoke citizenship upon learning that an applicant lied about his past -- generally trying to conceal a criminal record when applying for citizenship.

But in Jean-Baptiste's case, he had no criminal record when he obtained citizenship. His arrest, trial and conviction over drug-trafficking charges all took place after he became a citizen.

Jean-Baptiste challenged ICE's efforts to revoke his citizenship, but lost when a federal appeals court ruled early last year that the mere commission of a crime is enough to revoke citizenship -- even if the person was not charged or convicted when he swore allegiance to the United States.

''Thorough investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the presentation of solid fact-based evidence led to the denaturalization of Mr. Jean-Baptiste,'' said Riah Ramlogan, chief counsel for ICE in Miami.

``ICE, as mandated by law, is now seeking Mr. Jean-Baptiste's removal based on his aggravated felony convictions for conspiracy to traffic cocaine. We are committed to protecting our law-abiding citizens by securing the removal of criminal aliens from the United States.''

Jean-Baptiste's crime occurred in March 1995, more than a year before he became an American and long before he was charged, arrested and convicted -- the usual triggers for a foreign national to be targeted for deportation. An undercover officer said Jean-Baptiste helped arrange two crack cocaine sales near his small Little Haiti restaurant. He denied the charges, saying the officer simply asked him where she could buy drugs, and he pointed across the street.

When Jean-Baptiste obtained citizenship in April 1996, his lawyer has said, he was not aware of the investigation against him. He was indicted and arrested in October 1996, six months after his naturalization. He was convicted in January 1997 and served seven years in prison.


It wasn't until five years after his conviction, in 2002, that immigration authorities learned of the case -- possibly from a prison system official -- and began citizenship revocation proceedings.

Jean-Baptiste then challenged authorities in federal court and took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court -- and lost.

Some immigration experts believe the case will make it easier for immigration authorities to revoke the citizenship of naturalized U.S. citizens.

''The horrible effect of this decision is to create a substantial amount of uncertainty for anyone who is a naturalized citizen,'' said Miami immigration lawyer Ira Kurzban, considered a national authority on immigration law.


But other experts disagree. They believe cases such as Jean-Baptiste's will be the exception. They say the case will set a precedent only for naturalized citizens who fit the same set of circumstances: convicted of a crime that occurred while awaiting citizenship.

''I would still think this is a tiny fraction of naturalized citizens who would later be found to have committed a criminal act, before their naturalization,'' said David Martin, a University of Virginia law professor who served as the immigration service's general counsel during the Clinton administration.

Jean-Baptiste's attorney, André Pierre, said his client plans to fight deportation -- all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

''He's not discouraged,'' Pierre said. ``He believes the government put him in Krome to pressure him into agreeing to deportation, but he is not giving up. He's going to fight. He feels he was given an opportunity to live in a new country when he was first at Krome and he sees this is as a new day to regain freedom.''

Jean-Baptiste is scheduled to appear at Krome immigration court July 11. An appeals court in early January 2005 agreed with ICE's position that Jean-Baptiste did not deserve citizenship.

To qualify for citizenship, ICE maintains, Jean-Baptiste was required to remain ''a person of good moral character'' but he failed to do so -- regardless of whether he knew about the investigation.

Pierre's contention is that his client was of good moral character -- at all times. As evidence, Pierre cited Jean-Baptiste's plea of not guilty after his arrest, and his decision to stand trial.

Jean-Baptiste's American odyssey began when he joined dozens of other Haitians on a crowded boat bound for Miami in 1980.


The boat capsized in rough waters between Cuba and Florida and some of the refugees drowned, Jean-Baptiste has said. He said he was among survivors brought to Miami.

He was detained for weeks, initially facing deportation. But within a few months of arrival, by September 1980, Jean-Baptiste was released and two years later was approved for permanent residence.

He bought a restaurant and a house, and brought his wife Raymonde and three Haitian-born children. Two more were born here.

Now Jean-Baptiste is at Krome, once again facing the same uncertain fate.