The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.– Sigmund Freud
December 18, 2008, South Texas. US immigration officers remove handcuffs and shackles from José Thomas and order him to cross into the border city of Reynosa, Mexico, effectively deporting this unauthorized immigrant back to his native homeland.
The ordeal culminating in José's deportation had begun much earlier in August of that same year, when he was arrested for a misdemeanor and sentenced to one hundred days at Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Not unlike other state and local law enforcement agencies, North Carolina's prison system had agreed to cooperate with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by identifying inmates who were suspected of being undocumented immigrants. José appeared to fit this bill. Besides his name, many other personal details seemed consistent with the charge that he was in the United States illegally. He was brown skinned; born in Mexico; and, perhaps most revealingly, used the alias “Mark D. Lyttle.”
It was therefore hardly a surprise when, on December 9, 2008, Judge William A. Cassidy sentenced José and twenty-nine other alleged illegal immigrants to deportation. The real surprise, however, came after José's expulsion from the United States. Details soon emerged that the man who had been deported to Mexico in late 2008 was not really José, but Mark – as in Mark D. Lyttle. Mr. Lyttle, it turns out, had been born in Rowan County, North Carolina thirty-one years earlier. At the age of seven, he had been adopted by Thomas and Jeanne Lyttle. Diagnosed as bipolar, Mark had spent many years in and out of psychiatric institutions, group homes, and jails. Clearly, immigration authorities had made a grave error. Misjudged as foreign-born, Spanish-speaking, and Mexican, Mark Lyttle was anything but – he was native-born, spoke only English, and had lived in the United States his entire life.
So how is an American citizen mistakenly deported? Through a series of unspoken assumptions, it seems. At every point of contact between Mark Lyttle and law enforcement agencies, relevant authorities clung to the notion that this mentally disabled man was an immigrant. For example, Mr. Lyttle's brown complexion automatically raised the suspicions of the intake clerk at Neuse prison who, after probing Mark for further information, decided that his name was an alias for José: an undocumented Latino immigrant.