Mark Lyttle expected to return home after serving a few months in prison for inappropriately touching a woman's backside.
Instead, he says, the U.S. government deported him to Mexico, Mexican officials deported him to Honduras, and Honduras deported him to Guatemala – even though he is a North Carolina-born U.S. citizen who speaks no Spanish.
U.S. immigration officials confirmed this week that they wrongly deported Lyttle, 31, who his family says is mentally ill and suffers from mild retardation, in December after finding him in a North Carolina prison. He and his lawyer say he spent four months bouncing among Latin American prisons and homeless shelters before ending up this month at a U.S. embassy in Guatemala, where officials confirmed his citizenship.
Lyttle returned to his family on Friday, but only after immigration officials at the Atlanta airport tried to deport him again. He said that, throughout the process, federal agents repeatedly ignored his assurances that he was a U.S. citizen and native of Rowan County, about 125 miles southwest of the Triangle.
"I said, 'All I know is the United States.' I said, 'I was born here in Rowan County,'" said Lyttle, who is now staying with his brother in Kentucky. "They just totally ignored it."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said that before they deported Lyttle, he gave them two sworn statements in which he said he was a Mexican named Jose Thomas. But ICE officials also said Lyttle made other, conflicting sworn statements in which he used his true name and claimed U.S. citizenship.
Agency spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez declined to release copies of the statements.
"It's never the U.S. government's intention to detain an American citizen," Gonzalez said Wednesday. "But clearly in this case, Mr. Lyttle stated that he was a national of Mexico."
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