How US immigration officers use dubious identity papers to deport people

Patrice Talbot was taken out of York County Prison in southern Pennsylvania and told he was being deported. Immigration officers with ICE agency later showed Mr. Talbot the temporary one-way passport, known as a laissez-passer, they said they had secured for him from Cameroonian officials. ICE was required to produce a travel document in order to send him back to his native country Cameroon, which he mentioned he fled in 2002 after enduring arrests and brutal beatings by police. Talbot had been living without papers in Philadelphia after being denied political asylum in the United States almost nine years earlier. He was afraid to return home.

To Talbot, nothing about this passport seemed right. The photograph was so dark and grainy he hardly recognized himself. The single sheet was not printed on embassy letterhead. Instead of bearing the signature of the ambassador, the passport was signed by someone he had never heard of – Charles Greene of Houston, Texas. Talbot informed his ICE officer about his concern. When Talbot was charged in August of 2013 with resisting deportation, a federal judge stated in a ruling that she also doubted the document’s validity. By then, others had raised questions about the role of Charles Greene, a Methodist minister who served in a voluntary capacity with the Cameroonian ministry, in deportations.

Talbot’s story is not the only one of its kind. In a report released, “Smuggled into Exile,” the New York-based advocacy group Families for Freedom raises concerns about other cases in which ICE officials deported people based on falsified identity documents. The group identified at least four individuals who were removed from the United States from 2012 to 2015 with travel papers of dubious validity or without any papers at all. It says the actual number may be much higher. People who arrive in their country of origin without proper identity documents may have difficulty working or accessing local services and can even be subject to arrest.