Once again, the News & Observer has jumped to the defense of the state by laying all of the blame for the unbelievable odyssey of United States citizen Mark Lyttle on the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Mr. Lyttle, who suffers from mental illness and who is mildly retarded, was serving a sentence of several months at the Neuse Correctional Institution in Wayne County. According to state officials, Mr. Lyttle allegedly told state prison officials that he was born in Mexico. And based on that statement alone, according to Department of Corrections (DOC) spokesman Keith Acree, the prison was required to report Mr. Lyttle to the ICE. The ICE subsequently flew Mr. Lyttle to Reynosa, Mexico, where he was released on foot without food, money, or spare clothing. For the next four months he was bounced around from homeless shelters and jails in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.
Although Mr. Lyttle was mildly retarded and mentally ill, he did know his Social Security number and the names of his mother and two brothers (who are serving in the U.S. Army). If the state’s DOC seriously questioned the status of Mr. Lyttle’s citizenship, all they needed to do was check his Social Security number, or attempt to reach one of Mr. Lyttle’s relatives, two of whom were in the armed service.
The question of Mr. Lyttle’s citizenship should have been established by the state when he was first placed in custody in Wayne County. Regardless of any statements allegedly made by Mr. Lyttle about being born in Mexico, if prison officials knew such statements to be false, it would be irresponsible for them to contact the ICE, as Mr. Acree said was mandatory. Common sense suggests that if U.S. embassy officials in Guatemala City, Guatemala, could verify the U.S. citizenship of Mr. Lyttle, surely prison officials in Wayne County should have.
Although he was born in North Carolina’s Rowan County, and was living in North Carolina, he is currently staying with his brother in Kentucky. He says that now he is afraid to return to North Carolina, which shows that although he may be retarded, he is not dumb. North Carolina’s DOC should be ashamed of itself and take responsibility for its reckless actions regarding Mr. Lyttle. The News & Observer does not serve the public well by trying to absolve the state of any guilt… it only serves as the state’s enabler.