Donald Trump's administration has given ICE more authority than ever before to crack down on illegal immigration. But in the frenzy to capture as many immigrants as possible, a few upstanding citizens are getting caught in the mix as well.
President Donald Trump ran his campaign on a message of 'America First,' promising to deport thousands of illegal immigrants living in the country to the delight of his supporters. In recent times, he has moved to strengthen the authority of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and also scrapped the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), leaving many who hoped to become an American citizen in limbo. Immigration was also one of the primary reasons for the recent government shutdown.
While promises were made that those in the country legally would not be affected in any way whatsoever, it seems as though there will be such casualties as well, the latest of whom is 43-year-old Polish doctor Lukasz Niec.
Niec had fled his native Poland for the US along with his sister and his parents when he was just three-years-old and even holds a permanent green card, but now faces deportation out of the country he has called home for 40 years.
This past Tuesday morning, Niec had been home with his two daughters when officials from ICE showed up at his doorstep, placed him in handcuffs, and led him to jail. The reason? He was guilty of two misdemeanor convictions from when he was 17-years-old for the destruction of property worth less than $100 and receiving and concealing stolen goods.
Niec had acknowledged the charges and pled guilty under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, meaning that the court does not enter a judgment of conviction, the record is sealed, and the case is dismissed upon compliance. But according to his wife and sister, ICE did not acknowledge the plea agreement.
Speaking of Niec's situation, his sister Niec-Villaire Saturday, told WoodTV: "In 1979, my parents were both doctors left Poland and took two suitcases and two small children, my brother was five and I was six and they came here for a better life for their kids," adding that her brother did not even speak Polish.
Commenting on the reason for her brother's arrest, she said: "These misdemeanors were just an adolescent making mistakes and learning from them. He cannot go back to Poland, a country he doesn’t know, he has no family at. Both our parents passed away in the United States, he doesn’t know anyone, he wouldn’t know where to go."
Since his arrest, Niec, who is an internal medicine physician at Kalamazoo's Bronson Methodist Hospital, has spent the past few days at the Calhoun County Jail, not knowing the future he faces. His hospital has vowed to fight for his cause and will look to spare no means to see him freed.
A statement released by the hospital read: "...We are following the situation surrounding the detention of Dr. Lukasz Niec closely and are doing everything we can to advocate for Dr. Niec. We have been in contact with our elected representatives and we have our immigration counsel coordinating with Dr. Niec’s attorney to explore all options to secure his prompt release from detention..."
Praising his contribution to society, the statement continued: "Since 2007, Dr. Niec has been a skilled and caring physician, a valued employee and respected member of the Bronson medical staff. His detention in a county jail while awaiting deportation proceedings simply does not make sense."
"Given all that he has contributed in the form of exemplary patient care, and Bronson’s ongoing need for Dr. Niec’s continued service as a hospitalist, we are requesting the community’s best interest be considered and he be allowed to return to work and his family as soon as possible."
Several of his friends, co-workers, and employees have also come out in support of Niec. Dr. Hussein Akl, another doctor at Bronson Internal Medicine said: "He's been, just completely the model physician that you want a physician to be," jokingly adding: "The only danger I can see on him is when he's swinging his golf swing."
Dr. Michael Raphelson, who specializes in palliative medicine in the hospital, said: "He's exactly the kind of person our immigration policies should be encouraging to prosper here, he's been here for 40 years, this is a ridiculous situation."
His wife, Rachel Burkart-Niec, added: "He's an excellent physician. He's loving, caring, he's an honorable husband and he's always helping others."
Despite the case against Niec holding little water, according to immigration law experts, a bond hearing may not come until February, and even then, it's unlikely that the court will grant it because of his misdemeanor offenses.
Marc Asch, an immigration attorney in Kalamazoo said that ICE had broadened its scope after the appointment of Donald Trump as president, meaning that the cases the agency would not have gone after in the past are now on their radar. He added that while the government did not have a solid case and it may very well end up with Niec staying in the country, it could be a process that takes months or even years.
ICE will not comment on the case and has held no hearings. A request for information from the agency was met with the response that ICE public affairs will not be working for the duration of the government shutdown, which only ended on the 23rd.
An email response from the ICE Public affairs read: "All of ICE's public affairs officers are out of the office for the duration of the government shutdown. We are unable to respond to media queries during this period because we are prohibited by law from working. If you still require a response, please resubmit your query upon the government re-opening."
This Facebook page has been set up to fight for his cause.
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