I’ve recently become interested in Mark Reid’s story. Mark’s is not a household name, and won’t likely become one. But I find his story compelling, in part because he’s slated to receive a punishment that far outweighs the magnitude of his crime; and in part because what’s happening to Mark raises those enduring questions about who qualifies as an American.
Mark Reid is currently an inmate at Connecticut’s Brooklyn Correctional Institution. He was sent to prison in October of 2009 for participating in a $30 drug sale in New Haven. He was officially sentenced in July, 2010 to serve five years. Mark is not the kind of person who refuses to take responsibility for his actions. He doesn’t deny what happened, though he does feel his sentence is harsh given the crime. He suspects the fact that he has a prior criminal history is what led to such a severe sentence. Maybe he deserves his sentence, maybe he doesn’t. Either way, five years for $30 worth of drugs isn’t Mark’s main problem.
Here’s the problem. In prison Mark took positive steps to turn his life back around. He registered for college and trained to work as a paralegal. He’s been deepening his spiritual life. He qualified for parole last November. He should be home, but he’s still in prison. And if nothing changes, Mark will likely have to practice his newfound legal skills in his birth country, Jamaica. He’s being detained. Federal immigration authorities are planning to deport him.
Mark Reid’s family immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in the mid-1970s. He was eleven years old. He hasn’t been back to Jamaica in thirty-five years. He has no known family there. He has no friends there. He doesn’t “know” the island. He certainly doesn’t consider it home. Mark is a legal immigrant and always has been. He is the only member of his family, including his two children, who never became a United States citizen. But he only figured that out recently. It turns out Mark is also a veteran. He served in the United States Army and the Army Reserve from 1984 to 1990. He received two honorable discharges. In 1984 a recruiter told him that he would become a citizen through his service to the United States of America. Like many documented immigrants who serve in the military, Mark believed that when he took the oath of military service he automatically received his citizenship. But that wasn’t the case. Evidently he needed to request the military to file a formal application for his citizenship. But, according to him, no one ever told him that and it never happened.
I’ve spoken with a staff-person at the Army’s Media Relations Division who tells me that Mr. Reid needed to take the initiative to gain his citizenship when he was enlisted, and that he should have had many opportunities to do so. Since he didn’t, there’s nothing they can do at this point. This situation is not as uncommon as it might seem. According to Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now,” between 2,000 and 3,000 non-citizen US veterans face deportation for similar reasons.The website contains her 2010 interview with Marine combat veteran Rohan Coombs.
When Mark left military service in 1990 he began building a life. He started a family. He bought a house. He worked as a mortgage broker. He paid taxes. His oldest son has just recently followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the US military. He’s been a productive member of society for decades. Like many of us, he’s made some mistakes along the way. But he has accepted responsibility for his actions. He has served his time. Should Mark Reid be deported to Jamaica when he qualifies for parole? It makes no sense, not for a veteran of the US military. Not for a taxpayer. Not for one who loves the United States. Not for someone who believes in the United States.
I’m not a lawyer. I don’t pretend to understand the legal complexities of this case. But I don’t think it is morally sound to deport a veteran who was promised his citizenship. It’s time to lift the detainer on Mark Reid.