After 50 Years as a Legal Immigrant, I Spent 18 Months in Immigration Detention Without a Bail Hearing

Arnold Giammarco in his US Army uniform.

One Saturday afternoon in 2011, my wife and daughter were out, and I was on my front steps, talking on the phone with my sister. Three law enforcement cars drove up, and I told my sister, “Something must be going on.” Suddenly, agents got out and started running toward me. They said, “Drop the phone. Get on your belly. Put your hands behind your back!” They handcuffed me and drove me away.

Even though I had been a legal permanent resident of the United States for about 50 years and served in the U.S. Army, they told me they worked for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and they were going to deport me because of an old larceny charge for which I’d already completed my sentence.

I had gone through a rough patch in my life when my first marriage fell apart and I developed a drug problem. I deeply regretted my past, and I had also paid for it. I had served time for drug possession and related shoplifting convictions.

Since then, I had turned my life around. I got clean and moved to a new town where I didn’t know anyone. I started working at McDonald’s and was promoted to nighttime manager. I married my wife Sharon, who is from Connecticut. Our daughter, Blair, was born in November 2008. I spent my days taking care of Blair, so Sharon could go back to school. We didn’t have everything we wanted, but we had everything we needed: food in the fridge, a used car to get us to work, our families. Life was working out for us.

Giammarco family at the beach
Arnold and Sharon Giammarco, with their daughter Blair

Then I applied to renew my green card and I may have triggered a background check. I had no idea there was any risk — I had been in the country legally too long to worry about my immigration status.

My parents had brought me to the United States from Italy when I was four years old, sponsored by my grandparents, who had become U.S. citizens. My parents got factory jobs in Connecticut — my mother as a seamstress and my father as a maintenance worker. It was expensive to apply for citizenship, and my parents never did.

That seemed like a formality — I was American. My grandfather joined the U.S. Army and fought in World War I, and I grew up hearing his stories. In 1976, I followed in his footsteps and joined the Army to serve my country and went to Germany. Later I joined the Connecticut National Guard, achieving the rank of sergeant, and then I was honorably discharged. I applied for citizenship in 1982, but my application somehow got lost in the system.

Once I was arrested, my past didn’t seem to matter. I was kept in detention for 18 months with no bond hearing to decide whether I should be free. An immigration judge could have considered my military service, my rehabilitation, my family and community ties, and let me out — but no judge got that chance. Under the government’s view of the immigration laws, my crime was an aggravated felony that required detention until my deportation case was decided. There was no possibility of getting out unless I won the case.

At first, four or five days a week, Sharon would drive Blair an hour and a half up from Groton, Connecticut, to visit me in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. I could only see them from behind glass. Blair was 2, and she didn’t understand why I wouldn’t pick her up — she would cry and reach for me. I tried to make up games: Blair would move her hand on one side of the glass, and I would follow her motions with my hand on the other side.

Soon, Sharon cut the visits to once a week, on Sundays. Gas was expensive, and the trip was hard on Blair. We kept getting our hopes up that I’d be released, then we’d get disappointed again. The legal battle had drained our “piggybank” of a few thousand dollars we’d been saving for Blair to go to college, and my parents’ pension fund. It was devastating to see my family struggle, emotionally and financially.

For me, being locked up changed the course of my life. I worried I was wasting my family’s energy and money. Eventually, rather than staying on to fight my case from behind bars, I accepted deportation to Italy, a country where I barely speak the language.

Now I’m living in a central Italian town called Campo Di Fano. It’s where I was born, but it’s not my home. My cousins here don’t acknowledge me because they think I must have done something horrible to be deported. They say, “You can’t just get deported for addiction and petty crimes.” I say, “Well, I did.”

I try to Skype with Blair twice a day, when she wakes up in the morning and after school. I help her with her homework, like I would if I was there. She’ll set up the iPhone on the dresser and do a dance routine for me.

Giammarco family skypeing
Since Arnold Giammarco was deported to Italy, a country he barely knows, he tries to Skype with his wife, Sharon, and daughter, Blair in Connecticut several times a day.

All I want is to go home and take care of her and Sharon — and I hope that still might be possible. After I left for Italy, a district court judge ruled that my naturalization petition, which had gotten lost in the system years ago, remains pending. Officials could still decide to approve my application.

A bond hearing could have made the difference for me. A judge might have allowed me to go home, to my family, where I’m needed most. That would have given me hope to continue to fight for my right to stay with them in my country.

On Wednesday, lawyers from the ACLU are arguing before the Supreme Court that the federal government should not lock people like me up, for months or years, without the due process of a hearing to decide if imprisonment is even justified. Thousands of lives depend on this. What happened to me shouldn’t happen to anyone in America.

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Frances

Let me add that while these men and women are good enough to serve our country and then to be deported and be brought back to the US to be buried with full military honors...then why are they not good enough to stay here with their families.

CG Veteran

Aww another one of what I call troll posts. Poor little person was deported after service…wahhhhh
Another load of bovine scatology from many and other uniformed sites and people. See one has to be in the country LEGALLY before you can enlist in the US Military under a visa or “Green Card” status. NOW in my 20 years from day one many were told from the recruiting office-boot camp and throughout about how to complete the process to become citizens. I knew many who did just that completed the process so they could better MOS’s etc. and move up in rank in some cases. As a NCO I assisted many in completing the forms and giving time off so those under me in this position could go to JAG or to the local INS now ICE whatever to complete the process. Commands everywhere from ships at sea to even in areas such as Baghdad held ceremonies to have these new citizen soldiers take the oath. I stood at two such events watching shipmates from South Africa and Argentina become citizens.
So, what few if any know or ignore is that yes many do not complete this process even with offices, free legal assistance, leave days, liberties, time off to do so they do not. Then either lazy or ignorant they get out and for whatever sad tale it may be they do something you see it the articles… I got hooked on drugs, drinks, committed a crime, robbed a store etc. something as during time now is reason to put full stop and tell them “thanks for playing” and here is the door… Goodbye. Now I can say sorry for you dude but I have no pity. Unless you were living in cave you knew, you were told, you were given the option to do something and did nothing and now…tough shit.
The QUESTION should be.. so, explain to us HOW YOU after being informed from day one (unless proven otherwise) that YOU had to complete a process to finalize the citizenship process, given you had access to FREE legal services, access to PAID time off (liberty) to go to the various offices to complete the process, from boot camp on you were expected and taught individual accountability and responsibility etc... Then with all that YOU failed. Then after decades in many cases and after committing a CRIME in many cases a FELONY Offense such as a drug offense and during that period you continued to do absolutely NOTHING again to complete the Naturalization process on how you should be granted a pass?
And to my fellow Veterans at what point to we draw a line? So, the next one is a child molester, rapist, or murderer? Just read Stripes hell any newspaper many active duty or Veterans have those crimes on them? Do they get a pass? A get out of Jail or deportation free card?
And what does it tell those who enlisted kept clean and completed the process?
http://www.npr.org/2012/07/04/156203688/u-s-troops-become-american-citizens-in-kandahar

Proud to Be a D...

"Now I can say sorry for you dude but I have no pity."

Ah yes, this says everything of significance about you, CG Veteran.

Instead I'm with Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged":

“There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”

You stand for the goon who cracks down on the criminalized innocent. What part of "he served his sentence" did you not understand? Oh, but wait! After the state collects, the feds get in line to collect again for the same mistake he was charged and punished for. Tyrant!!

I know countries where criminal records remain on a convicted person’s record for no more than 10 years from the time he finishes serving his sentence if the man has remained crime-free all that time. This solidly reintegrates him to society. But not in America where you're guilty until proven innocent (i.e. plea bargaining) and once guilty and punished, you're forever guilty and punishable.

Once punished a man should remain crime-free to prove he has rebuilt his life. The goal is restoration of life not permanent penance. For capital crimes, capital punishment. But for all else, restitution.

And if a man is no threat to national security, let him be. He's harming no one by being here. He needs no safeconduct. What evil was he doing loving a wife and raising a daughter living crime-free for years? That's freedom. In this he is FAR more American at heart deported in Italy than you, heartless, nativist vet.

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Anonymous

I'm 51 also been in the US since I was 4. I worry.
Like you I don't speak much of my language, I can't read it or write it. I strongly feel I am a US citizen that only a piece of paper keeps me from legally being on.
I'm a single dad of two children raised them by myself for the last ten years and I would hate to be apart from them.

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