Brenda Bretas, a third year law student, proved in less than 24 hours that her client was a U.S. Citizen and in need of medical intervention – not deportation.
Her client, a paranoid schizophrenic with a long history of self-medicating, was arrested earlier this year because he had a hold on his name from The Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Bretas came to represent her client through her work at FIU’s Carlos A. Costa Immigration & Human Rights Clinic.
The client was referred to the clinic from a local judge when DHS accused him of being a Jamaican citizen, illegally living in the United States. Arrested while homeless and without necessary medication, neither local authorities nor DHS checked whether Bretas’ client was actually from the United States and held him for several weeks. The man claimed to be Jamaican and even used the alias Ziggy Marley.
“In this particular instance, our client suffered from mental illness and was impoverished. He faced being wrongfully deported from his country of birth,” Bretas says. “We have to take a closer look and listen to our clients to help them help themselves.”
During a moment of lucidity while in a competency hearing, the man mentioned attending school in a small town in Mississippi and that he had a social security number. DHS staff intended to move forward with the removal proceedings, but Bretas asked for a continuance to investigate her client’s background. Bretas ran to the Social Security Administration and found what she believed was his birth certificate from Mississippi in the system.
She soon revealed the truth: her client was indeed a U.S. Citizen. With assistance from a generous friend, her client was given food, water and a bus ticket to be reunited with his sisters in Mississippi.
“Having the honor of serving my community, with the guidance and leadership provided by FIU College of Law, has been one of the more rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life,” Bretas says. “The immigration and human rights clinic gives us the opportunity to advocate for real people, with real problems, in need of real help.”