HOUSTON (CN) — Jailed by immigration officials who want to deport him to Nigeria because they can’t verify his identity, an Army veteran asked a federal judge to order his release so he can run his Houston company and pay his 12 employees.
Remilekun Davis does not know where he was born nor who his parents are, he says in his federal lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Homeland Security and its immigration arms.
As a teenager he was found homeless in Missouri with little recollection of a childhood that his attorney suspects was marred by “some trauma,” according to his March 22 petition for habeas relief.
But Davis did not lose his way. He graduated from high school, obtained two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees from U.S. universities, then decided to serve what he thought was his country.
“He grew up with a U.S. Virgin Islands birth certificate and the belief that he had been adopted from that country and passed around from one family to another, in California at one point and later in New Jersey. … Petitioner relied on his U.S. Virgin Islands birth certificate to enter the U.S. Army’s Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia,” the petition states.
He graduated near the top of his Army class in 2002 and served as a second lieutenant during Operation Enduring Freedom, the war in Afghanistan the United States started in response to the September 11 attacks.
Assuming his birth certificate was valid, Davis says, he applied for a U.S. passport in 2003 so he could be deployed, and he was arrested, charged with making a false statement on the application.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation, only to be arrested the next year on charges of making a false U.S. citizenship claim. That led to a grand jury indictment, a 10-month prison sentence, a deportation order and his general discharge from the Army.
“During his removal proceedings, an immigration judge advised him to apply for military naturalization,” the petition states.
Undocumented soldiers who served honorably in U.S. armed forces after Sept. 11, 2001 can apply for citizenship under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush in July 2002.
Davis says U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied his military naturalization application four times, and in its latest denial said for the first time that a fingerprint check showed he had fraudulently applied for asylum under another name when he was 17.
His attorney, Sheridan Green, told Courthouse News on Thursday that the government believes Davis is from Nigeria because of the name in the passport he used for the asylum application.
“We don’t know if that passport was even real. America is replete with shady providers of fraudulent immigration services and these often take the form of a ‘package,’” Green said in an email.
“They give you an identity, fake documents and a back story. More than likely, dozens of individuals, in return for a generic promise of ‘documents’ with few details, got the same ‘package.’”
Green said that whoever compiled the package for Davis “did a bang-up job,” giving him three different IDs, with the same photo but different birth dates.
“This is not a scheme that a 17-year-old comes up with. Somebody arranged it for him, possibly even with good intentions. He remembers nothing,” Green said.
Though the government ordered Davis to request travel documents from Nigeria after his release from immigration prison in 2005, Nigeria told him they don’t know who he is and refused to accept him, his attorney said.
Davis says in the petition that he faithfully reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for 10 years without incident and during that time started a Houston company that runs gyms, and volunteered hundreds of hours with Lord of the Streets, a faith-based Houston homeless outreach group.
Letters of recommendation from two Lord of the Streets directors are included in his petition’s exhibits.
ICE arrested him on March 20 during his annual check-in. Green said it’s likely ICE decided to arrest Davis because of the crackdown ordered by President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to remove all undocumented immigrants from the U.S.
Green said that it’s possible that immigration authorities arrested his client because they finally have his Nigerian travel documents lined up. However, he added: “I think that is unlikely, which leaves the second possibility: His name popped up on a list of individuals with outstanding removal orders and he is simply caught in the recent wave of enforcement aggression. If so, ICE probably did not look at his file to determine whether they can remove him.”
Green said he hopes “it’s purely a matter of bureaucratic carelessness” and that ICE will eventually have to let him out of the Houston Processing Center, a private immigration prison.
Corrections Corporation of America, now CoreCivic, got its start in prison contracting at the prison, which it opened in 1984.
Davis asks in his petition to be released so he can keep his company from failing, pay his 12 employees and make child support payments to his 16-year-old daughter, a U.S. citizen.
Despite putting roots down in the United States and becoming a successful businessman, Davis’s identity is not recognized by the government and his story is a gut punch to the assumption that everybody has somewhere to call home.
“Once you’re off that track of ‘belonging,’ there’s no mechanism for getting back on it. If the society that you live in does not acknowledge your existence, yet you continue to exist, what do you do? Where do you go? Who do you say you are? Every choice is ‘False.’ It’s a difficult reality,” Green said in the email.
Davis has appealed his citizenship application denial. He wants the government ordered to release him while it’s pending.
Given a copy of the lawsuit Thursday, ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said: “I will look into this.”