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For 'man without a country,' tribulation trumps trial


For 'man without a country,' tribulation trumps trial

Monitor (McAllen, TX) Wednesday April/25/2012

April 25--ON THE HIDALGO-REYNOSA INTERNATIONAL BRIDGE -- He won at trial, but still finds himself back in Mexico.

Jurors acquitted Robin Whiteley of illegal re-entry March 26 in U.S. District Court in McAllen.

The victory for Whiteley, 38, was a long shot for a man born in Mexico and adopted by Texan parents days after his birth, only to find himself deported to a country he considers foreign following a drug conviction more than a decade ago.

Whiteley had hoped the jury's decision could give him a new chance in front of an immigration judge and avoid a forced trip south of the Rio Grande for a seventh time.

That didn't happen, though. Whiteley was deported March 29 -- the same day his story of winning the illegal re-entry case appeared in The Monitor -- and is back in a country he still says isn't his home.

"I'm here," he said in an interview on the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, the closest he can come to the U.S. without being arrested. "Trying to do the best we can. See where we can go from here."

Whiteley was found not guilty of illegal re-entry after he told the jury of how he was forced into a Reynosa immigrant stash house with dozens of others, mostly Central Americans, forced to pay ransom to leave.

When his mother wired him $600 -- and armed thugs took the $400 in cash he had with him -- Whiteley said he was forced by the smugglers to cross the Rio Grande in April 2011 -- back into the U.S., even if he knew it'd further jeopardize his slim chance at American citizenship.

After the not guilty verdict, Whiteley and his lawyer, Nigel J. Cohen, were in the process of filing an asylum request with the Board of Immigration Appeals, saying they'd proved he was kidnapped and held hostage in Mexico.

That appeal wasn't filed by the time Border Patrol agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported Whiteley to Matamoros.

Whiteley described the tour of detention facilities he took after his trial ended -- first to Harlingen'sBorder Patrol station, then to a similar facility in Weslaco. There, one of the Border Patrol agents who testified against him met Whiteley face to face, he said.

"He said I'm a lying son of a b--, said I lied on the stand and that my mom lied on the stand," Whiteley claims. He said the agent continued, telling him he was "lucky" and "we know you are full of crap."

Whiteley maintains that he was kidnapped and taken to a stash house under armed guard by Gulf Cartel enforcers, where one of those detained was beaten to death with a board.

"I'm sticking to my story because I know it's true," he said. "I don't have to lie about it. It's true."

By the afternoon of March 29, after spending the night at the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa -- a facility Whiteley spoke out about in federal court earlier this year -- he was on a bus headed to Brownsville, where he was walked onto an international bridge and told to not come back.

But the agents had forgotten to take his fingerprint before he signed his deportation order. So they improvised, Whiteley said.

"They didn't have my fingerprints or the fingerprint pad, so on the side of the bus tire, they said to rub your finger across here and make a print on this paper for us," he said. "I'm thinking in my head, 'I don't know if this is right, but what choice do I got?'"

Whiteley said he told the agent he wanted to formally dispute the grounds of his deportation, saying he was a citizen. He said the agent refused to let him.

Cohen, the attorney, said he plans to file an appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Board of Immigration Appeals in an attempt to reverse Whiteley's initial deportation order from 2000, after he was convicted of felony possession of marijuana.

At that time, such an offense could lead a U.S. permanent resident -- Whiteley's immigration status at the time -- to be deported. State law has since changed, so that such a drug offense does not qualify as an aggravated felony.

Any decision on whether Whiteley's case will be considered on appeal is expected to take several months. For now, he said he has no plans to stay in Reynosa, nor does he anticipate returning to the country he calls home anytime soon.

"I've always said I have faith in God," he said. "God showed me who was stronger. I still have faith. I still have faith that something good is going to happen."


Jared Taylor covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at jtaylor@themonitor.com and (956) 683-4439.

2012 Apr 25