WNYC: Case in Point: Gray Areas of Citizenship

For almost a year, 42-year-old Manuel Herrera has been held at an immigration detention center in New Jersey. 

The United States is his home. He’s spent nearly his entire life in this country after arriving here from Honduras with his parents when he was two years old. He has a partner and they have two children. But what’s not clear is whether his detention is illegal because he is unsure if he is a United States citizen or not. 

"Citizenship, we think of as this very clear cut status and in reality it's based on a lot of really complicated historical records that often times people themselves don't know what their own status is," says Christie Thompson of the Marshall Project.

Herrera has an application for naturalization that, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has been pending for 22 years. And he may be eligible through his grandfather, now deceased, under what is called "derivative citizenship." 

But because Herrera has an old criminal record, he was swept into removal proceedings and remains in detention while his attorneys try to establish his citizenship status. 

Christie Thompson from the Marshall Project explains Herrera’s case, which is the subject of this week’s Case in Point, and says it illustrates how complicated verifying citizenship can sometimes be.

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