Jailed Citizen Learns That It’s Hard to Prove He Is One

Times Staff Writer

FoS. border officers, who deal daily with aliens claiming to be American citizens and immigrants flashing phony immigration documents, the case of Carlos Miguel Manriquez was indeed a strange one.

Manriquez, who is a native of Phoenix, was arrested at the San Ysidro port of entry March 25 and charged with illegal entry and falsely claiming to be a U. S. citizen. The charges were based largely on a phony Mexican birth certificate with Manriquez’s name on it that Customs inspectors found during a search of the car he was in.

But after a five-day investigation, while Manriquez languished in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, prosecutors determined that the 29-year-old man is an American citizen engaged in an unlikely role reversal and dropped the charges.


Manriquez, 29, had purchased a false Mexican birth certificate in order to work in Mexico, where he earned commissions selling

vacation time shares at a Mazatlan condominium complex to American tourists.

But Manriquez says the process taught him a valuable lesson about the U. S. justice system.

“When you’re arrested for illegal entry, there’s nothing you can do to prove that you’re a U. S. citizen. . . . They don’t believe anything you show them or tell them. It’s a horrible experience. Nobody listens to you,” said Manriquez.

His tale of woe began when he agreed to accompany his cousin from Tijuana to San Diego, where the unidentified man wanted to purchase a stereo, said Manriquez, who speaks fluent English, albeit with a slight accent. The most frustrating and desperate moments of his arrest occurred when “nobody would listen to me when I told them I was really a U. S. citizen,” he added.

Manriquez was a passenger in his cousin’s car when both men were stopped at the border and asked about their citizenship by a Customs inspector, who was not satisfied with Manriquez’s claim to be a citizen. The two men were directed to secondary inspection, where a search of the car revealed the phony birth certificate.

“That’s where my problems began. I wish that I had never gotten that birth certificate. . . . I never would have spent five days in jail,” said Manriquez. “My cousin had his visa, so they let him go. . . . I pleaded with him, ‘Tell them I’m a U. S. citizen, cousin.’ But he said, ‘I’m sorry, cousin. They’re asking questions about my papers. I wish I could help you.’ So, he left.”

According to Manriquez, he admitted that the birth certificate was a fraud when the inspectors confronted him with it. He was subsequently interrogated by an Immigration and Naturalization Service officer who read him his rights, Manriquez said.

‘Nobody Listened’

“I agreed to waive my rights because I thought that I had nothing to fear. I admitted that the birth certificate was false. ‘I’m a Mexican-American,’ I told him. . . . All of a sudden, he grabbed my shirt and said, ‘You’re a Mexican citizen. I’m going to get you for illegal entry and lying about your citizenship,’ “said Manriquez.

Attempts to convince the immigration official otherwise by showing him his Arizona identification card and Social Security card were fruitless, Manriquez said.

“All they did was take them away from me. I never got them back,” he said. “I told them that I had a cousin in Phoenix who is a police officer and another who is a probation officer. But nobody listened.”

The INS officer subsequently drove Manriquez to the MCC.

“I kept telling him that he was being very unfair. But he wouldn’t listen. He said to tell it to the judge,” said Manriquez.

Hopes that he would be able to convince the judge of his plight evaporated quickly when he finally went to U. S. District Court two days later, Manriquez said.

“The judge wouldn’t listen to me. He believed everything that the government said about me. I wanted to tell the judge that it was unfair for them to hold me. I’m a Mexican-American and had as much rights as they do. . . . Nobody listened. The judge sent me back to jail,” said Manriquez.

Wants an Explanation

Finally, Manriquez was released from the MCC on Wednesday without explanation.

“I don’t know why I was released. I want an explanation. Nobody said anything to me. I was treated like a vegetable,” Manriquez said last week during an interview.

On Monday, a spokesman for the U. S. attorney’s office said the charges against Manriquez were dismissed on the same day of his release from the MCC. The spokesman declined to comment further.

Manriquez, who planned to take a bus back to Phoenix, could not be reached for comment.

Attorney Knut Johnson, who briefly represented Manriquez at his only court appearance, said he expected prosecutors to drop the charges against his client.

“Unfortunately, he had a Mexican birth certificate in the car. But he’s a U. S. citizen, and his case is not all that uncommon. They are always arresting someone who is a U. S. citizen and speaks with an accent. . . . It’s really unfair because it almost always happens to Hispanics. It happens a lot and is frustrating for the client and the attorney,” said Johnson.

As for the phony birth certificate that Manriquez was carrying?

“It’s not against U. S. law to possess a phony Mexican birth certificate,” said Johnson.