JANUARY 2003

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INS Mistake
From Nowy Dziennik
December 4, 2002

By Marcin Szczepanski

Marek Czajkowski was handcuffed, spent 27 hours at the airport in New York and almost went to jail, because Immigration and Naturalization Service officials mistook him for someone else.

Flight 006 from Warsaw arrived at the JFK Airport at 4:47 p.m., and not at 4:25 p.m. as it was scheduled. Marek Czajkowski walked up to the customs window and like others, he presented his passport to the airport official. Instead of the traditional "Welcome to the United States," he was told to go a room on the side. That’s where all the unpleasant experiences began.

The airport officials asked Czajkowski to show a different form of identification, but he only had his passport. They asked him about his date of birth, but when he told them they thought he was lying.

"That’s when I realized that something was wrong," said Czajkowski. A moment later he was told that he was deported in 2000. "What do you mean I was deported?" asked Czajkowski. "I have never been to the USA before. I have never even traveled abroad."

The interpreter explained to him that a man with the same last name and a similar date of birth was deported to Poland two years earlier.

Two hours passed by. A picture of the deported man was sent from the office in Washington D.C. "He looked like me, but he had dark hair and mustache. My hair is blond and I don’t have a mustache," said Czajkowski.

The officials then obtained Czajkowski’s fingerprints and compared them to those of the Polish man deported in 2000. "They just glanced at the fingerprints and said that they match," said Czajkowski. "But how can you say they match just by looking at them?"

The officials began congratulating themselves on capturing a criminal. "We are giving you your last chance. Either you admit [that you are the man] and we deport you, or you are going to be put in jail. Tell us the truth. When were you born?"

Czajkowski once again stated his date of birth and was taken to another room.

"They handcuffed me and chained my legs to a metal belt they put around my waist," said Czajkowski. Another Pole and I were taken to some different place. I had no idea where I was. They took everything away from me. They even took my watch so I couldn’t tell what time it was. But it was close to dawn. There was a metal bench and some blankets in the room. But I covered myself with a jacket, since who knows who slept under those blankets before."

In the morning Czajkowski received a phone call from the Polish Consulate in New York. He was asked to retell the whole story. The Consulate officials promised him that they would take care of the situation.

"We confirmed the authenticity of Mr. Czajkowski’s passport," Consul Cezary Dziurkowski told Nowy Dziennik. "We told the INS that if they ask us we can check the man’s background. We could not do much more. We have no right to undermine the decisions of the INS. But we did try to help resolve the situation."

Nowy Dzennik managed to speak to the INS spokesman who asked us to provide the actual birth date of Czajkowski and the names of his parents. The officials said that they would verify the information.

Czajkowski was transferred yet to another place with other unlucky men. A few hours later he received another phone call from the consulate. "There is a lot of uncertainty now. The INS is not so sure of its initial claims anymore," Czajkowski said he was told.

Consul Dziukowski believed Czajkowski to be innocent, but he doubted that the situation would resolve in his favor. "In a situation like that, the INS does not have to prove that the person has violated the law, as long as they have a reasonable assumption," said Dziukrowki. "They deport people just in case."

The Polish tourist was taken to another place. "Those who were now holding my documents must have been of a greater rank. They had stars on their uniforms," said Czajkowski, who gained some hope, but once again the officials questioned him. They asked whether he has ever been arrested, what he does in Poland, and why he came to the United States. "I told them that I have never been arrested, in Poland my wife and I run a store, and I came here to visit my mother who has had a green card since 1989," said Czajkowski. Once again the officials checked the fingerprints.

"There has been a great misunderstanding," one of the officials told Czajkowski. "We mistook you for a person of the same name and with a similar date of birth, who was deported in 2000. Now you are free to go."

The official repeated "Now you are free to go," since Czajkowski could not believe what he just heard.

After 27 stressful hours, Czajkowski could finally see the lights of New York for the first time. He came to Greenpoint with his mother and his cousin.

Mark Thorn, the spokesman at the Immigration and Naturalization Service branch in New York, refused to comment on the situation but said he was glad that Czajkowski was allowed to enter the United States.

"Mr. Czajkowski was lucky — in 99 percent of such cases the person is sent back to the country from which he came," added Consul Dzuirkowski.

Translated from Polish by Joanna Sufin

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