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Auto mechanic declared citizen after four years locked up in immigration detention

Aug 16, 2013

A Queens man who spent more than four years locked up in immigration detention was a U.S. citizen all along, judges decided this week. Rosedale auto mechanic Gerald Nwozuzu, 36, who pleaded guilty to gun possession in 2002, was facing deportation because of his criminal record — but his lawyers successfully argued the Nigerian-born Nwozuzu actually became a citizen in 1994. “I always had faith. Sometimes you feel like you want to give up, because of the hardship,” said Nwozuzu. “But you’re not only fighting for yourself, you’re fighting for your wife, your family, your parents.” Judges at Manhattan’s U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit parsed legal phrasing to rule Monday that Nwozuzu, who was “residing permanently” in New York as a boy when his parents became U.S. citizens, became an automatic American when they gave their oath — even though he didn’t have a green card making him a “permanent resident."

In 2000, lawmakers changed the statute’s wording to eliminate the “reside permanently” phrase, but the earlier law applies to Nwozuzu — and Monday’s ruling may impact thousands of others in a similar situation, according to his lawyers, Theodore Cox and Joshua Bardavid. The wording dispute first kept Nwozuzu from returning to New York for three years after visiting his sick grandma in Nigeria as a teen because officials wouldn’t let him back into the U.S.Then the feds moved to deport him after his gun plea, which landed him probation but no jail time.

Immigration officials, however, detained him in 2005 and he spent 18 months in a York County, PA detention center fighting deportation. He was freed in 2006 but when the Board of Immigration Appeals sided against him four years later, he had to turn himself in again for detention and spent 31 months in Monmouth County, NJ. His wife Bianca, a financial manager, spent nearly every weekend visiting him. The two toasted his win Monday with glasses of champagne. “I still have so much catching up to do,” said Nwozuzu. “I found a way out to be back with my family. It was just a long fight.” - NY Daily News

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