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Once jailed, now a citizen

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Delio Nunez’s journey to become a U.S. citizen nearly cost him his freedom due to a mishap a few months ago, but with a little help from U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and determination, he has been able achieve his dream.

The 51-year-old Jamaica father´╗┐ was jailed for two days in November by U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services after the federal government said it did not receive important paperwork that dealt with his application for citizenship. Nunez, who moved to America with his parents when he was 7 from the Dominican Republic, served two years in jail in the early 1980s on an armed robbery charge but has never been in trouble with the law since that time.

The office equipment technician thought he went through the procedures for applying for citizenship correctly in 2007, but was surprised when he got a call from a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent who said he had to turn himself in because CIS did not get letters about his criminal record and letters of recommendation from his employer and other people.

“I figured it was 30 years later .... I think I paid my dues. I wanted to be able to vote,” he said during a news conference at Meeks’ Jamaica Avenue office Monday.

Nunez, who was shy to disclose many details of his private life, said he had receipts for the letters he mailed to the federal government, but the ICE agent said there were no records of the paperwork on file. Under the federal immigration law, applicants who apply for citizenship may face jail time or even deportation if they have a conviction on their record.

Meeks’ district manager, Marilyn Barnes, who received a call from Nunez’s attorney when he was notified by the CIS agent in November, said the federal government decides the punishment on a case-by-case basis and usually only deports serious offenders.

Barnes said the documents Nunez sent to ICE would have shown that he is a now a law-abiding citizen who did his time for his crime. The issue was made more complicated because of the criminal record systems in the ’80s.

“Back in those days, computers did not talk to each other, so he went under the radar,” she said.

Nunez turned himself in and was sent to a New Jersey jail to serve a 48-hour stay. He said he could not get one minute of sleep while in the jail because he kept thinking about his youngest daughter, whom he declined to name.

“I never missed a day where I didn’t at least call her,” he said. “I couldn’t call her from jail at all.”

Nunez was eventually released on a bond and Meeks asked CIS to reconsider his case while Nunez’s attorney resubmitted the necessary paperwork. A CIS judge ruled in favor of Nunez and he finally took his oath of citizenship in December.

Nunez said he was grateful that the congressman’s office pitched in to help and he did not have to spend more time in jail for his past mistake.

“Had they not been involved, there would have been no way I would have been sitting down here [in this office] today,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 10:33 am, October 12, 2011
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