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Immigrant’s Obama appeal leads to arrest

New York, June 19: The letter appealing to President Obama was written in frustration in January, by a woman who saw her family reflected in his.

She was a white US citizen married to an African man, and the couple — college-educated professionals in Manhattan — were stymied in their long legal battle to keep him in the country.

Could the President help, asked the woman, Caroline Jamieson, a marketing executive. She described the impasse that confronted her husband, Hervé Fonkou Takoulo, a citizen of Cameroon with an outstanding deportation order from a failed bid for asylum.

The response came on June 3, when two immigration agents stopped Takoulo, 34, in front of the couple’s East Village apartment building. He says one agent asked him: “Did you write a letter to President Obama?” When he acknowledged that his wife had, he was handcuffed and sent to an immigration jail in New Jersey for deportation.

But on Thursday night, Takoulo was just as suddenly released, after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had been questioned about the case by The New York Times. Officials said they were investigating how the letter — one of thousands routinely referred to the agency by the White House to gather information for a reply — had been improperly used by the agency’s “fugitive operations” unit to find and arrest Takoulo, who has an engineering degree and no criminal record.

While Takoulo is still subject to the deportation order, immigration officials acknowledged that their actions in the case seemed to violate their standard practice of not using letters seeking help from elected officials as investigative leads. The handling of the case also conflicted with the Obama administration’s stated policy of arresting deportable immigrants only if they have criminal records.

The agency is investigating how it happened, a spokesman said, and has released Takoulo on an electronic ankle monitor while his case is reviewed. “ICE has a zero tolerance policy for violations of civil rights,” the spokesman, Brian P. Hale, said.

Though the case is being treated as an anomaly that breached accepted procedures, a senior agency official acknowledged that there were no written guidelines on the handling of such letters, and that there was no way to know whether similar correspondence had prompted arrests and deportations.

If the investigation bears out what officials have learned so far, “it also flies in the face of our stated priorities to target criminal fugitives”, said the official.

Jamieson campaigned for his release with help from colleagues at Digitas, a new-media advertising company. When the latest legal motion to reopen his case was denied last week, she turned to the news media. Friends and family had filled a dossier with affidavits testifying to the couple’s loving relationship, which began seven years ago at an East Village cafe where Takoulo worked.

On Thursday night, she sobbed with relief as she embraced her newly released husband outside an immigration processing jail on Varick Street. Later, they celebrated with his two nieces who are studying at New York colleges on student visas. But Jamieson veered between joy and distress.

“I’ve been feeling very confused and ashamed as an American citizen,” she said, adding: “I won’t stop fighting, he’s the love of my life.”

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