Elisha Leo Dawkins, Soldier, Twice Honorably Discharged, Set Up for Passport Fraud and Deportation

Leave it to the bozos at ICE to turn a minor mistake on a passport form into a major case.  As as result this soldier, who had a Florida birth certificate, who honestly thought that he was a U.S. citizen, and who served in both the Army & the Navy with top secret clearances and honorable discharges, was arrested upon returning from his naval tour at Guantanamo, spent a couple months in federal lockup and was nearly put on trial on felony charges.  What a great way to thank a veteran for serving his country!

It if hadn’t been for a lot of well-deserved adverse publicity and the intervention of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, the bozos at ICE probably would have succeeded in destroying the young soldier’s life.

Standard-Examiner:  Guantanamo Navy photographer in Miami lock-up (June 23 2012)

A Miami veteran of U.S. service in Iraq, who took some of the military’s most intimate photos of captives in the prison camps at Guantanamo as a combat photographer, was in a detention center Thursday, facing a federal fraud trial.

Federal prosecutors charge that former Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisha Leo Dawkins, 26, committed a crime when he applied for a U.S. passport April 3, 2006. The government says he made a false statement, a felony, when he failed to disclose that he had three years earlier started the process of applying for a passport. Conviction could carry 10 years in prison.

A classic South Florida tale, Dawkins grew up in Miami, went to Poinciana Park Elementary, competed in sports at Miami Central High School and served in the military with distinction, only to return to an arrest and possible deportation to The Bahamas.

His lawyer says he grew up fatherless and estranged from his mother, staying with relatives in Miami, believing he was a U.S. citizen. He even obtained a Florida birth certificate to get a passport to travel to war as a soldier, with the Navy, the Army and the state of Florida all apparently unaware of a two-decade-old immigration service removal order issued when he was 8 years old.

“He never knowingly and willfully deceived the government,” said Miami attorney, Clark D. Mervis, who was appointed to the case in May after a federal court declared Dawkins indigent.

“Not only did he serve the nation honorably, but he’s lived here all his life,” Mervis said.

I’d suggest reading the Standard-Examiner article in its entirety.  It provides the most comprehensive overview of the situation.

New York Times:  Veteran of Iraq War Now Fights His Own Deportation (June 23 2012)

A veteran of both the Army and the Navy who served with distinction in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay has spent the last month in federal lockup here because the government wants to deport him.

Not only did he lie on a passport application, prosecutors say, but he was never even a citizen.

But a lawyer for the man, Elisha L. Dawkins, 26, has a different story, one that begins with Mr. Dawkins’s arrival here from the Bahamas as an infant. He was raised to believe he was a citizen, his lawyer contends, something the state and federal authorities did not challenge during his seven years in the military.

CNN:  Military vet faces prospect of 10 years in prison for passport fraud (June 23 2012)

Days after photographing scenes at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, a U.S. Navy veteran found himself behind bars — where he could remain for a decade — for alleged passport fraud.

Former U.S. Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisha Leo Dawkins was arrested in April, spending Friday like many others in a federal detention center in Miami. A federal indictment says Dawkins’ failed to acknowledged that he’d once applied for a passport when filling out a new application, something his lawyer Clark Mervis calls an innocent oversight — albeit one punishable by up to 10 years in prison, if he’s convicted.

Free Republic:  Vet Checks Wrong Box, Faces Charges (June 27 2012)

Now, Dawkins, a Navy reservist and decorated Army combat photographer who served in Iraq, is in jail, charged with passport fraud. He’s facing 10 years in prison for what could be a simple misunderstanding.

“Suddenly, he’s picked up and thrown in jail? Then it’s time for this senator to start asking questions,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson., D-Fla., said.

Nelson has questions echoed by Dawkins’ friends, including Dianne Rinehardt.

“It’s a travesty, and we’re trying to stop it,” Rinehardt said.

A federal indictment states that Dawkins started to fill out a passport application in 2004, didn’t complete it, then filled out a new application two years later.

On that new application, he checked a box “no” for the question, “Have you ever applied before?” according to the indictment.

Dawkins got the passport, but three months ago, the government issued a warrant for his arrest. He was taking photos for the Navy at the time.

News 4 Jax:  Vet Checks Wrong Box, Faces Charges:  Army, Navy Photographer Accused Of Passport Fraud (June 27 2012)

Elisha Dawkins graduated in August from nursing school in Jacksonville.

He put on hold his plans for taking the board exams because the Navy called him into action as a photographer.

Dawkins photographed happenings at Guantanamo Bay, an act that’s evidence he’s a trusted member of the military with top secret clearance.

Now, Dawkins, a Navy reservist and decorated Army combat photographer who served in Iraq, is in jail, charged with passport fraud. He’s facing 10 years in prison for what could be a simple misunderstanding.

“Suddenly, he’s picked up and thrown in jail? Then it’s time for this senator to start asking questions,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson., D-Fla., said.

CNN:  Military vet accused of passport fraud weighs offer (June 29 2012)

A U.S. Navy veteran behind bars for alleged passport fraud has until Friday to accept or turn down an offer that could lead to the dismissal of criminal charges, his attorney said Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida made a pretrial diversion proposal that was revealed at a Tuesday court hearing, said Mervis. The attorney would not comment on what his client, held in the federal detention center in Miami, may do.

“It’s rarely used,” Mervis said of the federal version of the program.

First Coast News:  Jacksonville Iraq War Veteran Faces Deportation (June 29 2012)

Just last year Elisha Dawkins was getting pinned, having just graduated from the FSCJ school of nursing. His plan was to take the boards after he returned from his deployment to Guantanamo Bay.

That plan changed, though, when he was arrested upon his return in April. Immigration officials said there was a problem with Dawkins’ passport paperwork. They said he checked the box stating he never applied for a passport before, when in fact he had.

“We were all like, ‘He was arrested for what?’” said FSCJ classmate Diane Rinehardt.

CNN:  Navy vet arrested on passport fraud charges rebuffs feds’ offer (July 1 2012)

A U.S. Navy veteran, arrested for alleged passport fraud, will go on trial after rebuffing Friday an offer that could have led to the dropping of criminal charges against him.

Former Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisha Leo Dawkins could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if convicted for lying five years ago on a passport application, as federal prosecutors contend. Attorney Clark Mervis claims his client’s actions were understandable and innocent — and that he plans to defend them when the trial begins July 12.

CNN:  Veteran accused of passport fraud freed days ahead of trial (July 8 2012)

A Navy veteran was freed from a federal detention center Friday, giving him four days of freedom before the start of his trial for allegedly lying on his passport application.

Former Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisha Leo Dawkins has been behind bars since April, having been detained nine days after returning from a stint in Cuba working as a military photographer.

A hearing was held in a federal court Friday, at which the government agreed to reduce Dawkins’ bond to effectively nothing and paved the way for his release, said Annette Castillo of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

The government went along with a bond reduction after the Department of Homeland Security lifted an immigration detainer against Dawkins, Castillo explained by e-mail.

Army Times:  Deal reached in military photog’s passport case (July 12 2012)

A military photographer who served with combat troops in Iraq and had a secret-level clearance at Guantanamo Bay reached a deal Tuesday with prosecutors to settle charges of making a false statement on a U.S. passport application.

Under the deal, Dawkins acknowledged checking the wrong box but did not admit to any crime, said his attorney Clark Mervis. He will likely be required to perform community service or something similar, Mervis said, and the case will be officially dropped.

First Coast News:  Senator Bill Nelson to Help Jacksonville Vet Secure Citizenship (July 15 2012)

Senator Bill Nelson helped a Jacksonville Iraq War veteran avoid 10 years in prison and deportation.

On Monday, Nelson will meet with Navy Reserves Petty Officer Elisha Dawkins to tell him he’ll help Dawkins clear up his citizenship as well.

Dawkins was raised in the U.S. but while under investigation, found out he was actually born in the Bahamas.

…  according to Petty Officer Dawkins’ Guantanamo naval base work evaluations, his superiors praised his work ethic and performance. He was a military photographer who, because of what he was photographing, had to have a secret clearance. By the way, he had that secret clearance when he was an Army photographer in Iraq. When he went into the Naval Reserves, they–and this is according to the U.S. Navy–gave reciprocity for the secret clearance for him to go into the Naval Reserves …

First Coast News:  Elisha Dawkins Gets Assistance from Senator Bill Nelson (July 18 2012)

Senator Nelson spoke on Dawkins’ behalf on the Senate floor last month while Elisha was still in Jail.  Nelson is also supporting the DREAM Act which is aimed at helping individuals in similar situations that Dawkins is in.  Both Nelson and Dawkins met each other in person at the senator’s Jacksonville office on Monday afternoon.  Mr. Nelson reiterated that he and his staff will continue to assist Dawkins in any way they can to clear up this issue.

Florida Times Union:  Jacksonville combat veteran formerly jailed on passport charge free of anger (July 18 2012)

Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisha Dawkins of Jacksonville says he harbors no resentment against the federal government for jailing him almost three months on a charge of passport fraud.

Instead, the Navy reservist and Iraq combat veteran said he viewed his April 19 arrest in Jacksonville first with humor, then shock and sadness as his incarceration in a Miami holding facility dragged on until July 8. It ended after The Miami Herald and other media reports helped stoke appeals for his release and prosecutors offered Dawkins a way to avoid trial.

But anger never entered the picture, he said.

“I actually prayed [for God] to bless the prosecutors and defense,” Dawkins said Monday after meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., at his downtown Jacksonville office. Nelson had made a push for Dawkins’ release, personally meeting with Pentagon officials, including the secretary of the Navy “and several admirals.”

Nelson said he was incensed by the details of the case and its implications for other foreign-born men and women serving in the military.

The problems for Dawkins, 26, began years ago, when as a child he was brought to the United States from the Bahamas by his mother. She was deported when he was 8, leaving him to be raised by relatives in Miami.

Dawkins understood himself to be a U.S. citizen, but that status is now the subject of talks between his attorney and federal authorities.

“The military thinks he’s a citizen but the State Department doesn’t,” said Clark Mervis, Dawkins’ attorney in Miami.

Senator Nelson spoke on Dawkins’ behalf on the Senate floor last month while Elisha was still in Jail.  Nelson is also supporting the DREAM Act which is aimed at helping individuals in similar situations that Dawkins is in.  Both Nelson and Dawkins met each other in person at the senator’s Jacksonville office on Monday afternoon.  Mr. Nelson reiterated that he and his staff will continue to assist Dawkins in any way they can to clear up this issue.

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2 Responses to Elisha Leo Dawkins, Soldier, Twice Honorably Discharged, Set Up for Passport Fraud and Deportation

  1. Pingback: Elisha Leo Dawkins, Soldier, Twice Honorably Discharged, Set Up for | Welcome To Florida

  2. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing
    all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say excellent
    blog!

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