Polish national and practicing physician Lukasz Niec has been living in the United States since he was 5 years old. His mother, father, and young sister were fleeing a country on the cusp of chaos.
The year then was 1979, shortly before Poland’s Communist-dominated government declared martial law.
A decade later, Niec became a lawful permanent resident of the United States. The Washington Post writes that, as a young adult growing up in Michigan, Niec excelled in his studies. He went to medical school, passed his licensing exam, and became a qualified physician. Along the way, the native Pole found time to start a family of his own.
According to Niec’s sister, deportation never weighed on the man’s mind. He was, after all, legally entitled to work and live in the United States. Lukasz, said his only sibling, can’t even speak Polish.
But on Tuesday morning, agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency arrested Lukasz Niec at home, just after he’d sent his 12-year old stepdaughter to school.
Since then, the practitioner of internal medicine has been locked up in a county jail near Kalamazoo.
“It’s shocking,” said his sister, Iwona Niec Villaire, an attorney. “No one can really understand what happened here.”
ICE and the Department of Homeland Security had a strange explanation.
The Post writes that Niec’s “notice to appear” to DHS officials cited two misdemeanor convictions dating back nearly three decades. In January 1992, he was convicted of ‘malicious destruction of property under $100.’ That same April, he was given a light sentence for receiving and concealing stolen property worth over $100.
Those two charges, says the Post, involve “moral turpitude,” stemming from two separate incidents.
Since the charges reflect poorly on Niec’s character, he’s subject to removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Iwona Niec Villaire says both convictions stem from Lukasz’s teenage years. Hanging with the wrong crowd, the first charge came around during a heated argument following a car accident. The second, Iwona says, was expunged form her brother’s criminal record.
However, MLive.com reports that Niec, despite his prestigious career, hasn’t stayed completely clean ever since. He plead guilty to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of liquor in 2008.
But once Niec completed the terms of his probation, the conviction was set aside and dismissed.
Five years later, in 2013, a Kalamazoo court found him not guilty of domestic violence.
His sister acknowledges that Niec’s record isn’t without its blemishes, writes the Post. Nevertheless, she insists her brother is no risk to the public – and that his green card shouldn’t have been renewed, giving him a “false sense of security.”
The strange case of Lukasz Niec – slated to be deported to a country he’s never known – is one becoming commonplace under the new administration.
Per the Post, deportations during the Obama administration happened with greater frequency than they do today. Back then, though, immigration officers were told to consider multiple factors in determine who to give a clean pass – education, criminal background, and ties to family members in the United States were all factors taken into consideration.
Nowadays, under President Trump, the administration has issued new guidelines expanding the pool of migrants eligible for deportation. Low-level offenders, no-time offenders – anyone who finds themselves sporadically on the wrong side of the law could be sent away, regardless of how much of their life they spent on American soil.
With time running out, Niec’s family and colleagues are rallying to keep him stateside.
He may not have been the model resident in every respect, but his fellow physicians, quoted in the Post, spoke highly of his integrity and moral character.
And his wife made one argument that could be more compelling than any other.
“He can’t be deported,” she said. “He can’t speak Polish. He wouldn’t know where to go. He would be lost.”