What happened?

What follows is an objective, and hopefully unbiased, account of the events that led to Clem’s incarceration. It should be noted that Clem and his family do not dispute these events. Hopefully, an unequally unbiased reader will note that the severity of Clem’s punishments do not fit the crime. In effect, he has been forced into a “double jeopardy” situation – paying twice for the same offense – and treated in a manner far out of line with the spirit of the legal system.

On the night of September 9, 2001, Clem went to a local Sparta bar, Kroughs Restaurant, for the record release party of a friend. Clem made the unfortunate decision to drive home that evening instead of calling a family member. He was pulled over just prior to turning onto our road and charged with Driving While Intoxicated and possession of a CDS (.8 grams of marijuana, or roughly the amount of one marijuana cigarette).

As a result of this charge, Clem suffered all of the normal and appropriate penalties: his license was suspended; he paid fines and insurance premiums; he was subject to a year of probation and random urinalysis. Clem completed the court’s terms without incident, and his license and other privileges were restored having served the punishment for his crime.

For the next six years, Clem conducted his life as an average, working citizen and father. He continued to live in the same Sparta, NJ home he had for almost 30 years, paid his taxes on time, and resumed the suburban life. His career occasionally forced him to travel internationally for business. At times he was lucky enough to travel for pleasure. He did this freely. He committed no additional crimes.

Then, in the summer of 2008, after returning from a business trip to Italy, he was detained at JFK Airport. He was held for hours, unaware of his charges. Eventually, he was told that it was in relation to his arrest six years ago. It seems that after updating their computers, the Department of Homeland Security had red flagged previous offenses by resident aliens. So, despite the fact that Clem, a British citizen, has legally lived in the country for 35 years, he was treated as an arriving alien, subject to a different, and ever changing, set of rules.

Clem was released and ordered to return to the airport for a “deferred inspection” on November 12. Clem, a father of three American citizens, two of them college graduates, one in high school, was arrested and jailed. He was not told when, or if, he would be released.

For weeks, he remained in jail. Unsure if their husband and father would be deported or detained indefinitely, the family hired a team of lawyers. As Clem learned of the many others with a similar situation inside, outside his lawyers fought for his release. And then one day, six weeks after he had been locked up, he was let go. No explanation was given.

Clem remains a free man today, but his saga is not yet over. Tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills later, the case has yet to be fully resolved. His passport has not been returned to him, and future court dates await.

We are a lucky family. We have gotten our husband and father back, at least for now. But the question remains, is this a fair application of the Patriot Act? Is this the job the Department of Homeland Security was designed to do?

As stated above, Clem broke the law, and he served the punishment. It is this second punishment, and its swift severity, its secrecy, that the family objects to. Clem did not hide from his wrong doing, but the government continues to hide behind a legal system mired in complexity and made purposefully vague. We think we are, for now, a lucky family. Will this change? It is not inconceivable that the rules for us and the many, many other families affected in similar situations will shift to fit a new agenda, and Clem will once again be detained for a crime he has paid the price for, now twice and counting.