(CNN) — Dr. Lukasz R. Niec was 5 years old when his parents fled Poland with their two children in 1979, his sister says.
Now he’s a doctor in Michigan with a family of his own. He was enjoying a day off at his lakeside home near Kalamazoo a week ago when US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took him away in handcuffs.
“I’m not sure of anything,” Niec told CNN affiliate WWMT from the Calhoun County jail. “I mean, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s hard to say, but … there’s a quite a few people in here with different stories. That blew me away. Mine is probably one of the more extreme ones.”
Now his family fears he faces deportation to a country he’s never known.
“Lukasz doesn’t speak Polish. He doesn’t have any affiliations to Poland,” his sister, Iwona Niec-Villaire, told CNN. “It’s not somewhere he feels it’s home.” Niec received a temporary green card and later became a lawful permanent resident, his sister said. He has a permanent green card.
His sister along with his wife are now embroiled in a legal battle to keep him in the US and bring him home.
“This is my first marriage, my only marriage and I didn’t see it ever getting ripped apart like this,” said his wife Rachelle Burkart-Niec. “I mean, I said till death, I didn’t say till deported.”
In a statement Tuesday, ICE said Niec was arrested January 16 over “administrative immigration violations.”
Niec entered the United States lawfully, ICE said, but he was found “amenable to removal proceedings as a result of two 1992 state convictions for malicious destruction of property and receiving stolen property, both of which are crimes involving moral turpitude.”
He was 17 years old when he committed those offenses and one of the charges had been expunged from his record after he completed a youth training program, his family said.
“He most recently came under agency scrutiny as a result of 18 encounters with local law enforcement. He will remain in ICE custody pending the outcome of removal proceedings.”
The statement defined a crime of moral turpitude as “a crime against a person (such as assault), fraud, perjury, robbery, theft and bribery.” A crime of moral turpitude can be either a felony or a misdemeanor, it said.
While questions remain about Niec’s immigration status, his background and the reason for his detention, his situation offers a cautionary tale for permanent residents with a criminal record, no matter how minor or old the convictions may be, immigration lawyer Charles Kuck said. Until you become a naturalized citizen, you’re still eligible for deportation, he said.
Legal permanent residents convicted of crimes have long been the targets of deportation orders. But President Donald Trump’s executive orders affecting immigration expanded the enforcement priorities of the Obama years by taking a sweeping approach to the definition of “criminal.”
“(Niec) is a microcosm of what’s happening all over the country but doesn’t get publicity until it happens to a white guy from Europe living in the suburbs,” Kuck said.
“I don’t think he ever looked at the TV screen and thought I’m one of those people that are at risk,” Niec’s wife said.
Niec specializes in internal medicine for Bronson Healthcare Group in Kalamazoo. After his detention, his colleagues rallied around him, offering letters of support to authorities.
“He’s exactly the kind of person that our immigration policy should be encouraging to prosper here,” Dr. Michael Raphelson said.
Niec has had other legal problems.
In 2013, he was charged with domestic violence but was found not guilty by a Kalamazoo County District Court jury, according to court records obtained by CNN. Details of that case were not immediately available.
Niec was convicted of driving while intoxicated in 2008, records say. He completed his probation, paid a fine and the conviction was set aside, the records show.
He also was charged with 20 other minor traffic offenses, such as speeding or failure to change the address on his license, from 1997 to 2016, court records show.
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