MIAMI -- A U.S. military veteran has spurned a government offer of pretrial probation and instead faced the prospect of the Fourth of July in a Miami lockup while awaiting a federal passport fraud trial later this month.
Navy Reserve Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisha Leo Dawkins has been confined since soon after he returned from the Guantanamo detention center earlier this year.
There he served as a Navy photographer, apparently unaware the U.S. immigration service had targeted him for deportation to his mother's native Bahamas when he was 8.
Before Guantanamo he enlisted in the Army and served in Iraq, in 2007, and was honorably discharged.
"He's an American soldier," said Clark Mervis, Dawkins' court-appointed attorney. "He's going to be in an American jail on the Fourth of July under circumstances that are unjust. He fought for this country."
Federal prosecutors indicted and then put out an arrest warrant on Dawkins while he was working as one of Guantanamo's most prolific public affairs photographers -- capturing intimate images of the captives in the prison camps, celebrities and fellow soldiers.
His alleged offense: He failed to report in a 2006 State Department application for a passport that he had earlier started the process of applying in 2003.
It's a felony. Conviction is punishable by as much as 10 years in prison.
Dawkins' case is complicated by the fact that he may not be a U.S. citizen. The charge surfaced a two-decade-old Immigration Service case that ordered Dawkins' deportation, at age 8, with his mother to the Bahamas.
Instead, he stayed in Miami, raised by relatives believing he was a U.S. citizen. And he may be. At age 21, Dawkins obtained a delayed Florida birth certificate indicating he was born in Miami-Dade County. He's also been a registered voter since 2002.
The veteran's plight has caught the attention of Democratic Rep. Federica Wilson of Miami because Dawkins went to elementary and high school and played sports in her district before joining the Army. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, also a Democrat, has been asking questions, too, because the case illustrates dysfunctional communications between federal agencies, which were supposed to be repaired after the 9/11 attacks.
The U.S. military issued Dawkins a "secret" security clearance that gave him access to Guantanamo's prison camps -- apparently unaware that he was under a federal immigration agency removal order.
The U.S. attorney's office in Miami indicted him earlier this year -- apparently unaware that he was on active duty at the U.S. intelligence and detention center.
Wilson does not know Dawkins, an aide said. The freshman member of Congress first learned of his plight in a Miami Herald article a week ago.
He was registered outside her district by the time she ran for office in Jacksonville, where he was studying to be a nurse at Florida State College and serving in the Navy Reserves public affairs unit.
Thursday, she wrote Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano asking immigration authorities not to deport Dawkins. She invoked a June 17 Obama administration instruction to U.S. immigration officials to use "prosecutorial discretion" in deciding which cases to bring against unlawful aliens. It says men and women who served in combat or the military should be given consideration.
"Mr. Dawkins is not someone who should find himself in a detention center," Wilson wrote. "His situation is more than unfortunate, it is inexplicable. I am asking, earnestly, for your help. I am asking that Mr. Dawkins be allowed to continue to be the type of role model he has always been -- here, on American soil."
Dawkins lawyer, Mervis, said he notified federal prosecutors as well as Judge Cecilia Altonaga that they "respectfully declined" an offer to avert trial by participating in a federal probation program. He would not give specifics of the proposed package, or elaborate on why.
But Mervis said he was still hopeful "the prosecution will reconsider its position" before July 12, the date Altonaga has slated for trial.
Otherwise, "in the end, the people will speak," Mervis said, meaning a jury.
Both Wilson and Nelson said the case pointed to the need for Congress to adopt the DREAM Act, which Nelson described this way on the Senate floor in publicizing the Dawkins case: "That legislation would grant legal status to some undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children and who join the military."