By Franque Thompson
BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WWMT) — Child abuse allegations might have been what triggered a Kalamazoo doctor's arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On Wednesday, Lukasz Niec's wife and close friend visited the doctor at the Calhoun County Jail for 40 minutes.
To denounce the accusations, Niec's wife, Rachelle Burkart-Niec, showed Newschannel 3 a copy of a charging request from the Kalamazoo County Prosecuting Attorney. The documents are dated from October 2017. She said someone filed the claims against Niec in July 2017, after his daughter was found with a bruise.
“It says warrant denied. There is no reasonable likelihood of conviction” Burkart-Niec said Wednesday, after her second visit with her husband.
“That charge, that CPS allegation, has been reviewed by the Michigan State Police and he has been found innocent of that,” Niec’s friend and colleague Penny Rathburn said.
Burkart-Niec said because the case had no merit, her husband and his supporters are now asking for a significant review of the immigration laws in his case.
“Lukasz is a legal immigrant and a lot of these immigrants are illegal immigrants," Rathburn said. "So, I think it's such a different story that it's hard to compare and contrast them."
Niec moved to the United States with his family from Poland when he was 3. His wife said they renewed his Polish passport and permanent green card.
“They were always told that permanent green card was permanent residency. So, we haven't asked him 'do you want to be a citizen?' ” Bukart-Niec said. “We did renew his Polish passport, we did renew his permanent green card. That took us going to the Polish embassy a number of times and an interpreter. And so, we got document after document completed and final.”
Niec said he was home alone when three ICE agents knocked on his front door.
“At first, I thought it was a joke, you know. They were like 'can we come in?' And then they asked me if there were any guns in the house. I have a few shotguns upstairs and I go 'yes,’" Lukasz Niec said from jail during a Newschannel 3 exclusive phone interview. “They put the cuffs on me and said we are arresting you. We have a warrant and we are taking you in. Where's your green card, where's your passport. I said my green card is in the kitchen and my passport is in my office.”
Lukasz Niec is an doctor putting in long hours as a hospitalist. His co-workers describe him as the model of what a physician should be.— Juan Escalante (@JuanSaaa) January 21, 2018
And now, he is sitting in a jail cell w/ no idea of when — or if — he’ll be free to return to his patients & family.
The Bronson Healthcare doctor said that since his arrest, he’s unsure of what’s ahead.
“I'm not sure of anything. I mean, I don't know what's going to happen, it's kind of hard to say. I've talked to other people in worse situations than me and they were able to get off,” Niec said.
His wife and colleague said they left Wednesday’s visit with a little bit of good news, explaining that Niec could face an immigration judge sooner than expected. Niec’s attorney originally told him it was possible to see a judge Feb. 7.
“His case may have been moved up to Friday for hearing to the immigration judge, so he is a little more hopeful now,” Rathburn said.
Niec has been held at the Calhoun County Jail since Jan. 16. In a statement from ICE agents, they said he had 18 encounters with law enforcement - including two misdemeanor convictions from 1992. Newschannel 3 obtained court documents showing that many of those encounters involved speeding tickets.
“Administrations are getting stricter, government is getting stricter. But to jump back to a person this far back - I'm guessing there'd be a lot more people,” Niec said.
While behind bars, Niec said his attorney has been working hard on efforts toward his release.
“I think he's pretty confident he's going to come through in the long run, but timing wise he's not sure,” Niec said.
His wife said his time in jail is affecting their family.
“I said 'I need you at home to be a dad with me. So we can be parents.’ Our kid is skipping papers because this is so hard on her,” Burkart-Niec said.
His wife said it's been hard on Niec, too, as he shared stories of others in jail also at risk of deportation.
“He's almost more heartbroken for the people around him than he is for himself,” Burkart-Niec said.
“That is the Lukasz Niec that we know," Rathburn said. "He is the most empathetic person. While he's behind bars he's concerned about the other people there.”
ICE agents said a permanent resident can be deported if there are two or more convictions for a crime involving moral turpitude. Niec's family said he's humbled by the support he's seen across the country. They're asking more people to investigate immigration laws and support reform.