The past caught up with Peter Briggs and in his case, it speaks German.
Now on the verge of 60, he’s facing deportation to Germany, the country of his birth and a place he hasn’t seen in 55 years.
“He’s led a colorful life and it hasn’t always been good,” his brother Dieter Briggs said. “He’s paid his debt to society and he’s been clean and sober for 10 years. He applied for his citizenship and this is how they’ve responded.”
Peter Briggs has been in the Sherburne County jail since February. He turned himself in after learning he could be deported, his brother said. In the past two weeks, a judge ruled that Briggs must be deported. His siblings are upset, but others say his case isn’t that unusual; longtime legal U.S. residents can be deported after years in the country.
“I do not understand for the life of me what deporting him back to a country that he has not been in for over 50 years is going to do for him, or us,” Cherri Briggs Chausee wrote to the judge. “So much time, energy and money have been used on this case. I need you to know it matters, to us, his family. If he deserved this, I would understand, and let whatever will be, be. But he does not, and I have done everything in my power to help.”
Peter Briggs and his older brother, Dieter, were born in Hof, Germany, back when the country was divided into East and West Germany. Their mother, Helga, married Jack D. Briggs, who adopted the young boys and returned to the U.S. in 1961. Their half-sister, Briggs Chausee, was born in 1963 to Helga and Jack Briggs.
When Jack and Helga Briggs divorced in 1965, the three children stayed with Jack Briggs, who remarried and had three more children.
But Jack Briggs died in 1972 without securing citizenship for his two oldest sons. Peter was moved around to foster homes, drank alcohol and smoked marijuana, his sister said.
Until the past decade, Peter Briggs was in and out of trouble. He has a couple of convictions for drinking and driving. He also was convicted of a felony for driving after a license revocation and fleeing a police officer, according to state records.
Briggs Chausee said those days are behind her brother.
“He owns his own mobile home, car and motorcycle. He has become closer to his family, keeping in touch and spending some vacation time with them,” she said.
The older brother, Dieter Briggs, long ago applied for and received U.S. citizenship. When Peter Briggs applied, his criminal past caught the attention of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Briggs Chausee said her brother applied for citizenship so he could get a U.S. passport and travel, assuming he had moved beyond his criminal problems. He had not.
Immigration court proceedings aren’t public, but his siblings said a judge ruled to deport Peter Briggs, so now he’s in limbo.
Peter Briggs has two lawyers working on his behalf, but both declined to comment.
His family members say they reached out to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office for help, but now it appears that there is little that can be done, given the judge’s ruling.
“We do help in cases like this if we can,” said Klobuchar’s state director, Ben Hill, adding that once a judge has ruled, they can’t do anything.
An ICE spokesman said that it’s not uncommon to deny citizenship when applicants have a criminal record and that in Briggs’ case, a judge ordered his removal from the country on May 27.
“He will remain in ICE custody in Minnesota pending his removal to Germany. His numerous criminal convictions — including two DWIs and fleeing a police officer — make him an ICE enforcement priority,” spokesman Shawn Neudauer said.
His family members haven’t given up hope, but they are running out of options. “This whole situation doesn’t make sense to me,” Briggs Chausee said.
Dieter Briggs said of his brother: “He’s American through and through. He doesn’t understand German. He was 3 years old when he left.”
Peter Briggs is frustrated now, too, at being in limbo, Dieter Briggs said. “He said, ‘I don’t care if you send me away or let me stay. I don’t want to be jailed anymore.’ ”