KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Since 24 Hour News 8’s first story about the arrest of Dr. Lukasz Niec two weeks ago, the story has gained international attention.
The Bronson Methodist Hospital doctor has become a symbol of how immigration matters are handled in this county.
But for the shy family man, it is not the spotlight he seeks, just a return to normalcy.
After 16 days in the Calhoun County Jail, Niec was released Thursday following a bond hearing in Detroit where a judge heard the government’s case against him that includes a minor criminal record when the doctor was 17, accusations in court by a spouse and a bad driving record. The judge decided it was not enough to hold him in jail pending his hearing on his immigration status.
Now, he is back in his home in a fashionable neighborhood near the lake in Texas Township, near Kalamazoo
But it is not over, Niec faces more hearings to determine if he should be sent to Poland, the country his parents escaped from in 1979 when he was five.
Asked how he thinks he would fare in Poland, the doctor answers with a nervous laugh: “Not very good, it’s hard to not be able to speak (the language).”
Niec said as a permanent Green Card holder and having worked as a hospitalist for 10 years, he never thought about his immigration status until the day last month, when not long after putting his daughter on the school bus, ICE agents took him to jail.
“I honestly thought it was still not real when I got there and when I got booked all the way through that’s when it sunk in,” Niec said. “That’s when I freaked out a little.”
Since that time, the doctor said he has been flooded with support from all over the world. But when it comes to being a symbol, has a different approach.
“I wish I wasn’t,” Niec said.
He said after nearly 40 years, he just thinks of himself as an average American, but what many what to know is why during all that time he didn’t simply become a citizen.
“I guess I was busy with school and my life and just thought that just wasn’t really an issue,” Niec said.
He said he was able to leave the U.S. and return with no problem and other than being able to vote, he never really saw a need to become a citizen.
Niec said he never thought that charges from when he was 17, which were supposed to not be on his record as part of a deal made with the prosecution, would come back to haunt him.
He said if he can get through this hearing and remain in America, things will change.
“I have more hopes after going to this bond hearing that things will work out and I’ll be able to become a citizen which I should have, in hindsight, done it earlier,” Niec said.
He said freedom has made him more appreciative than ever for the basic freedoms Americans take for granted.
“To be honest with you, as bad as it sounds, I think it made me a better person in a way,” Niec said.
It’s likely to be several weeks before anything happens in immigration court.
In the meantime, the doctor plans to return to work next week where he hopes he can shed his unwanted celebrity as soon as possible.