Immigration Agency Accused of Holding 834 U.S. Citizens

Sunday, June 23, 2013
Rennison Castillo (photo: Ted S. Warren, AP)

The federal government has caused the illegal detention of 834 U.S. citizens since 2008 under a program intended to catch illegal entrants at the border, even though federal agents knew or should have known the victims were citizens, according to a federal class-action lawsuit filed last week by the ACLU of Southern California.

 

The plaintiff in the case is Gerardo Gonzalez, a native-born American citizen who has been in jail in Los Angeles since December on a drug charge. Despite being granted bail, Gonzalez was not allowed to post bail in May because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—the federal agency responsible for security at the national borders—has placed an “immigration hold” on him.

 

Intended to give officials time to check on the immigration status of persons whose status is in question, an immigration hold is a request from ICE to local authorities to prolong an individual’s detention for up to five days after they are otherwise eligible for release. Their use has grown immensely: ICE has issued 1 million of them to local authorities nationwide since 2008. 

 

The detentions may be extended, however, and the Complaint alleges that several Americans have been illegally detained for weeks and even months. Examples cited in the Complaint include Ernesto Galarza, a 34-year-old natural-born citizen detained for three days in November 2008; Conway Wiltshire, a naturalized citizen detained for three months in 2007; Mark Lyttle, a U.S.-born citizen held for 51 days; Rennison Castillo, a naturalized citizen and Army veteran detained for 226 days (seven-and-one-half months) in 2005-2006.

 

According to the Complaint, local and federal records readily available to ICE agents clearly show that Gonzalez is a native-born U.S. citizen born in Pacoima, California. Noting that low-level agents can request holds with no supervision and no finding of probable cause, the Complaint alleges that this has caused 834 U.S. citizens and more than 20,000 legal, permanent residents with no criminal records to be detained—both violations of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

-Matt Bewig

 

To Learn More:

Why Is This US-Born Citizen Being Detained by ICE? (by Aura Bogado, The Nation)

'Immigration Holds' Used on U.S. Citizens (by Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service)

Gonzalez v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Complaint) (pdf)

Increasing Cases of U.S. Citizens Detained as Illegal Immigrants (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

 U.S.-Born Citizen Mistakenly Deported (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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