A San Diego woman who was arrested by immigration authorities and imprisoned for seven months is suing the United States, arguing that she was illegally incarcerated and her claim of U.S. citizenship was ignored.
Sharon Arlanza Yost, 33, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and imprisoned in May 2011 “based on their purported, but baseless, belief that plaintiff was a noncitizen subject to deportation from the United States,” according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. She had pleaded guilty to a methamphetamine possession charge in 2010, according to court documents reviewed by the online publication Russia Today.
She was finally released in December 2011. Yost’s lawsuit, which seeks compensation for false imprisonment, emotional distress and government negligence, says that nine days after her release, she obtained a certificate of citizenship from the government. She hired an attorney and sought compensation for her ordeal through an administrative complaint.
Yost was rewarded with a notice from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the certificate was being cancelled under a federal legal code because “such document or record was illegally or fraudulently obtained from, or was created through illegality or by fraud.”
The law makes it clear that the government challenge is to the certificate of citizenship, not Yost’s actual citizenship, but the intent by the government to pursue her expulsion is implicit.
Yost, a native of the Philippines, acquired citizenship through her mother. According to the lawsuit, she was born out of wedlock to Candelaria Arlanza in the Philippines in 1979. Her father was Richard Allen Yost, a member of the U.S. Navy. Her parents married in 1985 and the mother, Arlanza, became a naturalized citizen four years later. They moved to the U.S. in 1991 and Sharon Arlanza Yost became a permanent legal resident. She automatically became a legal citizen in 1993.
Or so she thought.
Her lawsuit provides a detailed, almost daily, account of Yost’s requests to speak with someone in ICE about her claims of citizenship, and the Orwellian responses she received denying her inquiries. She filled out numerous Detainee Request Forms and gave the authorities relevant documents supporting her claim. The law is clear that persons who are picked up by ICE and claim U.S. citizenship must have those claims immediately addressed.
In October, six months after her incarceration, she was told that her problems stemmed from her failure to formally apply for citizenship when she was younger. Her attorney countered in the lawsuit that ICE was using the wrong legal code and that her citizenship was actually automatic based on her mother’s status.
Finally, on December 7, she was notified that she was being set free. She asked to use a phone to arrange for a pickup, and was told no.