What Happens When A U.S. Citizen is Wrongfully Deported?
Being on an ICE hold in an ICE detention center and facing deportation can be a traumatic experience for anyone, especially when compounded with confusion and uncertainty if you are, in fact, an American citizen. Many people believe that it is impossible for a U.S. citizen to be mistaken for an undocumented immigrant. However, each year hundreds of American citizens endure this violation of civil rights. ICE’s documentation failures, overburdened immigration courts and lack of attorney representation for defendants play a significant role in the wrongful deportation and ICE holds of U.S. citizens.
When to File a Wrongful Deportation Lawsuit
American citizens have their rights violated when they are subjected to an ICE hold or deportation. This does not mean that ICE does not detain and deport citizens illegally. In fact, ICE has released more than 1,480 citizens from its custody since 2012 after investigating their citizenship claims.
Individuals who have had their civil rights violated due to a wrongful ICE hold or deportation can bring a civil action for damages against the federal government for wrongful deportation. But, what is considered as a violation of rights when it comes to ICE holds and deportation? The following examples demonstrate gross conduct by ICE agents
In 2016, an officer in Rialto, California handcuffed Sergio Carrillo, a U.S. citizen in a Home Depot parking lot. Carrillo demanded an explanation but agents never gave him one. When he noticed one of the officers in a “Homeland Security” uniform, he immediately stated they had the wrong person. Carrillo immediately began protesting his detainment and repeatedly told the officers “I am a U.S. citizen.” However, officers ignored his plea.
Sergio Carrillo was born in Mexico but gained U.S. citizenship when his mother became a citizen in 1994. More than two decades before his arrest, the U.S. government gave him a certificate of citizenship and a passport.
Detention and Lawsuit
ICE agents are required to “carefully and expeditiously” investigate any U.S. citizenship claim. However, the agency failed to do so in Carrillo’s case. Although Carrillo’s son brought his father’s passport and citizenship certificate to the downtown booking facility, ICE officers refused to consider the documents.
Agents took Carrillo to an ICE processing center where they searched, photographed and fingerprinted him. He was issued a notice to appear in immigration court and charged with grounds of removability. ICE then moved Carrillo to a privately run immigration detention center 85 miles outside of the city he lived. Officers at both centers continued to ignore his citizenship claims.
After spending four days in ICE’s custody, an attorney hired by Carrillo’s family intervened. The Carrillo family’s attorney presented Carrillo’s passport and certificate of citizenship to an ICE agent. It was then that ICE investigated and subsequently released Carrillo later that day.
After his release, Carrillo who made his living a landscaper had a long list of angry clients. Several of his clients fired him. It took just four days for a wrongful ICE hold to destroy his life.
After filing a false imprisonment lawsuit, the federal government agreed to pay Carrillo $20,000 to settle the lawsuit. There was no evidence ICE agents verified if Carrillo held a U.S. passport. This breaks ICE’s policy that states a claim of citizenship by an arrestee must be promptly investigated.
ICE agents became aware of Jamaican native Davino Watson when he was serving time in a New York state prison on a drug charge.
Watson was questioned about his immigration status and advised an ICE agent he was a U.S. citizen through the naturalization of his father. Records show that when verifying Watson’s immigration status in the database, the agent pulled up the wrong person. The agent landed on Hopeton Livingston Watson living in Connecticut who was not a U.S. citizen instead of Watson’s father, Hopeton Ulando Watson who lived in New York.
After serving his sentence for the drug charge, Watson was transferred to and remained in ICE custody for three and a half years. Federal lawyers refused to free Watson after realizing there was an error in identifying his parents. They argued for Watson’s deportation because his father was not his legal guardian after leaving the island nation.
During the time while he was detained, Watson gained knowledge from a prison law library and mounted his citizenship case. An immigration judge ordered Watson deported and The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed.
A court-appointed attorney pressed ICE when Watson’s appeal reached U.S. District Court and immigration authorities conducted the internal legal review that should have been completed after Watson’s initial claim of being a U.S. citizen. It was revealed that the government had misinterpreted a hidden aspect of immigration law. More than one ICE superior had approved Watson’s detention without reviewing his case records. After 1,273 days in imprisonment, ICE freed Watson. This, however, was not the end of a nightmare for Watson. Doctors later diagnosed him with depression and anxiety brought on by his time in ICE custody.
Julio Cesar Ovalle
On June 11 Julio Cesar Ovalle, a San Antonio resident, and U.S. citizen was walking to H-E-B when a Border Patrol agent stopped him. Ovalle did not have identification on him but he told the agent he is a U.S. citizen. Disregarding his claims, agents decided to deport Ovalle to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico the following day. At no point, before his deportation did Ovalle see a judge, make a phone call or have access to an attorney.
Once Ovalle was in Mexico, he called his father to have him pick him up. While waiting outside of the immigration center, a cartel abducted Ovalle and held him for ransom. Once his father found out about the nightmare that was taking place, he immediately went to the FBI’s office in Laredo to ask for help. The FBI worked with its Mexican counterparts and the cartel released Ovalle a few days later.
With the help of an attorney, Ovalle filed a claim in September against the federal agency and the specific Border Patrol agents who took part in his detention and deportation. The federal government has six months to respond to the claim. If there is no response within the six months, Ovalle and his attorney can proceed with filing a lawsuit.
This horrific experience is haunting Ovalle to the point that he attempted suicide and required hospitalization since returning to the United States. As a result, he now carries his passport with him at all times to feel safe from detainment and deportation.
Resources for Wrongfully-Detained Citizens
As these stories prove, it is difficult to get ICE to listen to your claims to citizenship. If ICE detains you or a loved one, you must first and foremost understand your rights. Additionally, you may require the assistance from an immigration attorney to assist with proving your citizenship.
The ACLU has information available to anyone with questions about detainment by police and immigration officers. If you are in need of an immigration attorney to help prove you or a loved one’s citizenship, we recommend consulting:
- Your state ACLU
- National Immigration Law Center
- American Immigration Lawyer Association
- National Immigration Project
Once you have proved your citizenship and made it through the immigration court process, a civil justice attorney can help you bring a lawsuit against the federal government.
The importance of hiring a Civil Justice Attorney
Rebuilding your life after wrongful deportation may prove to be more difficult than you thought. While putting the ordeal behind you may seem like the easier way to move on, understanding that you have the right to sue should also be a part of your recovery plan. A civil justice attorney from The Carlson Law Firm can help you determine if a lawsuit is right for you.
Holding the government accountable for their breach of duty to you as an American citizen is your right. A wrongful deportation civil rights lawyer can help you pursue a claim against the federal government under the:
- 1983 Claim — Civil action for deprivation of rights
- Federal Torts Claim Act
- Bivens Claim
If you told an ICE agent that you were a U.S. citizen and they ignored or refused to properly investigate your citizenship, this was a breach of duty.
Wrongfully Deported Lawsuits
In each of these cases, the wrongfully deported parties filed a lawsuit against the federal government. However, in order for a lawsuit to move forward, plaintiffs must first file an administrative claim. This claim is required before a lawsuit can proceed. The government has up to six months to respond to an administrative claim.
The blog was submitted by the Carlson Law Firm.