ICE Detaining Hundreds of US Citizens By Mistake, Some Detained For Months And Years

When ICE makes a mistake, Americans can have a hard time proving their citizenship.

ICE has history for wrongfully detaining citizens.
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When ICE makes a mistake, Americans can have a hard time proving their citizenship.

An alarming number of U.S. citizens are being wrongfully detained by ICE due to mistakes by the agency, the Los Angeles Times reported. Nearly one-fifth of citizenship claims that ICE investigated over seven years through February 2018 were of people who “tended to show that the individual may, in fact, be a U.S. citizen.” The number peaked in 2012 and 2013, around the time when Obama urged ICE to work harder to deport illegal immigrants.

Sergio Carrillo was arrested at a Home Depot in 2016 even though he had been a U.S. citizen since 1994. His son showed Carrillo’s passport and citizenship certificate to the booking facility, but that was not enough to release Carrillo from detention. On the fourth day, an attorney helped the man prove his citizenship, and he was released. Carrillo won a $20,000 lawsuit against ICE over the incident, but ICE never admitted that they had made a mistake.

Davino Watson, who was a U.S. citizen because his father had naturalized, was detained by ICE for three and a half years. This happened because agents pulled up the wrong file for his father, leading them to falsely believe Watson was lying about his citizenship. When he was finally released after his case was seen by the U.S. District Court, he was thousands of miles from home, left to walk around in prison clothing with no money.

A former ICE general counsel said their client was detained for a year after he was arrested. The client was a permanent resident with no criminal history. The only reason he was arrested is because his name was similar to another person who was a convicted criminal. The criminal had tattoos on his face, the client did not.

Those who are wrongly detained all share similar stories. Nobody believes that they really are citizens, and that it can take a long time before they go to a judge. Those who are detained don’t have the same rights as U.S. citizens and it can be difficult to prove their citizenship because the system is so flawed.

Most of the problems can be traced back to a 2007 project called IDENT, which is the first time that agents started using data to track illegal immigrants. Now, there are other data programs that work together, like CLAIMS, EAGLE, and FALCON, that track millions of people’s information. And ICE knows that databases can be flawed, and a training document for the database systems even says “garbage in, garbage out,” referring to the quality of the data is only as good as what is entered.

Some question if Trump’s directive to push harder to arrest illegal immigrants will also result in hundreds being wrongfully detained by ICE.