Julio Ovalle was walking to a grocery store when he was stopped by a Border Patrol agent, demanding to see identification.
Ovalle, who is a U.S. citizen born in California, had only his cell phone and some cash for shopping. According to a lawsuit, the agents forcibly shoved Ovalle into a vehicle and brought him to a station, all while making derogatory comments and demanding information about where and when he crossed the border. As the Houston Chronicle noted, that was only the beginning of the nightmare that would follow for the 24-year-old Texas man.
The suit claims that Ovalle asked agents if he could have someone get his Texas State ID, but they refused. Agents then forced Ovalle to sign papers he did not understand, as he spoke limited English and had learning disabilities. Just one day later, he was deported to Mexico without the chance to speak to an attorney or even make a phone call to notify his family.
It wasn’t until Ovalle arrived in Tamaulipas, Mexico, that he was able to call his father, who rushed the man’s identification to him. But as Ovalle was waiting for his father, members of a Mexican drug cartel abducted him and held him for ransom, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The FBI worked with Mexican officials to have Ovalle released, but he claims the incident left him with severe emotional distress.
Julio Ovalle is not the only person to be wrongfully held by immigration officials. An extensive report from theLos Angeles Times found that nearly 1,500 Americans were arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, some of them being held for months before being released.
As the report noted, many of the arrests took place because ICE had poor record keeping and the government failed to update their records.
One of those caught up in the poor record keeping was Davino Watson, who had been arrested for selling drugs and was serving time when ICE officials took him in for questioning. Watson explained that he was a U.S. citizen through his father, but agents who tried to look up his father typed in the wrong name, and Watson was taken to a detention facility where he was held for more than three years before they discovered the error.
“You feel like your rights are stripped from you,” Watson said, via the New York Post. “You feel hopeless.”
Julio Ovalle is seeking $1 million in damages in his lawsuit against the U.S. government.