The ICE is increasingly like the Gestapo. Paige St. John and Joel Rubin report in the LA Times: Immigration officers in the United States operate under a cardinal rule: Keep your hands off Americans. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents repeatedly target U.S. citizens for deportation by mistake, making wrongful arrests based on incomplete government records, bad […]
Immigration officers in the United States operate under a cardinal rule: Keep your hands off Americans.
But Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents repeatedly target U.S. citizens for deportation by mistake, making wrongful arrests based on incomplete government records, bad data and lax investigations, according to a Times review of federal lawsuits, internal ICE documents and interviews.
Since 2012, ICE has released from its custody more than 1,480 people after investigating their citizenship claims, according to agency figures. And a Times review of Department of Justice records and interviews with immigration attorneys uncovered hundreds of additional cases in the country’s immigration courts in which people were forced to prove they are Americans and sometimes spent months or even years in detention.
Victims include a landscaper snatched in a Home Depot parking lot in Rialto and held for days despite his son’s attempts to show agents the man’s U.S. passport; a New York resident locked up for more than three years fighting deportation efforts after a federal agent mistook his father for someone who wasn’t a U.S. citizen; and a Rhode Island housekeeper mistakenly targeted twice, resulting in her spending a night in prison the second time even though her husband had brought her U.S. passport to a court hearing.
They and others described the panic and feeling of powerlessness that set in as agents took them into custody without explanation and ignored their claims of citizenship.
The wrongful arrests account for a small fraction of the more than 100,000 arrests ICE makes each year, and it’s unclear whether the Trump administration’s aggressive push to increase deportations will lead to more mistakes. But the detentions of U.S. citizens amount to an unsettling type of collateral damage in the government’s effort to remove illegal or unwanted immigrants.
The errors reveal flaws in the way ICE identifies people for deportation, including its reliance on databases that are incomplete and plagued by mistakes. The wrongful arrests also highlight a presumption that pervades U.S. immigration agencies and courts that those born outside the United States are not here legally unless electronic records show otherwise. And when mistakes are not quickly remedied, citizens are forced into an immigration court system where they must fight to prove they should not be removed from the country, often without the help of an attorney.
The Times found that the two groups most vulnerable to becoming mistaken ICE targets are the children of immigrants and citizens born outside the country.
Matthew Albence, the head of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, declined to be interviewed but said in a written statement that investigating citizen claims can be a complex task involving searches of electronic and paper records as well as personal interviews. He said ICE updates records when errors are found and agents arrest only those they have probable cause to suspect are eligible for deportation.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes very seriously any and all assertions that an individual detained in its custody may be a U.S. citizen,” he said.
But The Times’ review of federal documents and lawsuits turned up cases in which Americans were arrested based on mistakes or cursory ICE investigations and some who were repeatedly targeted because the government failed to update its records. Immigration lawyers said federal agents rarely conduct interviews before making arrests and getting ICE to correct its records is difficult.
A big mistake
Sergio Carrillo had already been handcuffed in the Home Depot parking lot in Rialto on a July morning in 2016 when an officer in Homeland Security uniform appeared.
“Homeland Security?” Carrillo asked. “What do you want with me?”
Ignoring Carrillo’s demands for an explanation, the officer ordered the 39-year-old landscaper taken to a federal detention facility in downtown Los Angeles.
“You’re making a big mistake,” Carrillo recalled saying from the back seat to the officers driving him. “I am a U.S. citizen.” . . .