Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers wrongly targeted and arrested more than 1,480 U.S. citizens over the last six years, and in some of those cases ignored documents proving those in custody were Americans, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation published Friday.
The Times’ review also found cases where citizens were arrested based on mistakes or hasty ICE investigations and where some were targeted continuously because the government failed to properly update its records.
ICE arrests more than 100,000 people every year, and agents assume the people in custody are lying about citizenship, according to a former senior attorney for ICE’s regional office in Los Angeles.
“The automatic response was, ‘Yeah, you’re just doing that to get out of our custody,’” said Patty Corrales, who now works in private practice. Most citizenship claims were false, she said, but “there were real citizens out there.”
The Times reviewed federal lawsuits and internal ICE documents and conducted interviews for its report.
The publication included the story of Davino Watson, who has wrongfully held in detention centers for more than three years. Watson was serving time in prison on a drug charge when he was questioned about his immigration status. An agent pulled up incorrect information, and Watson was transferred to ICE custody where he remained for three-and-a-half years.
“You feel like your rights are stripped from you. You feel hopeless,” Watson told the Times. “It was very hard to understand. I spent many nights crying.”
The head of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations told the Times investigating citizen claims can be a tedious process.
“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,” said Matthew Albence.
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