ICE Thawing Out on Detainee Practices?

January 6, 2012

There has been an increase in detaining and deporting not just undocumented aliens, but legal aliens and U.S. citizens. Public outrage could be the reason that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently established a hotline for detainees.

A December 29, 2011 ICE bulletin outlines rules regarding detaining individuals and launches a hotline number for detainees who have civil rights or civil liberties complaints. ICE also issued a new detainer form. The aim is to ensure that detainees are "properly notified about their potential removal from the country and are made aware of their rights."

It does not say how detainees would get access to a phone to call the toll-free hotline number (855-448-6903) that is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Detainees who are victims of a crime or are U.S. citizens can call the hotline to report their predicament.

The stories of innocents detained or deported by ICE are becoming folklore. Many are familiar with the story of Pedro Guzman, a U.S. citizen who was deported from a Los Angeles jail to Tijuana, Mexico. Mr. Guzman, a cement layer had suffered from mental health issues and was arrested for trespassing and vandalism at an airfield. At the time of his arrest he told officials that he was born in California.

Somehow after serving a 120-day sentence, ICE officials interviewed him and it was incorrectly determined that he had been born in Mexico. He signed voluntary deportation papers and was deported to Tijuana, Mexico with $3 in his pocket. It is not clear why ICE agents did not investigate to verify his true place of birth. It is hard to believe that ICE agents did not realize that Pedro has mental health issues and has the reading ability of a second grader. It has not been determined if the detainee was coerced into signing the papers or even understood what he was signing.

Pedro's family frantically searched for him for months. His mother spent weekends searching the streets of Tijuana. After 89 days he was found. He had attempted to return to the U.S. unsuccessfully from San Ysidro several times where U.S. border agents turned him away. It is not clear why all border agents were not notified to be on the lookout for Pedro, the U.S. citizen mistakenly deported. At any rate, he walked 100 miles to Mexicali to successfully cross the border.

The ACLU assisted him in filing a lawsuit against Los Angeles County Sheriff Department and ICE. The ACLU has been in the forefront advocating for detainees' rights. In February 2008 the ACLU testified before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law of the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing on “Immigration and Customs Enforcement Interrogation, Detention and Removal”. The organization outlined problems with ICE regarding interrogation, detention and removal of detainees and stressed that each detainee was entitled to due process that includes a hearing before a judge in immigration court and review by a federal court. The testimony highlighted:
• large-scale, mass raids in worksites and homes;
• dramatic increase in detention beds;
• expansion of federal immigration enforcement to include state and local police;
• denial of access to counsel for people facing removal from the U.S.;
• mass transfers of detainees to facilities hundreds of miles from their homes;
• incarceration of detainees in unsanitary inhumane conditions;
• denial of medical and dental care to detainees, including those with serious, life- threatening conditions.
The testimony tells the horrifying story of a six-year-old U.S. citizen child detained by ICE agents:
"Among the thousands of people who have been rounded up by ICE under the auspices of Operation Return to Sender is Kebin Reyes, six years old at the time of his arrest in March 2007. A native-born U.S. citizen, Kebin was sleeping when ICE officers stormed into his home. Kebin’s father Noe told the ICE agents that Kebin is a U.S. citizen, and asked permission to call a relative to care for Kebin while Noe was detained. The ICE agents refused. Instead they made Noe wake up Kebin, who watched as officers handcuffed his father, and then took father and son to the ICE booking station in San Francisco. Kebin spent 10 hours locked in a room with his father. ICE agents never allowed Noe to call someone to pick up Kebin. It was only when a relative heard from neighbors what happened and came to the ICE facility that Kebin was able to leave. 
Like Kebin, children all over the country have been traumatized by seeing their parents swept up and taken away or by being left behind without care after school when parents have been arrested without notice. After the raids in which Kebin was arrested, the San Rafael City Schools Board of Education wrote to Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, reporting, "The ICE raids sent our schools into a state of emergency. Many students were and remain distracted from school work as they worry about their loved ones. Most of these children are, by and large, American-born, full-fledged citizens with a right to a quality education and to live in this country for the rest of their lives." To vindicate Kebin's rights under the Fourth Amendment and to prevent future abuses, the ACLU, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the law firm of Coblentz Patch Duffy and Bass filed a lawsuit against ICE in April 2007."
Read the compelling ACLU testimony to see how far astray we have gone as a nation in our treatment of fellow human beings.

The latest blotched ICEcapade to be revealed involves a 15-year-old runaway child who was deported from Houston, Texas to Columbia, South America.

Jakadrien Turner ran away from her home after her parents divorced and grandfather died in 2010. She was listed on the National Missing and Exploited Children registry. In April 2011 when she was arrested for shoplifting Jakadrien gave the police a false name, Tika Cortez, which happens to be that of a 21-year-old Colombian who was in the U.S. illegally.

Although Jakadrien does not speak Spanish and possessed no ID she maintained her story and was deported to Columbia. Like Pedro's relatives, Jakadrien's relatives searched frantically for her. Her grandmother discovered messages on her friends' facebook pages that indicated she was in Columbia. The family was afraid to contact her, fearing that she was a victim of human trafficking, but contacted the Dallas police who unraveled the mess.

Jakafrien has been in the custody of Columbian juvenile authorities for a month and will be returned to the U.S. today, older and pregnant. There is no news of where the real Tika Cortez is.

Documented cases of U.S. citizens being detained and/or deported include the cases of Hector Veloz, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was locked up for 13 months and 3,600 other U.S. citizens arrested by ICE between April 2008 and April 2011, according to a Secure Communities Report from the Berkley Law School.

Immigration officials are not allowed to detain U.S. citizens, and DPS cannot deport them. So why has this been happening?

State laws that allow law enforcement officials to request alien status or IDs could mean even more U.S. citizens end up being detained as racial profiling increases. The  strategies outlined in the December 29, 2011 ICE bulletin may help to prevent U.S. citizens and legal aliens from being detained and/or deported. The real solution lies in passing comprehensive immigration reform.