Wednesday, July 9, 2008

ICE Lawbreaking Costing Taxpayers Big Bucks

Yesterday I was interviewed about my research for the June 23, 2008 Nation article "Thin ICE" by a local NPR show "Crosstalk." (The shows are not archived.) The host, Jim Rondeau, asked how ICE responds to charges that it is detaining and deporting U.S. citizens. There used to be one answer to this question, but since a couple of weeks ago, ICE has two. I want to discuss these in more detail from a factual and legal standpoint.

The early response, which I first heard in the February 2008 testimony of Gary Mead, Assistant Director for Management of Detention and Removal Operations, in the House Judiciary Subcomittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, was that ICE "does not knowingly or willingly" detain or deport US citizens. This also was the line mouthed to me by Brandon Alvarez-Montgomery, an Public Relations Officer, when I interviewed him for the Nation article.

There are several problems with this answer. The first is that it is demonstrably false. In the cases my article documented, including one specific case whose facts I brought to the attention of Alvarez-Montgomery and several other ICE officials, they ignored the evidence I sent them of Rene Saldivar's citizenship and he continued to be held in the Eloy Detention Center. In other words, ICE will have a birth certificate or other documents indicating legal requirements of citizenship are satisfied, and nonetheless hold the citizen in detention. (I'll speculate on why they do this later.)

The pattern of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the ICE predecessor agency, and ICE losing civil cases in which the allegation is unlawful detention of US citizens, or settling these cases, provides historical evidence that the government is indeed knowingly and willfully detaining U.S. citizens. In other words, the legal arm of ICE over the last decade has been shelling out what I estimate to be millions of dollars in restitution for false imprisonment lawsuits filed by residents and citizens over the last several years, while the public relations wing of the operation claims this never happens.

In one case, just brought to my attention by attorney Philip Hwang at the San Francisco office of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, a US citizen was falsely imprisoned for hours at the San Francisco Airport. According to the SF Chronicle, Chima Obi, who was born in Redwood City, California and then raised in Africa, was shackled to a chair and taunted by immigration agents who refused to believe that a woman of African descent could be a doctor and a US citizen. She showed them her passport. That wasn't enough. She showed them her birth certificate, and, she said, that made them only angrier. She and her husband were fearful that they would not be able to settle in the US because the INS would never believe them. She eventually was released and her documentation approved, and the INS paid $50,000 to settle the case.

Between 1995 and 2002, the SF based Lawyers Committee for Civil and Constitutional Rights represented 8 cases of people being unlawfully detained for which the INS paid $675,000 to settle.

Claiming that an ICE agent does "not know" a US passport and birth certificate are authentic because racism makes them stupid is not a defense against false imprisonment, but grounds for additional civil rights charges.

{To be cont.}

image above is from here.

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