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U.S. Citizen Detained by ICE Is Awarded $55,000 Settlement

For more than three decades, Guadalupe R. Plascencia has put down roots in California as a naturalized American. She raised five children, worked in a beauty salon, and welcomed a new generation as her sons and daughters had families of their own.

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Christine Hauser
, New York Times

For more than three decades, Guadalupe R. Plascencia has put down roots in California as a naturalized American. She raised five children, worked in a beauty salon, and welcomed a new generation as her sons and daughters had families of their own.

But in 2017, according to court documents, Plascencia was handcuffed, briefly detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in San Bernardino County in California and threatened with deportation.

“Here, you are nobody,” an ICE officer told her, according to the documents. “You are nothing.”

In December 2017, Plascencia, 60, sued the U.S. government and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for false arrest and imprisonment, and in September she was awarded $55,000 in a settlement, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in San Bernardino County last week.

The county agreed to pay $35,000 and the federal government agreed to pay $20,000, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Plascencia in a lawsuit claiming that the detention violated her constitutional rights against unlawful seizure.

The case is the latest to raise the issue of cooperation between law enforcement officials and ICE. That cooperation sometimes includes enforcing requests known as detainers to hold people who are about to be released so federal authorities can arrest them.

In his first week in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order threatening to withhold billions of federal dollars from cities and counties that ignored those requests, but state and local officials have found themselves ensnared in civil liberties lawsuits when they do comply.

“Ms. Plascencia is far from the only U.S. citizen that ICE has wrongfully arrested and detained,” the lawsuit said. It said the agency used incomplete databases to try to confirm naturalization, fingerprints and citizenship before 2008.

Adrienna Wong, the ACLU attorney who worked on the case, said the ordeal that Plascencia underwent happens “very frequently.”

“These are ‘on the book’ citizens but ICE’s records of who is a naturalized citizen are incomplete,” she said Monday.

According to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research center at Syracuse University, ICE requested the detention of 2,965 U.S. citizens from 2004 through April 2018. It is not known how all of the requests turned out.

According to Wong, the defendants argued that Plascencia was held based on a detainer that had been issued for someone with a similar name.

Asked about the case, ICE said it would never “knowingly take enforcement action against or detain an individual if there was evidence indicating the person was a U.S. citizen.”

“Should such information come to light, the agency will take immediate action to address the matter,” the department said in an email.

The sheriff’s department did not immediately reply to emails about the case. A lawyer for the federal government declined to comment.

Plascencia’s ordeal began in March 2017, when she and her daughter went to the police department in Ontario, a city about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, to retrieve her registered gun from her car after a crash, the lawsuit says.

After she showed officers her driver’s license and gun registration, officers told her she had a 10-year old outstanding warrant for disobeying an order to appear in court in an unrelated case.

Plascencia, who is of Mexican descent, speaks Spanish and became a naturalized citizen on May 28, 1998, was fingerprinted, chained around the waist and spent the night in a detention center.

The next day she was told to sign a document notifying ICE that she was being released from custody. When she asked why a citizen would have to do that, she was told it was a condition for release, the lawsuit said.

She was then placed in another cell. Although its door was ajar, “it was clear to Ms. Plascencia that she was not permitted to walk out of the room,” the lawsuit said. After about 15 minutes, she was told she could go, and as she walked out two ICE officers arrested her at the exit, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the deputy at the detention center “directed Ms. Plascencia to wait in the cell as a ruse to delay Ms. Plascencia’s departure.” She was handcuffed, placed into an ICE vehicle, and was taken to a field station in San Bernardino.

There, the lawsuit said, Plascencia asked permission to request that her daughter bring her passport. An agent also made the “you’re nothing” comment at about that time, the lawsuit said.

She was released after her daughter brought the passport to the field station.

“This case really highlights how local law enforcement needs to get out of the game of enforcing federal immigration law,” Wong said. It “goes directly to challenging the ‘arrest first and ask questions later’ that ICE has been operating under.”

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