He’s Been a U.S. Citizen for 20 Years, Yet ICE Detained Him for 3 Days

A guard escorts an immigrant detainee Nov. 15, 2013, from his segregation cell back into the general population at the Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, Calif.
(Photo: John Moore, Getty Image

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — For three days in July 2016, immigration officials detained a man who became a U.S. citizen more than 20 years ago despite repeated assertions of his citizenship.

Sergio Carrillo of Rialto, Calif., was born in Mexico and became a citizen in 1994. Yet Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials detained him at the Adelanto, Calif., Detention Facility about 40 miles away.

How did that happen? Federal immigration authorities had no record of his citizenship in their database — a common problem for people who were naturalized before 2008 — according to lawyer Jennie Pasquarella, the American Civil Liberties Union of California’s director of immigrants’ rights.

Authorities later discovered Carrillo’s last name was incorrectly listed in the database as “Cabrillo,” according to court filings.

Carrillo and the ACLU sued the federal government and 10 ICE officers in July; they reached a $20,000 settlement this week. The agreement is not an admission of liability or fault on the part of the government, according to the settlement.

The case highlights several problems with the country’s immigration system, Pasquarella said.

“They’re relying on these databases that are just completely erroneous,” she said.

On top of that, immigration officials relied on limited information to make Carrillo’s arrest, Pasquarella said.

They detained him based on evidence of his birth in Mexico and the lack of citizenship information in federal, state or local databases, according to a court filing on behalf of the government.

“It’s not like the criminal justice system,” Pasquarella said. “There is no double check on the (immigration) system to make sure there’s really a reason for arresting somebody.”

In a statement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it “would never knowingly take enforcement action against or detain an individual if there was probative 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.”

By Rebecca Plevin for USA TODAY
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