Wrongfully Detained U.S. Citizen Given $400,000 by Court

Over the last five to ten years, the Immigration Service has hugely increased the number of immigrants it arrests. When the Government arrests immigrants, it is usually because they have no documents to prove their status. However, sometimes, U.S. citizens also have no documents to prove their citizenship, and for this reason, the Immigration Service has to be very careful who it decides to.  Recently, an Army veteran who was detained for more than seven months in immigration detention, received a $400,000 settlement and a written apology from the U.S. government. Rennison Vern Castillo, 33, of Lakewood, Washington, sued officials at the U.S.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s Northwest Detention Center, where he was detained as a suspected illegal immigrant, although the Government had no proof that he was an illegal immigrant. The U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle admitted that the immigration Service had made a mistake and along with the $400,000, gave Mr. Castillo a letter apologizing for the mistake.

Mr. Castillo had become a citizen in 1998 after joining the military. He served in the U.S. military for seven years. However, in 2005, he was imprisoned for a crime for eight months, and because he had no proof of his citizenship, he was transferred to an immigration detention facility.  He told prison officials and Immigration officials that he was a citizen, but without proof of that, they refused to let him go.  Not only did they not let him go, but an Immigration Judge ordered Mr. Castillo deported from the United States in January 2006. His immigration lawyers appealed the decision to theBoard of Immigration Appeals, and he was released from detention about a month later. The Government claimed that the mistake was a result of a misspelling of Mr. Castillo’s name in their database, and because he had 2 Alien registration numbers (also known as A numbers).

Many Chinese immigrants who were ordered deported many years ago never terminate their court proceedings or cancel the arrest warrant that is issued after the deportation order. For this reason, they are at risk of being arrested even after they become asylees based on a petition by their husband or wife, and even after they get their green cards or become citizens. Many immigration lawyers are unaware of this problem and never close their clients old court cases.

Mr. Castillo would never have been arrested by Immigration if he had not been convicted of a crime in the first place. While he should not have broken the law, that does not excuse the Government’s behavior. The Government should keep detailed records of immigrants who receive legal immigration status so that a simple fingerprint check will always help them find out someone’s status. In the year 2011, we have the technology to do this, and the Government’s inability to keep accurate records is unfortunate. Regardless, immigrants have to protect themselves by staying out of trouble, closing all old A numbers in immigration court cases, and making sure that they always carry proof of their immigration status with them at all times.

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