A federal judge has rejected a U.S. government request to dismiss a lawsuit brought forth against them by Rennison Castillo, a U.S. citizen and military veteran who was mistakenly detained for seven months by immigration authorities. Castillo claims that Immigration and Customs (ICE) officials refused to act on information he provided at the time of his arrest to use military records to verify his status. He’s now seeking unspecified monetary damages and an apology.
However, government lawyers believe the suit lacks legal grounding, arguing that there is no “constitutional right” to a complete search of U.S. immigration files and no legal precedents to follow. Also, as the Seattle Weekly points out, Castillo has served time for an “array” of domestic violence charges and is “no angel.”
Nonetheless, whether it’s explicitly spelled out in the Constitution or not, U.S. citizens shouldn’t have to worry about being locked up by immigration officials for seven months until they can scrounge up the money to hire an attorney who can prove their legal status. Reporter Raul A. Reyes further warns that, “if ICE believes you are in the country illegally, you can be arrested without a warrant and deported without a hearing.”
There may be no legal precedents, but there are certainly a multitude of incidents similar to the one Castillo endured. As of 2009, The Associated Press documented more than 55 cases of U.S. citizens being wrongfully detained by immigration agents over the past decade. Immigration lawyers argue there are actually hundreds of such cases. Castillo’s attorney and legal director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Matt Adams, hopes Castillo’s case will “send a message to the government: ‘Look, you have to be more cautious. We’re going to hold you accountable.’ ”
Castillo was born in Belize and moved to the U.S. at age seven. He joined the army in 1998 and became a naturalized citizen. Castillo’s problems were “compounded” by the fact that his immigration files listed two names and misspelled versions of his first and last name. He also lacked immediately family in the area to call for help.