ICE Pays Army Veteran $400,000 for Mistaken Detainment

As the feds scale up enforcement, stories like these could become all too familiar.

By Thoai Lu Feb 28, 2011

The LA Times reports that Rennison Vern Castillo, an army veteran, received a $400,000 settlement and written apology from the U.S. government after being mistakenly identified as an undocumented immigrant and held in detention for over seven months. After realizing his detention was the result of his name being misspelled in immigration records, Castillo sued officials at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s Northwest Detention Center.

Castillo, born in Belize, grew up in Los Angeles and became a naturalized citizen in 1998 while serving in the Army. In 2005, he served an eight-month jail term in Washington for a felony account for harassing a former girlfriend. Instead of being released after his sentence, he was transferred to the federal detention center in Tacoma, Washington, where a federal officer showed him records that supposedly proved that he was undocumented.

Immigration officers did not believe Castillo’s repeated pleas that he was a naturalized citizen.  

"They were disrespectful and told me that I would say anything to get out of detention. It was a nightmare," Castillo later told reporters.

In January 2006, Castilllo successfully blocked an immigration judge’s order that he be deported. He challenged the decision before the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals. Immigration agency officials released him a month later, neglecting to explain to him that a paperwork mix-up had assigned him multiple "alien numbers." 

The U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle has publicly acknowledged the immigration agency’s mistake. Phillip H. Lynch, who’s chief of the civil division in the U.S. attorney’s office said: "I believe that none of my clients… would ever have wanted to, or knowingly would have, detained a veteran and United States citizen. We very much regret that you were detained."

Castillo is not the only one that has been wrongfully detained. A Los Angeles Times article in April 2009 stated that Castillo is one of many naturalized citizens who have been detained, but actual numbers are unclear because no agency is tracking these incidents.

But the problem could grow much worse under the newer version of E-verify that the Obama administration has implemented. With this system, employers collect employees’ I-9 forms, which is then compared to data from U.S. government records. Last week, Julianne Hing pointed to a report put out by the Department of Homeland Security that showed how "laughably flawed" it truly is.

In the report, Amy Peck noted that the rate of these TNCS, or Tentative Nonconfirmations cannot be ignored. Peck said: "According to [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services], of 22,512 TNC’s resulting from name mismatches in fiscal year 2009, approximately 76 percent, or 17,098, were for citizens, and approximately 24 percent, or 5,414, were for noncitizens."

GOP Rep. Lamar Smith has articulated one of the main arguments that support E-verify at a House Immigration Policy and Enforcement Subcommittee hearing two weeks ago. He said: "With 26 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, expanding E-Verify would help open up jobs that they need."

With the concrete figures presented by USCIS, how could such logic follow? Officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are still trying to conceal the problem. Spokesman Richard Rocha contended that "ICE does not detain United States citizens. ICE only processes an individual for removal when all available facts indicate that the person is an alien."