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Suit claims ICE used immigration holds on U.S. citizens

According to a class action suit filed last week in federal court, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been using immigration detainers to hold both U.S. citizens and legal residents. The suit, which names ICE officials including Director John T. Morton as defendants, claims that the agency has used these holds to unlawfully detain people for up to 48 hours past the time that they would otherwise be released. The purpose of this particular program is to allow ICE time to determine whether a person is subject to removal from the U.S.

The lead plaintiff in the suit, Gerardo Gonzalez, says that ICE issued an immigration hold against him, even though previous records show that he was born in California and is, in fact, a citizen of the U.S. Gonzalez is currently in jail in Los Angeles awaiting trial on drug charges. 

According to Gonzalez’s suit, ICE may only detain an individual when it has probable cause to believe that the person is in the country illegally and may be subject to removal from the country. In cases such as his, rather than investigate a person’s claim of citizenship before detention, ICE only begins to investigate whether it has probable cause after a person is already in physical custody.

In 2012, ICE issued approximately one million detainers to law enforcement agencies across the country. Out of those one million detainers, a total of 28,489 were against permanent residents of the U.S. Approximately 75 percent of those citizens detained had no prior criminal record. 

Source: Courthouse News Service, “'Immigration Holds' Used on U.S. Citizens,” Matt Reynolds, June 21, 2013

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