U.S. Citizen Who Was Held By ICE For 3 Years Denied Compensation By Appeals Court

Davino Watson told the immigration officers that he was a U.S. citizen. He told jail officials that he was a U.S. citizen. He told a judge. He repeated it again and again.

There is no right to a court-appointed attorney in immigration court. Watson, who was 23 and didn’t have a high school diploma when he entered ICE custody, didn’t have a lawyer of his own. So he hand-wrote a letter to immigration officers, attaching his father’s naturalization certificate, and kept repeating his status to anyone who would listen.

Still, Immigration and Customs Enforcement kept Watson imprisoned as a deportable alien for nearly 3 1/2 years. Then it released Watson, who was from New York, in rural Alabama with no money and no explanation. Deportation proceedings continued for another year.

Watson was correct all along: He was a U.S. citizen. After he was released, he filed a complaint. Last year, a district judge in New York awarded him $82,500 in damages, citing “regrettable failures of the government.”

On Monday, an appeals court ruled that Watson, now 32, is not eligible for any of that money — because while his case is “disturbing,” the statute of limitations actually expired while he was still in ICE custody without a lawyer.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that the ruling is “harsh” but said it was bound by precedent.

“There is no doubt that the government botched the investigation into Watson’s assertion of citizenship, and that as a result a U.S. citizen was held for years in immigration detention and was nearly deported,” the court ruled. “Nonetheless, we must conclude that Watson is not entitled to damages from the government.”

“We think that the analysis of the law by the majority opinion is clearly wrong, respectfully,” says Watson’s lawyer, Mark Flessner. Flessner is considering a number of possible next steps, including an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Watson is now living in Brooklyn and has finished his GED certificate, Flessner says.

A ‘legal disaster’

The details of the case are “arcane,” as U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein put it in his decision last year. Watson was born in Jamaica and moved in with his dad in the U.S. as a teenager. He was 17 when his father was naturalized in 2002, so he became a U.S. citizen on that day, too.

In 2007, Watson pleaded guilty to selling cocaine. When his sentence ended in May 2008, he was arrested by ICE officers.

Watson had already told them he was a citizen and given them his father and stepmother’s names and a phone number to call and confirm.

ICE officers didn’t call the number. They did attempt to look up his father, Hopeton Ulando Watson, but they confused him with a Hopeton Livingston Watson.

Hopeton Livingston Watson — the wrong Hopeton Watson — was not a U.S. citizen. He also lived in Connecticut instead of New York, didn’t have a son named Davino and arrived in the U.S. at a different time. But the officers apparently didn’t notice the mistakes. Based on the wrong file, they concluded that Watson was not a citizen and marked him for deportation.

A yearslong ordeal followed as Davino Watson, while detained, tried to fight his deportation in a complex case involving both U.S. and Jamaican laws.

He wasn’t released until November 2011.

The “whole legal disaster” could have been avoided if Watson had an attorney at the outset, wrote the district judge who ordered his damages. With a lawyer, “plaintiff probably promptly would have been declared a citizen and released almost immediately after he was arrested, if he were arrested at all,” he said.

Then, after his arrest, the government investigation into his status was marked by “mindless failure,” “carelessness” and “easily avoidable error,” Weinstein said.

“ICE did not follow their own procedures of what to do when the detained immigrant makes a claim of U.S. citizenship,” Flessner, the lawyer now working on Watson’s case, tells NPR. “It was crystal clear from the beginning, had DHS done its homework properly, that he has been a U.S. citizen since 2002.”

“Plaintiff was badly treated by government employees,” Weinstein, the district judge, wrote last year. “He deserves a letter of apology from the United States in addition to damages. But the court is not empowered to order this courtesy.”

For the full article visit: http://www.npr.org/2017/08/01/540903038/u-s-citizen-held-by-immigration-for-3-years-denied-compensation-by-appeals-court

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5620 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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