A federal judge has rejected a government request to dismiss a lawsuit by a U.S. citizen who was locked up for seven months at an immigration center.
Army veteran Rennison Castillo claims officials failed to act on his pleas in 2005 to check his military record and Social Security number.
It wasn’t until immigration attorneys stepped in that his citizenship was confirmed and he was freed.
U.S. Judge Ben Settle allowed the case to proceed in December when he rejected the dismissal effort in the case against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and several of its agents.
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Discovery will proceed in the case, even though the government filed a motion on Jan. 11 appealing the ruling by Settle.
Castillo was born in Belize, immigrated to the U.S when he was 7, and became a naturalized citizen in 1998 while serving in the Army.
“We want to make sure to hold the government accountable,” said Matt Adams, an attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the legal aid firm that helped Castillo gain his freedom. Castillo is seeking unspecified monetary damages and an apology.
In countering the suit, government lawyers argued there is no constitutional right to a perfect search of immigration files.
They also said there were no legal precedents for this type of lawsuit and suggested a negligence action would have been a more appropriate way for Castillo to seek damages related to his “unfortunate detention.”
Court documents filed by the defendants also chronicle encounters officers had with Castillo, indicating he could not offer any evidence beyond his assertions that he was a citizen.
In 2009, The Associated Press documented more than 55 cases in which U.S. citizens were detained by immigration officers during the past decade. Immigration lawyers contend there are hundreds of such cases.
“What’s going to happen to the next person?” Castillo told the AP last year.
Castillo is one of the few people who sued the government over improper detention.
Castillo was held by immigration authorities in 2005 as they questioned prisoners at a Pierce County jail, where Castillo had served most of an eight-month sentence for a minor crime, the lawsuit states.
Castillo’s problems were compounded because his immigration files listed two names and misspelled versions of his first and last name. He also didn’t have immediate family in the area to call for help.