Immigration officials ignored the plaintiff when he insisted he was a citizen, all while preparing to deport him to his childhood country.
California civil rights advocates have filed a lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, alleging that the agency wrongfully arrested and detained an American citizen for over a month.
According to The Associated Press, plaintiff Brian Bukle filed a lawsuit against I.C.E., saying he was held in immigration detention after serving a California state prison sentence.
Bukle, says The A.P., was born in the British Virgin Islands. After serving a prison term for assault and possession of a firearm, the 61-year-old man was remanded to I.C.E. custody.
Bukle claims that he “repeatedly” told I.C.E. officers that he was an American citizen—but instead of doing an immediate records check, they rebuffed him and continued to keep him behind bars.
The Associated Press notes that Bukle’s parents were naturalized as U.S. citizens when he was a child, and that he, too, became a citizen when he was 9 years old.
“After I served my sentence I thought I would be going home to see my son for Father’s Day,” Bukle said in a statement. “Instead, I came this close to being deported and losing everything, a nightmare that has stayed with me to this day.”
Bukle was only released after his attorney convinced officials at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility, located in Central California, to check his immigration status.
Bukle’s attorneys say that, as a result of his unwarranted detention, their client remains anxious and depressed, suffering from regular nightmares about his mistreatment.
“He was incredibly concerned about his health and safety, and of course, the fear of being deported,” said Vasudha Talla of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s Immigrants’ Rights Program. “He has continued to suffer from emotional distress long after his release.”
Talla, speaking to The Fresno Bee¸ said she believes that Bukle’s damages can only be determined in court.
Jenny Zhao, senior staff attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, told The Fresno Bee that I.C.E. “completely failed” to follow the agency’s own policies about what officers should do when a detainee tells them that they are a United States citizen.
“One thing we would like to do with this case is to highlight ICE’s mistreatment of people that are detained, and the way in which ICE flouts the law and makes decisions that have enormous impacts on our community members,” Zhao told The Bee.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has estimated that, between 2015 and early 2020, I.C.E. arrested 674 potential United States citizens: of those, 121 were detained and at least 70 were deported.
Talla told the Bee she believes these numbers are likely an under-estimate.