ICE Database Errors | Wrongful Deportation

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A study from the University of Syracuse shows over a four-year period that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents placed detainers on several hundred U.S. citizens. These wrongful detainers placed on American citizens were largely the result of an outdated database that ICE agents use. Citizens placed under an ICE detainer are usually there the result of name errors, birthdate mixups, and even clerical errors. If you were the victim of wrongful deportation or wrongful detention because of ICE database errors, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact The Carlson Law Firm to speak with a wrongful deportation civil justice attorney.

After you make it through your immigration proceedings and prove your citizenship, you may be unsure of how to rebuild your life. A wrongful deportation civil justice attorney can help you begin the process. We’ve had a four-decades-long commitment to protecting the civil rights of Americans all over the country. We believe that this is a duty essential to maintaining the values of the United States. Our complex immigration laws coupled with ICE database errors have led to serious violations of the rights of American citizens. Wrongful detention and deportation is a violation of your civil rights.

What is wrongful deportation?

American citizens are not deportable under any circumstances. However, there are times when Immigration and Customs Enforcement detains and begins deportation proceedings based on faulty or outdated information in their systems. When this occurs, this is called wrongful deportation. The deportation of U.S. citizens is an illegal act and a civil rights violation.

Legal deportation occurs when a government formally removes a foreign national from the United States. These types of removals typically occur when there is a violation of the terms of your stay. These violations include the following:

  • Overstaying a visa
  • Failure to maintain visa status
  • Working on a tourist visa or other visa that does not permit employment
  • Being convicted of certain crimes
  • Receiving need-based government assistance

Why do wrongful deportations happen?

A person can come to ICE’s attention in a number of ways—icluding ICE database errors. But the reasons wrongful deportations occur are limited. In fact, most of these reasons center around the immigration process itself and the U.S. extremely complex laws. Unfortunately, the burden of proof of citizenship falls on the person facing deportation proceedings. And because immigration is a civil matter, those facing wrongful deportation are not entitled to legal representation or public defender. While ICE has a responsibility to investigate claims of U.S. citizenship as thoroughly as possible, they do not always do so.

In some cases, ICE may ignore proclamations of citizenship and fail to investigate altogether. There are other examples of relatives bringing documents that establish citizenship such as passports and birth certificates and ICE continuing on with deportation proceedings. Hiring an attorney to represent you during immigration proceedings may not always be an option because of financial reasons or being unable to reach family.

It is important that you understand your rights. If you are a U.S. citizen and are held by ICE, you may be able to file a wrongful detention or deportation lawsuit.

Why is deportation treated as a civil matter?

It’s simply easier to deport undocumented immigrants through civil proceedings. Through treating immigration as a civil matter, the government does not have to provide a public defender to immigrants who cannot afford one. This is because the civil process does not require any kind of due process.

What is ICE?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security. The agency was created in 2003 and now has more than 20,000 law enforcement and support personnel in more than 400 offices worldwide.

The agency has three primary operational directorates:

  • Homeland Security Investigation (HSI)
  • Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO)
  • Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA)

Each of these directorates has a specific function in the immigration removal process. The agency has a fourth directorate called Management and Administration that tracks the agency’s performance measurements.

What is ICE’s duty to U.S. Citizens?

ICE cannot detain U.S. citizens under any circumstances.

In 2017, SB 4 went into effect in Texas. The Senate bill requires local police to detain anyone who ICE  requests. One of the problems with this bill is that 3.3 percent of all requests claimed U.S. citizenship and presented social security numbers, in Travis County, alone. ICE says that “protect[ing] America from cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety” is the agency’s mission.

How does ICE collect its data?

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s website, ICE uses an information management system called FALCON Search & Analysis System, or FALCON-SA. This system allows ICE agents to store, search, analyze and visualize existing information to support ICE’s mission. Agents use the information in the system to enforce and investigate criminal, civil and administrative laws.

FALCON-SA collects its information through several databases and information-sharing systems in order to target people for deportation. In essence, every time a local law enforcement agency or a department of motor vehicles (DMV) uses its systems, they are feeding information that ICE can use to conduct raids or place holds on people who may have a similar name to a person in the database. Those databases include the following:

  • Secure Communities
  • DMV databases
  • National Crime Information Center database
  • Gang databases
  • Mobile biometric devices
  • Informal communications

Law Enforcement Information Sharing Service

The federal government determines what immigration enforcement is necessary—not local agencies. However, the Law Enforcement Information Sharing Service is a web-based data sharing platform hosted by the Department of Homeland Security. It allows law enforcement agencies to share and access data related to criminal and national security investigations. ICE collects data from several other agencies. In fact, the amount of databases that feed into ICE’s central database is a complex web. The goal of the system is to allow ICE to:

  • Request and share information
  • Identify patterns, connections and relationships between both individuals and criminal organization.

The Law Enforcement Information Sharing Service feeds information to federal, state, local, tribal and international law enforcement agencies. These agencies have access to more than 2.6 million subject records for persons of interests. Suspects may be involved in child pornography, drug smuggling, immigration fraud, alien smuggling and a wide range of other cases.

What is Secure Communities?

The Secure Communities (S-Comm) program is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program designed to identify deportable immigrants in U.S. jails. Jails participating in the S-Comm program submit fingerprints not only to criminal databases but to immigration databases as well. In essence, this allows ICE to access information on individuals held in jails. Notably, unlike the 287(g) program, S-Comm does not deputize local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws.

ICE completed full implementation of Secure Communities to all 3,181 jurisdictions within 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. Territories in January 2013. However, the program was temporarily suspended by DHS from November 2014 through January 2017. With its reinstatement came an increase in the likelihood of citizens being held by ICE based on faulty information.

Upon being booked into a jail, a person’s fingerprints are sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to be checked in criminal databases. However, through the S-Comm program, the FBI sends the fingerprints to ICE.

How does ICE collect information through DMV databases?

Through its information sharing systems, in some cases, ICE may be able to tap into state department of motor vehicle databases. These systems may allow the agency access to state-gathered information or state criminal justice networks. State-owned networks often house DMV records that contain information such as home addresses or license plate numbers. ICE can use this information to locate and target individuals for immigration enforcement.

The National Crime Information Center

The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is called the lifeline of law enforcement in some circles. The database is hosted by the FBI and can be accessed by virtually every criminal justice agency nationwide at any time.

It was launched on January 27, 1967, and often contains outdated or inaccurate information. Officers use the database when looking for background information on a person they encounter while on the job. While the database has “crime” in its title, it also contains information relating to civil immigration matters. Police departments can use this information to alert ICE to individuals found as immigration violators in the NCIC database.

Gang Databases

State and federal agencies that use database software called GangNET. Unfortunately, this database often contains inaccurate information and lists people as gang members without merit. Being listed as a gang member can trigger automatic deportation. Law enforcement agencies can search a network of state and federal agencies for information about gang affiliation of a single person.

How else does ICE collect data?

According to a 2017 NPR article, some of the more unconventional ways ICE collects data is through utility records, driver’s license databases, and even social media activity.

Additionally, Washington state’s attorney general sued Motel 6 in January 2018, accusing the hotel chain of illegally providing guests lists to U.S. immigration authorities. The attorney general said Motel 6 locations in the state provided names, birth dates, license plates and other personal information belonging to at least 9,151 guests.

What does ICE do with the data it collects?

Upon receiving information from a criminal detention facility, ICE, in response, will issue what’s known as a detainer request. A detainer request is paperwork that asks local law enforcement agencies to hold a person for up to 48 hours beyond when they would otherwise be released. This allows ICE the time it needs to send agents to pick up the person in question.

Once the person in question is in ICE’s custody, agents will take them to one of the country’s many immigration detention centers.

Criticisms of the way ICE collects its data

A major criticism of the way ICE collects its data concerns the way law enforcement agencies, in general, share information. In many cases, the information is outdated or inaccurately entered into the databases ICE pulls from.

Additionally, the hundreds of American citizens detained by ICE each year highlights the flaws in the agency’s detainer system. For one, it shows why local authorities should not do the agency’s bidding. Local law enforcement agencies come into contact with both citizens and immigrants on a daily basis. 

In 2017, the ACLU of Southern California said in a federal lawsuit that the database ICE uses to identify persons of interest is “outdated, antiquated, not updated appropriately and erroneous 30 percent of the time.”

Notable cases of ICE database errors

There have been several high profile cases of U.S. citizen detention by ICE officials.

Guadalupe Plascencia

Guadalupe Plascencia became a naturalized U.S. citizen in May 1998. She came onto ICE’s radar after a car crash in Ontario, California. After the crash, she and her daughter went to the Ontario Police Department to retrieve property from the vehicle. Officers told her that she had a 10-year-old  outstanding warrant for failure to show up as a witness in a different case. 

Plascencia was fingerprinted, chained around the waist and spent the night in a detention center. Police officials told her that she had to sign a document notifying ICE that was being released from custody. However, when she was released from the facility, she was immediately arrested by two ICE officers. Her attorneys believe that her arrest stemmed from agents relying on ICE’s electronic records. These records are known to be incomplete and full of errors. 

Jilmar Ramos-Gomez

Lance Corporal Jilmar Ramos-Gomez served in the U.S. Marines from October 2011 to August 2014. By the time Ramos-Gomez retired, he had numerous medals and post-traumatic stress disorder. The veteran came into contact with police after a PTSD episode led to a misdemeanor trespassing charge. 

A judge ordered him released on his own recognizance. However, shortly after, authorities turned the Michigan-born former Marine over to ICE instead. ICE requested Ramos-Gomez held without any evidence that he was not a U.S. citizen. In fact, Ramos-Gomez was arrested with evidence that he was a citizen including his passport and Real ID. ICE held Ramos-Gomez for three days.

Peter Sean Brown

Peter Sean Brown, born in Philidelphia, Pennsylvania, turned himself in for a probation violation in April 2018 after testing positive for marijuana. After the book in process, Brown’s fingerprints were sent to the FBI, which forwarded the prints to ICE. The following day, ICE faxed a detainer for the sheriff’s office asking that Brown be held for up to 48 hours beyond the time the jail would release him.

ICE held Brown for three weeks. For the second time in his life, Brown was being threatened with being sent to Jamaica. His first run-in with a U.S. immigration agency happened 20 years before when ICE’s predecessor mistakenly arrested him. However, upon learning that he was a citizen the agency released him. Brown said the ICE agents mocked him by calling him “mon” and speaking to him in a Jamaican accent.

Mark Lyttle

Mark Lyttle is an American citizen born in North Carolina with a mental illness. Immigration officials didn’t just detain Lyttle, he was actually deported to Mexico. The situation forced him to live on the streets of Mexico—unable to speak the dominant language in the country—following his encounter with ICE.

Lyttle’s journey with ICE began when he was booked into a minimum-security state prison in North Carolina. During his intake, a clerk made a series of unfortunate mistakes on his intake form.

For one, the clerk typed in his full name twice, but the second time labeled it as an alias. Second, the clerk marked his race as “other” and for ethnicity marked “oriental.” Third, although Lyttle told the clerk his birthplace, Rowan County, North Carolina, the clerk failed to enter it. Fourth, the clerk left the spaces for birth state, birth county, and primary language blank. And finally, two errors occurred that flagged Lyttle for ICE’s Criminal Alien Program. The clerk marked his birth country Mexico and citizenship status as alien.

Following the input of wrong information, ICE’s oversight and failure to follow standard protocols that would’ve revealed Lyttle’s citizenship status led to his deportation. The agency decided that Lyttle’s real name was Jose Thomas—an illegal immigrant from Mexico.  ICE eventually deported Lyttle to Mexico. The situation meant that he could not secure a job because he was not a Mexican national nor did he speak Spanish. In addition to homelessness, he did not have access to his medication.

Why does ICE ignore information that proves citizenship status?

In each of these cases, ICE never offers an explanation to the public for its gusto in detaining and deporting U.S. citizens who declare their citizenship. However, what is obvious by the stories above is that the agency treats anything as false if it is inconsistent with its findings. While the agency always claims to act quickly when it determines a person is a U.S. citizen, just one minute spent in an ICE facility is a violation of a citizen’s civil rights.

The Carlson Law Firm Can Help

ICE database errors are not an excuse for wrongful deportations and detentions. Government officials telling you that you are not a citizen and ignoring your claims of citizenship is a violation of your civil rights. Being wrongfully deported to another country that you may have never been to can be a scary feeling. Even if ICE detention and deportations were limited to just a handful of people each year, this is still a gross miscarriage of justice.

Civil rights laws are complex and it may be hard to prove the government violated your rights on your own. However, with a Carlson Law Firm wrongful deportation civil rights attorney on your side, you will have an attorney who cares and can help.  

We have more than 40 years of experience dedicated to protecting your rights. We offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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