Guadalupe Plascencia sat on her porch Wednesday morning talking about the two days that scared her like no other.
When she said she was wrongfully detained by immigration agents, she started to cry.
"One of the guys asked me, 'Why are you crying?' I said, 'because I'm frustrated. I don't know what happened. I think you got the wrong person.'"
It started May 29 when Ontario police arrested her on an outstanding warrant for failure to appear to testify in what had become a thrown-out court case. But it led to a night in the West Valley Detention Center and a San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy bringing her some papers to sign.
"A lady officer tell me, 'You have to sign papers, we have to notify to immigration your release. And I said why? I'm a citizen. And she said, 'You have to do.'"
The moment Plascencia walked outside, immigration and customs enforcement took her into custody.
Over the next few hours, Plascencia tried to explain her citizenship. But she says she was made to feel worthless in ICE custody.
She says when she told an agent her name, the agent responded, "You don’t be nobody over here."
"There's no question Ms. Plascencia is a U.S. citizen," said Adrienna Wong, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing her in a lawsuit against the federal government. "She has a passport. Eventually ICE let her go when they realized she's been in and out of the country several times with her passport. And she's been a citizen for decades at this point."
In a statement from ICE, officials said, "ICE would never knowingly take enforcement action against or detain an individual if there was evidence indicating the person was a U.S. citizen."
Plascencia says when they finally let her go, there was no apology.
"He just take me to the door and said go over there to the parking lot, you’re daughter is waiting for you."
Her lawsuit seeks $25,000, but her attorney says ICE admitting its mistake would go a long way, too.
"Hopefully out of this process, ICE realizes it has a systemic problem and it addresses it," Wong said.
Full statement by ICE:
The Privacy Act precludes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from releasing specific information related to individuals who are United States citizens. That said, ICE would never knowingly take enforcement action against or detain an individual if there was evidence indicating the person was a U.S. citizen. Should such information come to light, the agency will take immediate action to address the matter.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes very seriously any and all assertions that an individual in its custody may have a claim to U.S. citizenship. As a matter of law, ICE cannot assert its civil immigration enforcement authority to arrest and/or detain a U.S. citizen. ICE continuously reviews and enhances its policies and procedures to ensure all appropriate measures are in place to avoid such incidents.
Analyzing U.S. citizenship for individuals born abroad can often be very complex, as it often involves investigating the individual’s birth and immigration history, residency history, immigration status, marital status of the individual’s parents, and the ever-changing body of law that was in place at the time of the individual’s birth. This complexity means that some individuals don't even know they are U.S. citizens until well after they are encountered by ICE.
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ICE does not make the ultimate determination on whether or not an individual is a U.S. citizen. If an individual claims to be a U.S. citizen or if ICE identifies indicia of potential U.S. citizenship, ICE will analyze the facts to determine if there is sufficient evidence that supports the claim. Depending on the facts of the case, ICE may elect not to initiate removal proceedings (or to dismiss removal proceedings) or to release the individual from custody, if detained, pending further proceedings before an immigration judge. Importantly, ICE cannot make final citizenship determinations. Rather, such determinations are made by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Department of State.
Legal permanent residents who violate the terms of their lawful status can be subject to arrest and removal by ICE. All lawful permanent residents appear before a federal immigration judge, and those federal immigration judges under the Executive Office for Immigration Review make the determination as to whether or not a particular lawful permanent resident will be allowed to remain in the country or will be ordered removed.
Last fiscal year, ICE reviewed 1,101 cases where aliens claimed to be U.S. citizens or where the agency identified indicia of potential U.S. citizenship. Of those, there were 169 cases in which the agency determined that the evidence tended to show that the individual may, in fact, be a U.S. citizen.