silhouettes behind a fence

American Citizens Imprisoned Without Due Process. But There’s An Easy Fix
By Joe Jarvis - August 30, 2018

Imagine agents arrest a suspected illegal immigrant. But illegal immigrants do not have Constitutional rights. No due process, no trial, no evidence is needed. So the government holds the suspected illegal immigrant without giving them access to a lawyer.

The only problem is, the suspected illegal immigrant is an American citizen. And he has now been denied his due process rights, simply because the government incorrectly suspected he was an illegal immigrant.

Sound like a far-fetched hypothetical?

Think again. This happens routinely.

American Citizen Held For Over 3 Years

“I am an American citizen,” Davino Watson pleaded with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents.

He told judges and jailers the same. But isn’t that what they all say?

Davino Watson was held in detention for over 3 years as a deportable illegal immigrant.

What did his court-appointed lawyer have to say? Nothing, because he was never assigned one.

Illegal immigrants are not afforded the same rights “guaranteed” to American citizens.

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.

After 3 years of false imprisonment, agents left the man a thousand miles from his home, penniless, and in prison garb.

No due process. No right to an attorney. No right to a speedy trial with a jury of his peers. No rights of the accused. Nothing. He was simply an illegal immigrant being held by a foreign government.

Except that Davino Watson was, in fact, a United States citizen.

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.

Eventually, Watson was released and managed to get a meager court settlement of $82,500.

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.

The judge went on to say that in addition to damages, Watson deserved a letter of apology, but the court was not empowered to provide that courtesy.

But Watson would never see the money, let alone the apology.

Last summer, an appeals court ruled that Watson is not entitled to the compensation.

Turns out the statute of limitations expired–while he was still in ICE custody!

So somehow, without access to a lawyer, Watson was supposed to sue while still illegally held in ICE custody. From behind bars, while illegally imprisoned, the two-year statute of limitation ran out.

Well, this seems like a clear incentive for government agents to simply double down on their mistakes. If you hold someone in prison illegally for long enough, the statute of limitations runs out!

How absurd. This is the justice in the land of the free.

Illegal immigrants need Constitutional rights if only to protect American citizens’ rights.

How could you possibly respect the Constitutional rights of Americans, without extending those rights to every person on American soil? How could you determine someone’s guilt if they are not extended due process rights?

That is the whole point of having rights when you are arrested in America. It provides a process to defend yourself. Instead, the agents, in this case, served as judge and jury.

Not an Isolated Incident

The judge that upheld the statute of limitations said there can be no exception for the “entirely common state of affairs.”

Well that is a terrifying thought, isn’t it, that Davino Watson’s case is “entirely common”?

Yet unfortunately, that seems to be the case.

In the seven and a half years ending in February, ICE reviewed 8,043 citizenship claims of people in custody, according to figures provided by the Department of Homeland Security. In 1,488 — nearly a fifth of those cases — ICE lawyers concluded the evidence “tended to show that the individual may, in fact, be a U.S. citizen,” a DHS spokeswoman said…

Victims include a landscaper snatched in a Home Depot parking lot in Rialto and held for days despite his son’s attempts to show agents the man’s U.S. passport; a New York resident locked up for more than three years fighting deportation efforts after a federal agent mistook his father for someone who wasn’t a U.S. citizen; and a Rhode Island housekeeper mistakenly targeted twice, resulting in her spending a night in prison the second time even though her husband had brought her U.S. passport to a court hearing.

People are concerned about illegal immigrant children being held in detention centers. But a 10-year-old American citizen was held for two months in a Texas detention facility, mistakenly identified as an illegal immigrant.

And this is the whole point. When the U.S. government considers you guilty and forces you to prove your innocence, you have no rights.

“We could, but we don’t interview because we have all of the information, all of the facts,” an ICE agent said in a federal court deposition, explaining how he used database searches to mark a Chicago man for deportation…

A 2011 UC Berkeley study of ICE’s early use of IDENT found six U.S. citizens, including one who had previously been deported, in a sample of 375 arrests — an error rate that would affect thousands of Americans on a national scale. And government audits showed that last year 52,000 people were wrongly tagged in the Central Index System, a key database used by immigration agents, as being ineligible to work in the U.S.

And that attitude among federal agents is why they ignore family members who rush to present passports and other documents when their family members are mistakenly arrested by ICE.

Even if you don’t think illegal immigrants deserve rights, this “guilty until proven innocent” attitude ends up denying rights to American citizens.

Luckily some progress has been made.

A U.S. district judge ruled in June that illegal immigrants held at a federal prison must be given access to attorneys. But while this ruling is a good precedent, it only applied to one particular detention facility in Oregon.

The Bill of Rights is decent when it comes to protecting human rights, but true rights are much more robust. And rights don’t particularly care about borders either.

I happen to think illegal immigrants deserve the rights of the accused regardless. But even without compassion, it is in Americans’ self-interest to insist that illegal immigrants are afforded due process rights.

The concept of rights is the best philosophical framework we have to make maintain individual freedom. By standing up for illegal immigrants, we also protect our own rights.

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