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$10,000 Settlement to Citizen Detained by ICE

by Lonnie Burton


In 2007 the United States of America agreed to pay $10,000 to man who was illegally detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for three days in early 2006 on the mistaken belief the man was not a U.S. citizen. The agreement settled the a lawsuit the man had filed in a California federal court alleging, among other things, false arrest and false imprisonment.


Cesar Ramirez-Lopez was born in Mexico in 1983. He came to the United States in 1994 with his parents who, at the time held lawful permanent resident status. In 1997, Lopez's father became a naturalized U.S. citizen. When Congress passed the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, Lopez automatically became a U.S. citizen since he was under 18 and one of his parents was a U.S. citizen.


In 2005, Lopez ran into some trouble with the law which resulted in a criminal conviction, and an undisclosed sentence. Lopez served about a year in the West County Jail in Richmond, California. While he was serving his sentence, ICE issued a detainer against Lopez for deportation proceedings. Once Lopez was informed of this detainer he contacted his lawyer, who in turn, sent a letter and Lopez's proof of citizenship to ICE officials, who eventually canceled the detainer.


Lopez was due to be released from jail on January 6, 2006. However, some time prior to that date, ICE reimposed the detainer, and Lopez was transferred to ICE custody and moved to the Yuba County Jail in Marysville, California. Lopez was held there for three days before was released, but not until after. he was issued Notice to Appear in immigration court -- a notice that was never filed with the court.


Lopez sued the government and several ICE and Customs agents for false arrest and false imprisonment under the Federal Tort Claims Act. According to the complaint, ICE reimposed the detainer knowing that Lopez was a U.S. citizen and thus not subject to deportation, and that ICE had previously lifted two prior detainers filed against Lopez after determining that he was, in fact, a U.S. citizen.


A claim for damages Lopez filed with ICE was denied on October 12, 2006. In the letter of denial, ICE Associate Legal Advisor Julie Hecht told Lopez's attorney Ilyce Shugall "that you have failed to establish any negligent or wrongful act or omission of a federal government employee cause this incident to occur."


Lopez filed suit less than a year later--in early 2007--in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The case settled the same year, with Lopez receiving $10,000 for three days wrongful imprisonment. It is unclear from the documents provided if that amount includes costs and attorney's fees, or if that was decided by separate agreement. Lopez was also represented in the lawsuit by Marc Van Der Rout and Stacy Tolchin of San Francisco.

See: Ramirez-Lopez v. United States, et al., NO. 3:07-cv-0096 (N.D. Cal. 2007).


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Related legal case

Ramirez-Lopez v. United States