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Illegal 24-Day ICE Detention Nets Lawful Permanent Resident $99,000 Settlement

by Lonnie Burton

In 2008 a lawsuit filed by a Mexican citizen who had obtained lawful permanent resident status in the United States and was later detained while trying to return to the U.S. from Mexico was settled for $99,000. The settlement came after a failed government motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the lawsuit was filed in the wrong court.

Plaintiff Juan Huerta has been a lawful permanent resident in the United States since 1984. Huerta, who calls Houston his home, was returning from a trip to Mexico on December 14, 2004, through Laredo, Texas. A customs agent at the checkpoint confiscated Huerta's residency identification card, his driver's license, and keys, and arrested him for an old controlled substance conviction for which Huerta had been granted an immigration waiver. Not believing Huerta's story, customs officials turned him over to ICE agents, who determined Huerta was ineligible for admission in to the United States due to the old conviction. They transported Huerta to the nearby Karnes County Jail, where he remained for 24 days until the matter was finally cleared up and he was released.

As a result of the arrest and detention, Huerta sued the government and other unknown federal officials in the U.S. District Court in San Antonio. The lawsuit alleged false imprisonment under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and claimed damages for emotional distress, mental anguish and physical pain, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

The government moved to dismiss the case, claiming that the arrest and initial detention occurred in the Southern District, which includes Laredo. Huerta asserted his suit was properly filed in the Western District, which includes the facility in which he was unlawfully detained, the Karnes County Jail.

On that matter, the Court agreed with Huerta that venue was proper in the Western District because the "negligent acts amounting to false imprisonment occurred in the Western District." The Court also said venue would have been proper in the Southern District because that was the place where the initial decision to imprison was made.

Soon after that ruling, the parties entered settlement discussions, which resulted in the $99,000 award. It is unclear from the documents provided if the settlement among included costs and attorney's fees or if that amount was discussed separately. Huerta was represented in the case by attorneys Alfonso Otero and Javier Maldonado, both out of San Antonio. See: Huerta v. United States, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Tex. 2008), Case No. 06-CV-00878-WBF.

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Related legal case

Huerta v. United States