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Naturalized U.S. Citizen Receives $400,000 after Being Illegally Held by ICE for 71 Months

by Lonnie Burton

Rennison Vern Castillo served honorably in the United States Army. He received the National Defense Service Medal and an Army Service Ribbon. While serving the country, Castillo was sworn in as a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1998. Castillo was honorably discharged from the Army in 2003. And in 2005, Castillo was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), thrown in a detention center for 71 months, and slated for deportation. The resulting federal lawsuit settled in 2009 with the government agreeing to pay him a total of $400,000.

Castillo was born in Belize, and came to the United States in 1984 at the age of seven. When he turned 12, Castillo became a lawful permanent resident when his mother filed on application on his behalf under the Family Fairness Program. ICE officials adjusted his status and assigned him an alien (A) number to correspond with his social security number, but misspelled his first name and gave him an A number different than the one he originally received as a lawful permanent resident. However, all the information was linked with each other, and linked with Castillo's fingerprints and other identifying information.

When Castillo became a U.S. citizen in 1998, he received a citizenship certificate, a copy of which was placed in his ICE electronic file, linked to the prior data.

In early 2005 Castillo was incarcerated in the Pierce County, Washington jail where he was serving and eight-month sentence for residential burglary and harassment. Toward the end of that sentence, ICE officials placed a hold on Castillo, alleging he was a "deportable/inadmissible alien."

An ICE agent interviewed Castillo prior to the expiration of his sentence, and Castillo informed the agent he was a U.S. citizen honorably discharged from the military. Knowing he was a citizen, Castillo was unconcerned with the interview and thought little of it afterward.

Castillo's Pierce County release date was November 15, 2005, but instead he was picked up by ICE, taken to a federal detention center in Tacoma, and removal proceedings were initiated. Castillo would tell anyone he came in contact with the he was a U.S. citizen, but it all fell on deaf ears. The complaint alleges that if anyone had taken just a few minutes to do a proper records search, they would have realized that Castillo was correct.

When finally brought before an immigration judge on December 21, 2005, Castillo again insisted that he was a U.S. citizen, but the judge said he "can't just expect me to believe you." Two months later, without ever being represented by an attorney, Castillo was ordered removed from the United States. Not one person ever bothered to check on the veracity of Castillo's claims.

Not until several weeks after the deportation order was entered did attorneys from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NIRP) get involved, who the submitted a public records request using Castillo's two A numbers. These records proved Castillo's citizenship. Three months later, on June 29, 2006, "after Mr. Castillo had been unlawfully imprisoned for 226 days," ICE lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the deportation case as "improvidently begun." Nowhere in the motion or order later signed by the judge was it noted that Castillo is a U.S. citizen, stating only that the rationale for the changed decision was "DHS request," apparently referring to the Department of Homeland Security.

Castillo's federal lawsuit sought damages for deliberate indifference, reckless disregard, unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, and failure to properly train and supervise, in violation of Castillo's Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure and his Fifth Amendment right to due process.

The suit, which sought unspecified damages, was filed in 2009 and settled shortly thereafter for $400,000. Castillo was represented by attorneys Douglas B. Greenswag, Theodore J. Angelis, and Kymberly K. Evanson of Seattle; and Matt Adams and Angelica Chazaro from the NIRP. See: Castillo v. Skwarski, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wa. 2009), Case No. C08-5683 BHS.

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Related legal case

Castillo v. Skwarski