Photo: AP

A new investigation published Friday by the Los Angeles TimesĀ found that since 2012, 1,480 people have been arrestedā€”and later releasedā€”from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody after it was revealed they were actually American citizens. Cases of mistaken identity might just be a data point for ICE, but as the Times piece reveals, they upend peopleā€™s lives in ways that range from distressing to outright cruel.

One man, Davino Watson, was held in ICE custody for three-and-a-half years because agents had identified the wrong person as his father. According to the newspaper, even after the agency realized its error, federal lawyers ā€œseized on a new U.S. reading of Jamaican law to argue Watson should be deported because his father was not his legal guardian when they left the island nation.ā€ It was only after Watsonā€™s appeal made it to U.S. District Court that he was eventually freed.

ā€œYou feel like your rights are stripped from you. You feel hopeless. It was very hard to understand. I spent many nights crying,ā€ Watson told the Times.

While Watsonā€™s experience was among the more dramatic cases, other Americans lost their jobs after being wrongfully arrested and suffered panic attacks because they were abruptly taken into custody. As Sergio Carrillo, a man who was wrongfully held in ICE custody for days put it to the Times, ā€œFor ICE, itā€™s like, ā€˜Oops, we made a mistake.ā€™ But for me on the other end, it tears up your life.ā€


These arrests have repeatedly taken place because of incomplete government records, bad data, and ā€œlax investigations,ā€ the paper reported. In a statement to Splinter, the agency said that investigating citizenship claims is a complex process that involves paper and digital records along with in-person interviews, and when they run across incorrect or outdated information, they take steps to correct it.

ā€œU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes very seriously any and all assertions that an individual detained in its custody may be a U.S. citizen,ā€ the ICE statement also said.


These mistaken arrests are not limited to Donald Trumpā€™s tenure in the White House. According to the Times, the largest number of these arrests happened in 2012 and 2013, under Barack Obamaā€™s administration.

Theyā€™re also just one more way that ICE systematically terrorizes immigrant communities in this country. The agencyā€™s history might be short, but time and time again we are reminded how brutal it can be.


Update, 3:32 pm: This post has been updated to include a statement from ICE.