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FTCA Lawsuit by American Citizen Against ICE Moves Forward - Watson v. USA

October 01, 2015 (2 min read)

"Plaintiff has a basis for contending that, for lack of an attorney, and because of the negligent failure of the United States to protect him when he rightly claimed United States citizenship, he, a young citizen, son of a citizen, was unjustly incarcerated for years. He has made out a prima facie case under the Federal Tort Claims Act against the United States. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is also denied. Were it not for the pro bono attorney appointed by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, plaintiff probably would have been declared a non-citizen and deported. This case underlines the acute need for attorneys to represent immigrants and others engaged in disputes with United States immigration officials. ... United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) detained him for almost two and a half years in the mistaken belief that he was not a citizen. During this period, ICE transferred plaintiff among facilities in New York, Louisiana, and Alabama. It subjected him to continuous removal proceedings. When ICE finally realized its mistake in labeling plaintiff a non-citizen, it released him. But it continued to subject him to removal proceedings. It also denied plaintiff a Certificate of Citizenship for another two years after his release. ... On November 2, 2011, the same day ICE issued its revised memorandum, plaintiff was released from ICE custody in Alabama. He was, in his words, “pushed out the door” by ICE officers, who provided him with no explanation of what was happening. Aug. 20 Hr’g Tr. at 42:4–15. Plaintiff was confused. With no contacts in Alabama and no phone, he was left wandering until he found a gas station. He called his family, who arranged a hotel where he could stay overnight and obtained a bus ride to New York the next day. Id. at 42:16–43:3. Plaintiff was not provided any legal paperwork or work authorization, leaving him unable to work for another 755 days, approximately two years. The government took no actions to correct its error in improperly denying for years plaintiff’s N-600 application. ... Plaintiff’s depression continued after he was released from ICE custody on November 2, 2011. Provided with no legal documents and no work authorization, he was unable to support himself. Still confused over his status, he did not understand that he had a right to file claims for his illegal detention and long incarceration. He began using drugs one month after his release. He suffered periods of homelessness. ... [P]laintiff was repeatedly told by government officials—including an immigration judge—that he was not a United States citizen. Plaintiff was understandably confused by such statements and had no reason to believe that he had a cause of action against the United States. These facts are extraordinary circumstances that warrant the tolling of the statute of limitations from the time plaintiff was detained until he was told by legal counsel that he had a cause of action. The statute of limitations was equitably tolled until July 31, 2014. ... A bench trial shall proceed." - Watson v. USA, Sept. 29, 2015.

[Hats way off to U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein and Mark A. Flessner, Laura E. Atherstone, Lisa M. Brown, Christopher G. Kelly, Robert J. Burns, Trisha M. Rich and Tiana Melisse Stephens of Holland & Knight LLP and Mark Fleming of the National Immigrant Justice Center!]