After Rotting In ICE Custody For Years, Citizen Is Denied Compensation

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Despite being granted damages, a man is not eligible for compensation. Now, he's considering taking his case to the Supreme Court.

ICE detainee resting hands on cell window.

A man who lost over three years of his life because officers made a mistake has been denied compensation — even after winning a court case against the feds who ruined his life.

Davino Watson was 17 when he became a United States citizen. But that didn't matter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when he was thrown into an ICE detention facility in 2008, NPR reports.

Watson was born in Jamaica, moving to the United States with Hopeton Ulando Watson, his father, as a teenager. In 2002, the elder Watson was naturalized so his son proceeded to get his citizenship.

But in 2007, Watson had problems with the law. After pleading guilty to selling cocaine and serving his sentence, ICE officers arrested him as soon as he was about to be released in 2008.

However, Watson told them immediately he was a citizen. He even gave officials his father's contact information, but they never reached out to him. Instead, they mistook the elder Watson for a man named Hopeton Livingston Watson, a man who wasn't a U.S. citizen and whose residence was in Connecticut, not New York, where the elder Watson lived.

After checking in with the wrong Watson, ICE officers simply assumed the man they had in custody was lying and held him without ever contacting his real father. As he sat in jail, marked for deportation, he tried everything he could to fight his impending fate. But he didn't have a lawyer, so he wrote a letter and attached his father's naturalization certificate to it then sent it to immigration officers.

Despite his efforts, he remained in jail for three and a half years. In 2011, he was finally released. Uneducated and with no money, Watson was let go without an explanation.

After filing a complaint, Watson was awarded $82,500 in damages for ICE's mistakes and case mishandling in 2016. U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, who was in charge, called officials' actions “regrettable failures.”

But on Monday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Watson, who's now 32, isn't eligible to receive damages because the statute of limitations expired while Watson was still in ICE custody.

“There is no doubt that the government botched the investigation into Watson's assertion of citizenship, and that as a result a U.S. citizen was held for years in immigration detention and was nearly deported,” the court stated. "Nonetheless, we must conclude that Watson is not entitled to damages from the government.”

The shocking ruling appalled Watson and his lawyer, Mark Flessner, who said they are even considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.

“We think that the analysis of the law by the majority opinion is clearly wrong, respectfully,” Flessner told reporters.

“ICE did not follow their own procedures of what to do when the detained immigrant makes a claim of U.S. citizenship,” the attorney continued. "It was crystal clear from the beginning, had DHS done its homework properly, that he has been a U.S. citizen since 2002.”

While the court acknowledged this case is “extraordinary in a number of unfortunate ways,” the timing is the only factor that kept Watson from having access to the damages he was awarded.

As Watson and his attorney study the ways they should go about getting justice served, it's scary to think that this case isn't the only one involving a U.S. citizen rotting in an ICE cell over simple mistakes. It's high time the U.S. government acknowledges this trend so the abuse is brought to an end.

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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