An American man named Davino Watson spent 1,273 days wrongfully imprisoned by ICE, yet the criminal justice system has determined they owe him nothing for stealing his freedom.
The Daily Beast reports that two United States Court of Appeals judges ruled that Watson’s ordeal is an “entirely common state of affairs,” and thus does not deserve any monetary restitution.
Watson came from Jamaica in 1998 at the age of 14 to live with his father and stepmother. In 2002, his father became a U.S. citizen and under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, he automatically gained citizenship as well.
Despite telling ICE agents these details and providing his parents’ contact information to corroborate his story, Watson was still detained.
This real-life nightmare began in 2008 when the then 23-year-old entered the Shock program — a boot camp-style environment for non-violent offenders — after he pleaded guilty to selling cocaine in New York City.
An ICE agent came to interview Watson while he was in the Shock program, which is when his situation took a turn for the worse.
As the Daily Beast notes, it’s illegal for ICE to imprison Americans. However, if the agents don’t believe you are a citizen, it becomes your job to prove it — although you are not entitled to a lawyer to help you do so.
Sadly, this wrongful detainment happens rather frequently. According to an NPR analysis conducted last year, 693 citizens have been kept in local jails on federal detainer requests since 2007 and 818 additional citizens have been arrested directly by ICE.
In Watson’s case, he was essentially given the run-around as those handling his file made no real attempt to locate his parents.
Davino Watson provided the names of his father, Hopeton Watson, and his stepmother, Claire Watson, yet agent Erik Andren requested files of two totally different people with similar names — Hopeton Livingston Watson and Calrie Dale Watson — who were “obviously not plaintiffs parents properly described to the government by the plaintiff,” said U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein.
Without a lawyer and having no contact with his parents, it reportedly took Watson more than six years of fighting for his freedom to receive a certificate of U.S. citizenship in order to prove what had always been true.
He then embarked on another fight — with legal help this time —seeking accountability and compensation for the years he was held illegally, but to no avail.
Initially, Judge Weinstein ruled that Watson was “badly treated by government employees. He deserves a letter of apology from the United States in addition to damages. But the court is not empowered to order this courtesy.”
He also determined that Watson was owed $82,500 divided up into $2,000 per day for 27 days of loss of liberty, $500 for 27 days of emotional injury, and $15,000 for false arrest.
However, the other 1,246 days of imprisonment were legally justified after the Board of Immigration Appeals decided that children of unmarried Jamaicans couldn't use their paternity to claim American citizenship.This caveat applied to Watson's situation because his father never married his biological mother; therefore, the government apparently had fair enough reason to believe he was a “non-citizen.”
Alas, the government didn't even feel Watson was deserving of 27 days’ worth of compensation as they appealed Weinstein’s ruling.
A split three-judge Court of Appeals panel reversed his decision earlier this year. Judges Dennis Jacobs and Debra Livingston decided that Watson was owed absolutely nothing because “the government did not act with malice.”
Additionally, because Watson wasn't legally employed at the time of his arrest, the judges determined that he “did not suffer cognizable damages.”
“In sum, 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 nearly deported. Nonetheless, we must conclude that Watson is not entitled to damages from the government,” the judges ruled.
Beneath the surface, this ordeal seems like much more than a "botched" investigation or simple human error. Although Watson is a legal citizen, he is an immigrant with a criminal past. It would be no surprise if his case was mishandled intentionally as a ploy to remove him from the country or, at the very least, keep him off the streets for an extended period of time.
One thing that the election of President Donald Trump made very clear is that many Americans hold strong anti-immigrant sentiments that have been swept under the rug. Now, ICE is being more publicly exposed for their mistreatment of all immigrants, regardless of their citizenship.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Reuters, Lucy Nicholson