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US man held in immigration detention for over 3 years

US man held in immigration detention for over 3 years
A man who has spent over three years in a New York detention center awaiting deportation orders is now suing the US government along with several immigration officers, and not without a reason, since he is a naturalized US citizen.

Jamaican-born Davino Watson, who became a US citizen in 2002 after his father was naturalized, is now suing the US government and a number of immigration officers for unlawfully holding him in the Buffalo Detention Center for over three years until 2011.

In his lawsuit he said officials ignored his repeated claims about his immigration status, while a simple investigation into his background would have affirmed his claim, Reuters reports.

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Watson pleaded guilty in 2007 to selling cocaine and served an eight-month sentence in a program for young offenders, but a detainer request triggered his transfer from New York correctional facility to the immigration detention center.

Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

We are all at risk if this can happen,” said Mark Flessner, one of Watson’s attorneys told Reuters. “If there isn’t a procedure that allows citizens to be immediately released without any kind of due process it just points to the broken system.”

This is not the only case where this has happened. Detainers were mistakenly placed on 834 US citizens and 28,489 permanent residents between 2008 and 2012, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse run by Syracuse University. Most of the detentions lasted a few days to several months. Watson served the longest time.

About half the lawsuits brought by citizens against the government have been settled and the rest are pending,” Mark Fleming from the National Immigrant Justice Center, and co-counsel representing Watson, told Reuters.

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The detainers are activated under the Secure Communities program, when the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) can issue a request to a local police department to investigate an arrested person’s residence status, holding them up to 48 hours without a warrant. That program has proven increasingly unpopular with cities and local police departments who could be accused of unlawful detention by civil rights groups and the prospect of lengthy and expensive legal proceedings. In the past two years, police departments around the country have publicly denounced the program and say they will only participate if issued a warrant from the court. ICE maintains the program all along was voluntary.

A spokesman for ICE declined to comment on the Watson case but told Reuters "detainers are critical for the government to be able to identify, and deport, criminal aliens being held in federal and local custody."