Things That Matter

Latino War Veteran Files $1 Million Lawsuit Against ICE After Being Detained With American Passport In Possession

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and lawyers for Jilmar Ramos-Gomez have filed a $1 million lawsuit against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The lawsuit claims that the agencies acted in a racist manner when unlawfully detaining Ramos-Gomez, a Latino-American war veteran who had his American passport on his person at the time of his arrest. Last week, Michigan-born Ramos-Gomez won a $190k settlement against the City of Grand Rapids after its City Commission voted unanimously to pay the former marine after Grand Rapids Captain Curt VanderKooi invited an ICE officer to “please check his status.” Ramos-Gomez was then detained in ICE custody for three days, even though police body camera footage shows his American passport in the hands of the law enforcement that transferred him to ICE custody.

The new lawsuit seeks data and policies on all wrongfully detained people and policies and procedures regarding people with mental health issues or disabilities.

Jilmar Ramos-Gomez suffers from PTSD after serving in Afghanistan. 

CREDIT: @CHUCKPFARRER / TWITTER

Ramos-Gomez has received numerous medals for his service, which he served between October 2011 to August 2014 in Afghanistan. Often, Ramos-Gomez will ‘come to’ without having any recollection of what happened. During those PTSD episodes, he acts erratically. In November 2018, Ramos-Gomez allegedly set a small fire at a hospital, pulled a fire alarm and was found on the hospital’s helipad during one of those PTSD episodes. He was promptly arrested and pled guilty to a misdemeanor trespassing charge. Later, off-duty Cpt. VanderKooi saw his face on the local news and emailed an ICE officer, asking him to “please check his status.” When Ramos-Gomez was released from jail, he was transferred into the custody of ICE.

“Jilmar Ramos-Gomez fought and served our country selflessly, yet ICE tried to deport this hometown hero and blatantly disregarded his citizenship, service, and mental health challenges,” said Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan. “Mr. Ramos-Gomez and the public deserve to know why the United States government abused its own citizen and veteran, and how many others have suffered in the same way.”

The ACLU is alleging that ICE detained and tried to deport Ramos-Gomez, even though they had documentation that proved his veteran and citizenship status.

CREDIT: @ALEXHORTONTX / TWITTER

The ACLU obtained body camera footage from the arresting officer that shows Ramos-Gomez’s United States passport in his hands. Later, footage proves that the passport was key in identifying Ramos-Gomez. One officer asked if he had been identified, to which the officer responds, “His passport is down there.” Ramos-Gomez was detained in an ICE detention facility from Dec. 14 to 17 last year. 

“This is flagrant racial discrimination against a United States citizen and decorated combat veteran simply because of the color of his skin,” said Anand Swaminathan, ACLU cooperating attorney and partner at the Chicago law firm Loevy & Loevy. “Ramos-Gomez’s own government ignored his irrefutable proof of citizenship, and cruelly detained him because of his Latinx background.”

What’s worse, Cpt. VanderKooi mocked Ramos-Gomez’s mental illness in an email chain obtained by the ACLU.

CREDIT: ACLU OF MICHIGAN

This wasn’t simply a human error. Cpt. VanderKooi forwarded the email chain to the detective assigned to Ramos-Gomez’s trespassing charge, but changed the subject line to read “Spectrum Helicopter Pad Loco,” according to documents obtained by the ACLU, mocking the veteran’s PTSD as “loco” or “crazy.” “It is not clear what mad intent was involved in this breach of hospital security but here is the report,” Cpt. VanderKooi added in the email. Another police officer forwarded the chain to a prosecutor, who replied, “I am confused. Didn’t his property have a U.S. Passport in it? And he was a veteran?!” The officer simply responded, “Who knows, not sure it was a US passport. … I am not sure about the vet thing.”

The information was there, but it seems the intent to discover the truth was less than the intent to deport this man.

Since ICE tried to deport Ramos-Gomez, he “rarely leaves his home.”

CREDIT: JILMAR RAMOS-GOMEZ / FACEBOOK

According to the ACLU, Ramos-Gomez’s mental health “severely deteriorated” while he was in ICE custody. He and his fellow detainees were “mistreated and ridiculed,” and Ramos-Gomez was hospitalized shortly after his release from custody. It’s been exactly one year to the day since that fateful day Cpt. VanderKooi saw a Latino man’s face on the local news and invited ICE to investigate.  According to the ACLU, Ramos-Gomez “now rarely leaves his home or spends time in his community.”

READ: A Latino Veteran Wins $190K Settlement After Being Detained By ICE While Carrying His US Passport

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2020 Has Been A Tragic Year As A Record Number Of Migrants Die In ICE Custody

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2020 Has Been A Tragic Year As A Record Number Of Migrants Die In ICE Custody

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The news out of 2020 continues to devastate and it’s getting harder and harder to be shocked by just how horrible things are looking. However, the level of neglect inside ICE detention centers is so shocking that it’s leading to a record number of deaths. No matter what year it is, that is shocking.

It’s been 14 years, during the presidency of George Bush, since ICE detention centers have recorded the level of deaths that they’re recording this year. Despite warnings from health and immigration experts, ICE has largely refused to release immigrants from overcrowded cells despite an ongoing and out of control global health pandemic. This blatant disregard for life has had a huge impact as at least 18 people have died while in ICE detention centers so far this fiscal year.

ICE is responsible for the well-being of individuals in its custody and has broad discretion to release people for humanitarian reasons. The government should test everyone in its custody for COVID-19 and increase releases to prevent further deaths.

Three recent deaths in ICE detention centers bring 2020’s total to the second highest since 2006.

The death toll for immigrants in ICE custody reached the highest level since 2006 after three more people died this week.

Last week, it was reported that two men died while in ICE detention on August 5. One of the men who died last week was James Thomas Hill, a 72-year-old Canadian citizen who tested positive for COVID-19 about a month before his death. He was detained for three months at Farmville Detention Center in Virginia, despite being high-risk due to his age.

A 51-year-old man from Taiwan, Kuan Hui Lee, also died on August 5. Lee had been detained at Krome Detention Center in Florida for 7 months because he had overstayed a visa 16 years ago. While further details of his medical condition and death have not been reported, ICE has a long history of medical neglect of people in its custody with serious health conditions.

Then on August 11, Buzzfeed News reported that a 70-year-old Costa Rican man died in ICE custody at a Georgia Hospital on August 10, 2020, after testing positive for COVID-19. The man had been detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. According to AJC.com, the detainee suffered from diabetes and hypertension and had been hospitalized since August 4, 2020. ICE officials confirmed the death to BuzzFeed News, but have not released any additional details yet.

These tragedies increased the total deaths in ICE custody this fiscal year to 18, the highest number since 2006. Many—if not all—of the deaths that occur in ICE custody are avoidable.

“Many of these deaths were avoidable, unnecessary, and a direct result of the Trump administration’s refusal to take basic steps to protect the health and safety of detainees,” John Sandweg, a former ICE director during the Obama administration, told BuzzFeed News.

Many deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 but that’s not the complete picture.

Coronavirus has swept through ICE detention centers like wildfire and this has had a major impact on the health and welfare of detainees, the community, and even ICE employees.

So far this year, more than twice as many people have died in ICE custody over last year. And, unfortunately, there are at least 1,065 active Covid-19 cases in ICE detention centers, meaning more people are likely to get sick and die before the year ends.

The number of deaths is especially alarming considering the average number of people detained has been significantly lower this year than in recent years.

Farmville, an ICE detention center in Virgina, has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in immigration detention. As of August 6, over 97% of people held in this ICE facility had contracted COVID-19. The outbreak began as a super-spreader event caused by a transfer of 74 people from Florida and Arizona.

Advocates have consistently criticized ICE for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the people it detains.

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ICE Is Offering A Master Class To The Public On How To Handle Weapons And Arrest Immigrants

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ICE Is Offering A Master Class To The Public On How To Handle Weapons And Arrest Immigrants

Gregory Bull / Getty Images

By mid-October, there could be professionally trained armies of ordinary citizens patrolling the streets looking to arrest immigrants. And they’d be doing the dirty work of ICE – which has launched a program in Chicago specifically to help train and equip the public on the skills and knowledge needed to do it effectively.

According to ICE, the program is little more than a chance to educate and enlighten the public on the challenges the agency faces on a daily basis. They claim that their work is grossly misunderstood. Yet the description of the six-week-long program literally describes familiarizing recruits with firearms and how to make targeted arrests.

Chicago’s ICE office announced a “citizen’s academy” to teach the public on how to arrest immigrants.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is launching a class for private citizens in Chicago on how to arrest undocumented immigrants.

The course, which begins on September 15 and will run one class a week for six weeks, will train non-agents in firearms, defensive training and how to make ‘targeted arrests.’ ICE plan to roll out the program to cities across the country.

The Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Chicago Citizens Academy is a six-week program modeled after similar trainings held by other law enforcement agencies. ICE will select 10 to 12 participants for the training, which is set to start in September.

Many Chicagoans have received letters inviting them to apply. During the program, according to the letter, “participants will gain insight into the many facets and responsibilities of ICE/ERO operations, and hopefully an awareness and appreciation of the issues our officers face every day in the performance of their duties.”

But immigration activists aren’t buying the story ICE wants to tell.

Several of Chicago’s elected officials have come out strongly against the program, saying there is no room for this academy in the city of Chicago.

“I think it’s outrageous that they are trying to do this in Chicago. This is a sanctuary city that we’ve fought so hard for,” said Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez, in an interview with Fox 11.

Rodriguez read the letter and said she was concerned about the language in the letter, which reads, in part, “attendees will participate in scenario-based training and exercises conducted in a safe and positive environment, including, but not limited to defensive tactics, firearms familiarization, and targeted arrests.”

“What it sounds like to me is a vigilante academy,” Rodriguez said. “We need to be educating the community so that they don’t sign up for it. I think the city needs to speak out against this programming. This isn’t welcomed in Chicago.”

Congressman Jesús ‘Chuy’ García, wonders if the course is part of ICE’s plan to have neighbors spy on others to see if they’re undocumented and report back to the agency.

Although the program is outrageous, it’s been taking place in Los Angeles for years.

The program was just announced in Chicago last week but it has been in operation for several years in other cities across the country. In fact, Los Angeles – another sanctuary city – has had a similar academy in place since 2016. However, unlike Chicago’s program which will be run by the ERO, LA’s program is managed by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division.

Regardless of who is running the program, many are rightfully worried about its implications. Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, said in a statement, “ICE is recruiting an army of ‘citizens’ to fuel its propaganda machine and forge hatred in our communities. The outcome of this program will be more terror unleashed upon immigrant communities and people of color.”

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