Friday, September 20, 2019

Lawsuits filed over 2015 ICE incident involving Gunnison resident

Immigration officers detained U.S. citizen for three days

By Mark Reaman

An incident in 2015 that resulted in a 21-year-old Gunnison man being detained by immigration officers has resulted in a federal lawsuit. The man was picked up after a court appearance in Gunnison and was held for three days before being released in Denver with little money or a way to get back home.

The Crested Butte News reported on the incident in March 2015. According to that Crested Butte News story, “Bernardo Medina was picked up and detained by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officers on January 27 following a hearing in Gunnison County court. The officers seemed to believe he was an undocumented immigrant.

“According to Marketa Zubkova, a Gunnison organizer for the non-profit organization Hispanic Affairs Project, Medina produced a Colorado ID that Tuesday afternoon but the officers did not believe it was real,” the News story continued. “In fact, Medina was born in Montrose but grew up in Mexico when his family returned to Jesus Maria, Nayarit when he was just nine months old. He doesn’t carry his birth certificate around with him.”

Medina told the News through a translator in 2015 that he was taken to several immigration processing centers in Colorado, including Alamosa, Colorado Springs and Aurora. It took his family three days to track him down in Denver and Zubkova helped provide a birth certificate. He was then released in Aurora with $5 in his pocket and a cell phone with little battery charge left.

According to a March 8 news story posted on the Denver TV Channel 7 website, local attorney Andy Richmond filed the two suits in late January in U.S. District Court of Colorado. One of the suits names the GEO Group, which operates the Aurora ICE facility where Medina eventually ended up after being taken across the state to various facilities.

The other suit was filed against at least nine ICE agents who either detained Medina in the first place or took part in his continued detainment, despite what Richmond says were Medina’s continued attempts to tell them he was a U.S. citizen.

Both suits were discovered by Denver7 in a federal court database while the station was conducting research for another story in late February.

“We are suing individual ICE agents for violating Mr. Medina’s 4th and 5th Amendment Rights by searching and detaining an American citizen,” Richmond explained in an email to the News on Tuesday. “The Geo Group is a private corporation that contracts with the federal government to provide private prisons for immigrants. We are suing the Geo Group under the laws of the State of Colorado including false imprisonment among other state law violation. We are seeking monetary damages in both suits.”

According to the Denver7 story, “The lawsuit says that the agents searched Medina without his permission and without a warrant before he agreed to go to Alamosa, and that he only went after the agents agreed they would return him to Gunnison after questioning him. That never happened.”

A few weeks after the incident was first reported in the Crested Butte News, an ICE spokesperson responded to requests for explanations on why officers picked up and detained a U.S. citizen in Gunnison.

Carl Rusnok, director of communications for the central region of ICE, explained in an email to the News that “Bernardo Medina had falsely stated to three different law enforcement officers at three different times over the course of four months that he was born in and a citizen of Mexico. After ICE was provided a copy of his U.S. birth certificate, he was immediately released from ICE custody.”

Rusnok said in 2015 that it was very rare for ICE to detain or remove U.S. citizens. “ICE takes very seriously claims of U.S. citizens being improperly detained for immigration enforcement purposes,” he wrote. “[ICE] has implemented stringent safeguards to protect against the possibility that a U.S. citizen is detained or removed. ICE processes an individual for removal only when all available information indicates that the individual is a foreign national.”

Richmond said he was alerted to the situation through his contacts with the Gunnison Valley immigrant community. “I became involved in this case because of my connections to the immigrant community in the valley. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great organizations in the valley that have brought me into contact with immigrants and that is how I met Bernardo.”

Richmond said Medina still lives in the valley and, to his knowledge, ICE has not contacted him since the 2015 incident.

A scheduling conference has been set for both cases on May 10.

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