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Feds Settle With US Citizen Held In Immigration Detention

The federal government will pay $20,000 to end a lawsuit from a Colombian-born man and U.S. citizen who was held in immigration detention for a week after being arrested at his home in central Illinois, his lawyers said Monday.

Jhon Erik Ocampo, who became an American citizen in 2002, filed the suit in federal court, claiming he was unlawfully detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2012. He was held for seven days before ICE confirmed his citizenship and released him.

U.S. District Judge Richard Mills signed off on the settlement in a brief order Monday and dismissed the case.

Hari Santhanam, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP who represented Ocampo, along with lawyers from the National Immigrant Justice Center, said he hoped the judgment would prompt immigration officers to take citizenship claims more seriously.

"Even setting aside all of the procedural issues, Mr. Ocampo should never have been arrested in the first place, much less detained for a week," he said in a statement. "All of this could have been avoided if individuals at ICE had simply listened to him and reviewed the available information."

Ocampo's case marks the latest example of U.S. citizens and legal residents suing the federal government after they found themselves caught up in immigration enforcement efforts.

In perhaps the most striking example, a federal judge in New York awarded $82,500 to Davino Watson, a Jamaican-born man who was detained for more than three years and subjected to deportation proceedings. The judge in that case issued a stinging ruling that emphasized the government's "repeated carelessness" in looking into his citizenship claim.

Watson was also represented by the National Immigrant Justice Center, which said it has been counsel for a dozen U.S. citizens who have been illegally detained by ICE. There is a pending class action in Illinois federal court that NIJC brought in 2011, challenging ICE's use of immigrant detainers.

Ocampo had lived in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for several years before he became a citizen in 2002, when his mother became a naturalized citizen. His attorneys said he requested on various occasions a certificate from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services documenting his citizenship, but never received it.

According to the government, Ocampo in 2011 applied for replacement green card, in which he represented that he was a permanent resident, not a U.S. citizen. The government said the matter was referred to ICE after a records check showed he had criminal convictions.

In 2012, two ICE agents came to his house in Springfield, Illinois, with an arrest warrant, court documents said.

He was arrested and jailed for seven days before ICE agents took him to the Chicago field office and verified his citizenship, according to his lawsuit. The government said it was only after Ocampo was taken to Chicago that he offered a "probative assertion" that he was a U.S. citizen.

"ICE released him on the evening of May 11, 2012, leaving him on the streets of Chicago to find his own way back to Springfield, Illinois," according to the lawsuit, which alleged violations of his constitutional right to due process and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.

"What happened to Mr. Ocampo is one of many examples of why probable cause hearings, which are required under the Fourth Amendment, must be part of ICE's process for taking individuals into custody," said NIJC attorney Mark Fleming. "A judge would have reviewed his immigration record and immediately recognized that he was a citizen and that ICE had no business detaining him."

The two sides told the court earlier this year that they were in settlement discussions. Formal papers were filed late last week asking the court to approve the deal.

An ICE representative declined to comment on the case, but said the agency "takes very seriously claims of U.S. citizens being improperly detained for immigration enforcement purposes."

"ICE processes an individual for removal only when all available information indicates that the individual is a foreign national," the agency said in a statement. "As a matter of law, the agency cannot assert its civil immigration enforcement authority to arrest and/or detain a United States citizen. Further, ICE has implemented stringent safeguards to protect against the possibility that a U.S. citizen is detained or removed."

Ocampo is represented by Craig D. Leavell and Hari Santhanam of Kirkland Ellis LLP and Mark Fleming of the National Immigrant Justice Center.

The government is represented by James A. Lewis and Hilary W. Frooman of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The case is Jhon Erik Ocampo v. Glen Harrington et al., case number 14-cv-3134, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.