DHS Agrees to Pay $400,000 to U.S. Citizen, Army Veteran, Unlawfully Detained by Immigration for Over Seven Months

For Immediate Release
Thursday, February 24, 2011

Contact: Matt Adams, legal director, matt@nwirp.org, 206-957-8611

SEATTLE, WA– Rennison Castillo is a United States citizen and U.S. Army veteran who was imprisoned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. It took more than seven months for the government to finally admit it had made an error and release him. Now the Department of Homeland Security has agreed to pay him $400,000 and has issued a formal apology. In addition, the government has revised their operation instructions on how to handle persons who present U.S. citizen claims.
In November of 2005, Mr. Castillo had just completed his sentence for violation of a protection order and harassment. Instead of being released from jail, he was transferred to the custody of ICE, which held him at the Northwest Detention Center for the next seven and a half months. During his detention, Mr. Castillo repeatedly explained to several different ICE officers, and then to an Immigration Judge, how he had not only been naturalized as a U.S. citizen, but had also honorably served this country in the U.S. military.
Rennison Castillo was born in Belize. He came to the United States when he was six years old and later became a lawful permanent resident of the United States. In 1996, Mr. Castillo enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving for a period of seven years, before being honorably discharged in 2003. During his military service, Mr. Castillo applied for naturalization, completed all of the requirements and was sworn in as a United States citizen in October 1998. Nonetheless, Mr. Castillo was detained by ICE and brought to the Northwest Detention Center. ICE claimed that Mr. Castillo was in the country illegally and began deportation proceedings against him.

“When I was detained, I was shocked and felt betrayed that, after serving in the military, I was placed in that position,” Rennison said. “ICE officers did not listen to me when I told them repeatedly that I was a U.S. citizen and had served in the Army at Fort Lewis. They were disrespectful and told me that I would say anything to get out of detention. It was a nightmare.”
Like other immigration detainees faced with deportation, Mr. Castillo was not entitled to a court-appointed attorney, and he could not afford to hire a private attorney. He was only released after Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) took up his case on appeal.
Subsequently, Mr. Castillo received assistance from NWIRP attorneys Matt Adams and Angelica Chazaro, who agreed to represent him in filing a Bivens action in federal district court against the ICE officers who were responsible for his detention.
“What was most disturbing to me in reviewing this case was the callous indifference of the ICE officials,” said his attorney, Matt Adams. “We knew we had to take some sort of action to try to prevent this abuse of power from happening again in the future.”
After learning of the case, the law firm of K&L Gates agreed to provide pro bono representation to Mr. Castillo. K&L Gates lawyers representing Mr. Castillo included Douglas Greenswag, Theo Angelis, and Kymberly Evanson. Theo Angelis, a partner with K&L Gates and one of Castillo’s attorneys explained: “Our soldiers deserve honor, respect, and justice. We are proud of helping Mr. Castillo obtain an apology and just compensation.”
The government agreed to enter settlement negotiations after a federal district court judge denied the government’s motion to dismiss. In addition to the damages award and the formal statement of regret, DHS announced a revised policy to help prevent similar incidents in the future.
Read this media release as a pdf here.