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October 26, 2018

Plascencia was mocked by officers when she told them she was a citizen

RIVERSIDE — Guadalupe Plascencia, a U.S. citizen for two decades, was held last year by the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department and then federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who accused her of being in the country illegally. When Plascencia protested that she was a citizen, ICE agents mocked her.

Plascencia was detained by ICE for at least an hour and a half — part of that time in handcuffs and detained in a van — before she was finally allowed to contact her daughter who quickly arrived with her mother’s passport to prove citizenship.

Today, agreements were approved in United States District Court in Riverside to settle a lawsuit filed in December on behalf of Plascencia by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the law firm Sidley Austin LLP. The agreements call for San Bernardino County to pay $35,000 and the federal government to pay $20,000.

"The government should be held accountable when it violates people's rights," said ACLU Foundation of Southern California Staff Attorney Adrienna Wong. "San Bernardino County residents like Ms. Plascencia have the right to live, work, and raise their families in peace, without fear that ICE may unfairly arrest them without cause."

Plascencia's nightmarish ordeal began on March 29, 2017, when she went to the Ontario Police Department to collect property recovered from her car after an accident. She was detained overnight for her alleged failure to show up as witness in a decade-old case. During her detention, sheriff's deputies notified ICE that she was in custody and about the details of her release — even though they had her California driver license and other documentation confirming her legal immigration status. Just when she was walking out of San Bernardino's custody, ICE agents took her into custody. Plascencia could not convince sheriff's deputies or ICE agents to give her the chance to prove she was a citizen. "I felt helpless, like I was no one," she later said in a Los Angeles Times interview. "Here, they talk about rights … in that moment, I realized, we don't have rights."

Her wrongful arrest and detention likely stemmed from the agents' reliance on ICE's electronic records, which are widely known to be incomplete and full of errors. Still, ICE and collaborating local law enforcement agencies have used them to target people for arrest — relying even on the absence of records or on records pertaining to completely different individuals with similar but common Latino names, as they did in this case.

Plascencia was accused by agents of being an unlawful resident and threatened with deportation. An agent finally called her daughter to say her mother was being held, and the agent let Plascencia speak to her, leading to her release.

"Ms. Plascencia, a mother of five and grandmother of 16, has a constitutional right to live in her own country without being unlawfully detained by her government," said Alexandria Ruiz, an attorney with Sidley Austin LLP. "This settlement sends a strong message that her entire ordeal could have been prevented had law enforcement taken a moment to properly investigate Ms. Plascencia's citizenship before arresting her. The Constitution requires no less."

Read the court document: Stipulation for Dismissal of Entire Action With Prejudice