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December 19, 2017

Guadalupe Plascencia, 60, was mocked when she told agents she was a citizen

SAN BERNARDINO — The ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm Sidley Austin LLP today filed a lawsuit on behalf of Guadalupe Plascencia, 60, a U.S. citizen unlawfully detained by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department (SBSD) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in March. Despite her protests that she had been a citizen for nearly 20 years, SBSD deputies notified ICE that Plascencia was in their custody and held her until ICE could arrive to further detain her.

It was a nightmarish situation, with ICE agents mocking her claim that she had been a citizen since 1998. Both the deputies from the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department and ICE agents disregarded Plascencia's pleas for an opportunity to prove her citizenship, until she was finally permitted to speak on the phone to her daughter who quickly arrived with her passport.

Plascencia's wrongful arrest and detention likely stemmed from faulty information in electronic records that ICE agents use, but those records are widely known to be incomplete and full of errors. Still, they are used to target people, especially Latinos.

"Plascencia's case shows why collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement is especially dangerous: San Bernardino Sheriff's Deputies should know better than to trust ICE, as the agency relies on outdated and error-ridden databases to justify its arrests," said Eva Bitran, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. "Especially in light of Plascencia's constant assertions that she is a U.S. citizen, neither the county nor ICE had probable cause to detain her. This collaboration resulted in violations of a U.S. citizen’s constitutional rights."

Plascencia, who works as a hair stylist, went to the Ontario Police Department on March 29 to collect property recovered from her car after an accident. She presented her driver’s license as proof of identity and was told to wait in a small room. But instead of producing her property, two police officers told her she was being held there because of a ten-year-old warrant. They refused to answer her repeated questions about the supposed warrant.

She was transferred to the West Valley Detention Center and held overnight. The following afternoon, although a SBSD deputy told Plascencia she was ready for release, she was asked to wait a while longer — just long enough for ICE to arrive and arrest her. Despite her pleas that she was a citizen and could prove it if given the chance to produce her passport, ICE agents took her into custody, disregarded her account and even outright mocked her.

Plascencia was told that a computer search would show she was lying and she was accused of identity theft. Worst of all, she was threatened with deportation. And her requests to make a phone call were denied.

Finally, an agent called her daughter to say her mother was being held at the facility, and the agent let Plascencia speak to her. Her daughter rushed to the facility with her mother's passport to prove she was a citizen.

"Ms. Plascencia's ordeal was entirely preventable if officers had taken a moment to properly investigate her citizenship and listen to her repeated pleas that she was a lawful U.S. citizen," said James M. Perez, counsel at Sidley Austin LLP. "Rather, Ms. Plascencia, a mother of five, a grandmother of 16, and a business owner, was made to feel that she did not belong in her own country. This lawsuit seeks to protect Ms. Plascencia’s right to live in this country without fear of being unlawfully detained."

Plascencia suffered financial loss due to losing work during the time she was detained, and the ordeal left her shaken and fearful. The suit asks that for unreasonable seizure, false arrest, false imprisonment, negligence and violation of equal protection under the law, Plascencia receive compensatory and punitive relief.

Read the complaint: