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SPRINGFIELD, IL — A U.S. citizen arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at his home in 2012 and held in immigration detention for seven days has been awarded $20,000 in damages as part of an agreed judgment entered by a federal district court judge in central Illinois.

Jhon Erik Ocampo, represented by Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center and pro bono attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, was born in Colombia. He lived in the United States for years as a lawful permanent resident before deriving U.S. citizenship in 2002 when his mother became a naturalized citizen. Over the next decade, Mr. Ocampo made multiple requests to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the certificate documenting his citizenship, but never received it. When ICE officers arrived at his home in 2012, he and his family members explained to the officers that he was a U.S. citizen through his mother’s naturalization and that they could find record of his filing for a certificate of citizenship in his immigration records. Nonetheless, the officers took Mr. Ocampo into custody, transporting him between two county jails in central and southern Illinois over the next week before taking him to ICE’s Chicago Field Office, where ICE finally reviewed his records, confirmed his citizenship, and released him.

“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 National Litigation Coordinator Mark Fleming, co-counsel in the case. “A judge would have reviewed his immigration record and immediately recognized that he was a citizen and that ICE had no business detaining him.”

Mr. Ocampo is one of 12 U.S. citizens NIJC has represented who have been unlawfully detained by ICE. New York resident Davino Watson derived citizenship from his father in 2002, but was placed in deportation proceedings and detained for three and a half years after he was arrested on an immigration detainer. ICE ignored Mr. Watson’s repeated claims of U.S. citizenship and did not promptly bring him before an immigration judge for a hearing, which would have resolved the matter within 48 hours. In Jimenez-Moreno v. Napolitano, a federal class action lawsuit, NIJC represents additional U.S. citizens who were unlawfully brought into ICE custody through detainers. NIJC is seeking class-wide relief to enforce the prompt probable cause hearing requirement of the Fourth Amendment in the immigration enforcement context.

“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,” said Hari Santhanam, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP who represented Mr. Ocampo in the court proceedings pro bono. “All of this could have been avoided if individuals at ICE had simply listened to him and reviewed the available information. We hope that this agreed judgment will prompt immigration officers to take claims of U.S. citizenship more seriously.”

Download PDFs of the agreed judgment and Mr. Ocampo's complaint.