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Immigration

"If you are American, where are your papers?" That was ICE's question after arresting a Hispanic citizen

Guadalupe Plascencia claims she was arrested by immigration agents in California who did not believe that she was a citizen after she showed her drivers license. The ACLU has filed a complaint with ICE.
27 May 2017 – 04:06 PM EDT
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Guadalupe Plascencia Crédito: Univision

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Guadalupe Plascencia, who became a U.S. citizen more than 20 years ago, says that after spending the night in a sheriff's jail in San Bernardino County, California, she was improperly transferred to an immigration detention center.

Despite her immigration status, she feared she would be thrown out of the country.

"I felt impotent. I knew they had the wrong person, but the way the officers were acting I felt that they were going to deport me," she told Univision, describing her ICE detention on March 30.

Her story is not unique. A month ago, Univision published the case of Rony Chávez Aguilar, a Guatemalan with U.S. citizenship who spent three weeks in ICE detention.

A National Public Radio report found that 693 Americans were held in local prisons by immigration authorities between 2007 and 2016. It's illegal for U.S. immigration authorities to hold Americans in detention.

Plascencia was naturalized under an immigration amnesty granted by the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s.

The 59-year-old hair stylist said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents did not believe she was a citizen after she showed them a California driver's license. Since 2015, the state has issued some 850,000 drivers licenses to undocumented workers, which are marked with the phrase "federal limits apply."

"I was told, 'If you're an American citizen, where are your papers?' I told them they were in the house and they started to laugh," she said.

According to Plascencia, the immigration officers interrogated her for an hour and a half. "I was told that I had used a fake name, which was in a very big problem," she said. At one point, according to her account, she broke down in tears. "They asked me 'why are you crying?' And I said, 'Because I'm an American citizen and this is happening to me.'"

Plascencia was only released after her daughter brought her U.S. passport to show officials. On leaving the ICE facility no one offered an apology.

With the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), she has since taken the first step to file a "discrimination based on ethnicity" lawsuit against ICE and the San Bernardino Sheriff's office. The lawsuit seeks compensation of at least $25,000.

"ICE violated its duty to provide reasonable care to Mrs. Plascencia by detaining her when she had information about her citizenship," according to the ACLU complaint. "ICE officials discriminated against Mrs. Plascencia based on her country of origin and ethnicity, when they discarded information and evidence of her citizenship," it adds.

The detention

Plascencia visited a police station in Ontario March 29 seeking to recover a weapon - which she legally owns - that the agency took from the scene of a car accident involving her daughter. She was notified that she had a pending arrest warrant, of which she says she was not aware.

The police placed her in custody and then transferred her to the West Valley Detention Center, where she was ordered to be held overnight by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's office.

The next day, the Sheriff informed her that she would be released, but that ICE had issued a request stating that it had an interest in her, without explaining why. Plascencia notified the agents of her citizenship.

ICE agents asked to see her documents to prove her legal status. She only had her drivers license, which was not enough for the officers who placed her in handcuffs.

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