Approximately 400,000 people are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement every year. Some of them are U.S. citizens.
Information on exactly how many citizens have been held in immigration detention is scarce. A 2016 investigation by NPR found that 818 citizens were held in ICE detention between 2007 and 2015, and an additional 693 were held in local jails on federal detainers — meaning that ICE asked the facility to detain them for an additional period of time, so they could eventually be taken into ICE custody — during that same period. A 2011 Berkeley study found that approximately 3,600 U.S. citizens have been arrested by ICE between 2009 and 2011 as part of the Secure Communities partnership between ICE and local law enforcement that began during the Bush administration. Other studies suggest those figures could be on the low side. Northwestern University professor Jacqueline Stevens estimated in 2011 that ICE detained at least 4,000 U.S. citizens in 2010 alone, several of whom were deported.
Below are the stories of four U.S. citizens who were detained by ICE. Swipe or scroll to learn more.
ICE has no legal grounds to detain or deport U.S. citizens, but that doesn’t mean it never happens. There have been dozens of reported cases of citizens being detained after posting bail for a separate offense because ICE has placed a detainer on them, or of citizens spending weeks, months, or even years in ICE detention without speaking to a lawyer. ICE won’t release the data on how often this occurs. “Each time the media reports that ICE has detained or deported a U.S. citizen, an ICE public affairs spokesperson refuses to comment on the case, ignores the evidence on hand and denies the incident occurred, or responds as though the example at hand is a freakish fluke among ICE’s entire caseload of millions,” Stevens wrote in a 2011 study published in the Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law.
Though ICE won’t speak to the media about these cases, it has issued several internal memos telling officers what to do when detainees claim to be U.S. citizens. One, from 2008, says officers must “ensure that all claims to United States citizenship… are appropriately reported and investigated.” But ICE officers don’t always listen — sometimes they don’t take citizenship claims seriously enough, sometimes they botch the paperwork — and their inaction can have disastrous effects.