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ACLU sues ICE for failing to release records in case involving Marine combat vet

Photo courtesy of the family of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez

The ACLU of Michigan is suing Immigration and Customs Enforcement to get records related to the arrest and detention of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a Marine combat veteran who faced possible deportation last year.

The ACLU says it filed a Freedom of Information Act request in March to get the records. So far, it says no records have been released.

“As the date of this filing, ICE has not issued a determination on the March 9 request and has produced no records responsive to the request,” the lawsuit alleges.

"[ICE]has produced no records responsive to the request," says the ACLU of Michigan, about a FOIA request filed with the agency on March 9.

The lawsuit asks a judge to rule that ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act for not releasing the records.

Miriam Aukerman, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, says they're trying to get documents from ICE about what happened.

“We don’t have the videos, we don’t have the documents, we don’t have – ICE has its own story about what happened here," Aukerman said at a press conference Wednesday. "But they won’t produce any documents, they won’t give any information.”

The ACLU of Michigan also served notice that it intends to bring claims for damages against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. It issued that notice along with the Chicago law firm of Loevy & Loevy. 

The notice includes details of how Ramos-Gomez's three days in immigration detention affected him. 

people sitting at press conference
Credit Cheyna Roth / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Jilmar Ramos-Gomez's mother, Maria Gomez-Velasquez (right), and the ACLU's Miriam Aukerman (left) speak at a press conference Wednesday, November 20, 2019.

"His mental health was so deteriorated that at first he did not seem to recognize his own mother or own home," the notice says. "The shocking mistreatment by ICE agents discussed above has exacerbated Mr. Ramos-Gomez’s PTSD; led to his hospitalization, including weeks of in-patient treatment shortly after his ICE detention; and has had continuing deleterious effects. Mr. Ramos-Gomez now rarely leaves his house. He no longer spends time in the community as he once did. He is afraid of interacting with law enforcement officials again, worried that his own government sees him as an outsider despite his years of dedicated service to his country."

Jilmar Ramos-Gomez was taken into ICE custody last December, and held for three days in an immigration detention facility before his family could get him released. He’s a U.S. citizen who grew up in Grand Rapids, and joined the Marines after graduating high school. He served in the war in Afghanistan. His family says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of his service.

The Grand Rapids Police Department originally arrested Ramos-Gomez for trespassing on the helipad area at Spectrum Butterworth hospital in Grand Rapids.

Ramos-Gomez had a U.S. passport in his backpack when he was arrested. But an off-duty GRPD captain reached out to ICE after seeing a notice about the incident on local TV news.

“Could you please check his status,” wrote GRPD police captain Curt VanderKooi.

The Grand Rapids Police Civilian Appeal Board later determined that VanderKooi violated the department’s policies when he contacted ICE.

Last week,the city agreed to pay Ramos-Gomez $190,000 to settle a civil rights complaint in the case.

A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement says Ramos-Gomez was detained because he told an ICE agent that he’s an undocumented immigrant.

“Mr. Ramos claimed in verbal statements to be a foreign national illegally present in the U.S.” ICE said in a statement released earlier this year.

ICE’s interrogation of Ramos-Gomez happened while he was in the Kent County jail. Records of the interrogation are part of what the ACLU of Michigan has requested from ICE.

Anand Swaminathan is an attorney with the law firm Loevy and Loevy – they’re working with the ACLU on the case. Swaminathan says one part of the lawsuit accuses ICE of knowing Ramos-Gomez was a citizen.

“They chose to ignore evidence of his citizenship and his service and to seek to deport him," he said. "And they did so for no reason other than the color of his skin and the sound of his name.”

The ACLU of Michigan also requested records of the total number of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents that ICE has detained or removed in the past four years, and records of ICE's policies on dealing with people who have mental health issues.

“Mr. Ramos-Gomez, and the public, deserve to know why the United States government abused its own citizen and veteran, and how many others have suffered in the same way,” said Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, in a statement.

ICE has not responded to the lawsuit.

“As a matter of policy, ICE does not comment on pending litigation,” says ICE spokesperson Khaalid Walls.

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Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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