ACLU: Government mistakenly sought to deport Michigan vet

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — A decorated Michigan Marine veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder was held for three days for possible deportation before authorities learned that he was a U.S. citizen, lawyers said Wednesday.

Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, 27, was born and lives in Grand Rapids. He was released on Dec. 17 from a detention center in Calhoun County under Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody after records were provided to ICE from the Kent County Sheriff's Office, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Ramos-Gomez had his United State's passport on him at the time of his arrest, said ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman. The ACLU is calling for an investigation into the episode, calling it spurred by race.

Jilmar Ramos Gomez

"Mr. Gomez-Ramos had his passport on him when he was arrested, and Kent County Sheriff’s Department officials have publicly admitted that he told them he was a citizen. Yet despite this, the jail turned him over to ICE for deportation," Aukerman said Wednesday. "This shows exactly what is wrong with the department’s policy of blindly facilitating ICE’s deportation efforts, handing people over without any investigation based on mere administrative requests rather than judicial warrants."

ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls in Detroit said he couldn’t respond to media inquiries because of the partial government shutdown.

Ramos-Gomez was in the Kent County Jail after being accused of trespassing and damaging a fire alarm at a Grand Rapids hospital on Nov. 21. The ACLU said he pleaded guilty and was supposed to be released on Dec. 14 while awaiting sentencing.

However, when Ramos-Gomez's mother went to the jail to pick up her son, she was told he was placed in ICE custody. 

"(Officers) told me my son was with Immigration and Customs. They said go find out why and gave me an address," said Maria Gomez Velasquez, who moved to Michigan from Guatalama. "I saw my son in a van and thought they were just joking." 

Gomez Velasquez said she never received an apology from ICE.

"I can't understand this. ... my son fought for his country, for this country," she said.

Kent County Undersheriff Chuck DeWitt said they were aware he was a citizen, but ICE requested that the department detain him.

"Anyone that comes into our jail is fingerprinted, and that information is sent to Michigan State Police, which then funnels it to the FBI, which then funnels (it) to Homeland Security's ICE," DeWitt told The Detroit News on Wednesday. "He indicated to us he was a citizen. ICE requested us to detain him and he went from our custody to Calhoun County, who also has an agreement with ICE."

DeWitt said he didn’t know whether Ramos-Gomez protested when immigration officers picked him up. Ramos-Gomez was driven 70 miles to a detention center in Battle Creek from Kent County. He was released three days later, after lawyer Richard Kessler contacted ICE on behalf of his family.

"His hospital incident was caused by his PTSD," Kessler said. "He was arrested for two misdemeanors and a judge ordered his release, but then he was transferred into ICE custody. He was detained for three days and received a notice to appear in front of an immigration judge ... before I showed up."

Aukerman said ICE's policy is "sloppy and reckless" and that race played a role in Ramos-Gomez's arrest.

"It’s incomprehensible to me that this happened and extremely unlikely to happen to someone who is white like me," Aukerman said. "It’s impossible that race could not have played a role here.”

Had Kessler not fought for his release, he said Ramos-Gomez would have been held for another 15 days until he could appear in front of a federal judge in Detroit. 

"I believe he could have been deported," Kessler said.

Kessler said Ramos-Gomez was receiving mental-health care treatment this week and was unavailable for comment. 

Ramos-Gomez was a lance corporal in the Marines and received a National Defense Service medal, a global war on terrorism service medal, an Afghanistan campaign medal, and a combat action ribbon for his combat in Afghanistan, the ACLU said. 

The ACLU is asking the Kent County sheriff and county commissioners to investigate the jail’s role in releasing Ramos-Gomez to ICE. Aukerman said Ramos-Gomez’ treatment was “appalling.”

" ... We need to know how a decorated marine and American citizen was arrested with his passport on him and sent off from Kent County to ICE for deportation," said Aukerman.

"They need to cease this policy of turning people over to ICE because it tears community trust and is very dangerous," she said. "These aren’t based on judicial determinations, but administrative determinations of who they think don’t belong in the country, and that results in an enormous amount of error ... If this isn't enough to end this horrible policy, what will it take? All of us, all American citizens, are at risk."

ICE does not have its own detention facility in Michigan, Kessler said, but contracts with local jails for arrests and detentions. 

"This wouldn’t happen or be rarer if local facilities weren't holding people for Immigration and Customs Enforcement," Kessler said. "I think that this type of problem is increasing now under the current zero-tolerance administration. If the federal government keeps pushing local police to become more involved and report people they think should be removed, I think we’ll see more than this.

"On the other hand, there is some push back of communities like Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor that won’t participate in partnerships with ICE."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Twitter: @SarahRahal_