The Slatest

ICE Doesn’t Have to Pay Damages to U.S. Citizen It Detained for Three Years (!), Court Rules

Davino Watson’s detention began while Michael Chertoff—pictured above on June 9, 2008, in Washington—was the secretary of Homeland Security.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

This is the story of Davino Watson—a U.S. citizen—via NPR:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement kept Watson imprisoned as a deportable alien for nearly 3 1/2 years. Then it released Watson, who was from New York, in rural Alabama with no money and no explanation. Deportation proceedings continued for another year.

That’s the old bad news; Watson was released in 2011, and eventually did convince ICE that he was not an undocumented immigrant. But here’s the new bad news:

Last year, a district judge in New York awarded him $82,500 in damages, citing “regrettable failures of the government.” On Monday, an appeals court ruled that Watson, now 32, is not eligible for any of that money — because while his case is “disturbing,” the statute of limitations actually expired while he was still in ICE custody without a lawyer.

Yeesh. Watson, who moved to the U.S. as a teenager with his father and became a naturalized citizen at age 17, was originally transferred into ICE custody after serving an eight-month sentence in New York for a nonviolent drug offense. Officers checking his claim to citizenship by reviewing records related to his father, who is named Hopeton Watson and lives in New York, became confused and instead researched a Hopeton Watson who lives in Connecticut. The younger Watson ended up spending 1,273 days behind bars before the mistake was addressed.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviewed Watson’s case, however, ruled in a 2–1 decision that he did not qualify for an exception to the relevant statute of limitations, asserting that such exceptions should be applied only “in unusual circumstances” and are not “a cure-all for an entirely common state of affairs.” (Responded Judge Robert Katzmann in a dissenting opinion: “I would hope that nothing about Watson’s 1,273‐day detention can be said to have been ‘an entirely common state of affairs.’ If it were, we should all be deeply troubled.”) Watson’s lawyer says he may appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Correction,  Aug. 2, 2017, at 12:25 p.m.: This post was initially illustrated with photo of former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano instead of Michael Chertoff.