San Francisco – Bay Area civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of a now 7-year-old boy, a U.S. citizen by birth, who was detained for 10 hours by immigration agents after they arrested the boy’s father on an immigration violation last month.
Lawyers said it’s the first time they’ve documented a U.S. citizen, the child of an immigrant, detained in the federal government’s crackdown on illegal immigrants called “Operation Return to Sender.”
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco against Immigration and Customs Enforcement by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, and ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project. It was filed on behalf of Kebin Reyes, 7, and his father, Noe Reyes, both of San Rafael.
“Taking a 6-year-old boy and putting him in a locked room for 10 hours is egregious,” said Philip Hwang, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee in San Francisco. “The purpose of the lawsuit is to hold government officials accountable.”
No phone calls
Noe Reyes, 37, an immigrant from Guatemala, was arrested at his home March 6 by agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who were conducting a sweep for illegal immigrants in San Rafael. Dozens of immigrants, sought by the agents on previous deportation orders and others found to be without legal documents, were also arrested.
At a news conference at ACLU’s office in San Francisco on Thursday morning, Reyes said that on the morning of his arrest he showed ICE agents his son’s passport and requested they give him a chance to call a relative before being taken into custody.
His hands handcuffed behind his back, Reyes and his son were transported to the ICE detention facility in San Francisco.
“I was not allowed to make a phone call,” Reyes said. “I made many requests but I was denied.
“Kebin realized after hours have gone by that he wasn’t going home. He was very sad and upset. I didn’t want him to suffer.”
Reyes and his lawyers declined to discuss his current immigration status but said that he has a pending immigration case and has been released from detention. They also said Reyes does not have a criminal history or previous arrests.
But according to ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice, an immigration judge ordered Reyes deported in November 2000 after he was found to be in the United States without legal status. He was arrested last month based on that deportation order and was jailed for more than a month. Since his arrest, he has filed a court request to re-open his case. A hearing is scheduled in June. He is out on a $5,000 bond.
“I want to know why I wasn’t allowed to seek protection for my child,” Reyes said in Spanish.
Kice declined to comment on the lawsuit.
However, she said that in cases where arresting agents encounter children, “our preference is for a relative to come take custody of minors.”
In this situation, said Kice, agents took the child with the father after learning that a relative was not immediately available.
“Clearly the action they took was in the interest of ensuring the child’s safety,” she said. “We weren’t going to leave a minor in a home unattended.”
Lawyers and advocates said the boy’s detention is the latest example of the fallout from ICE raids that have struck fear in immigrant communities in the Bay Area and around the country. More than 18,000 immigrants – those who have been ordered deported previously and others with criminal convictions – have been arrested under “Operation Return to Sender.”
In raids in the past 12 months in Redwood City, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Marin and Contra Costa County, children, many of them U.S. citizens by birth, were left with relatives and neighbors after the arrests of their parents.
In the lawsuit, the legal groups alleged civil rights violations against Reyes and his son. They are seeking an unspecified amount in damages. San Jose Mercury News