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U.S. citizen sues government after being detained by immigration officials for 7 months

By | Last updated: Nov 4, 2013 - 8:59:51 AM

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A 33-year-old Filipino woman who came to the United States as a child and was quickly granted full American citizenship is suing the U.S. government after being detained in prison for almost seven months and threatened with deportation.

Attorneys for Sharon Arlanza Yost of San Diego, California filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the U.S. government of negligence, false imprisonment and causing emotional distress over the lengthy detainment their client was subjected to throughout most of 2011.

According to the plaintiff’s legal counsel, officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement erred when they arrested Ms. Yost on May 14 of that year and then detained her through the first week of December based on what her attorneys call a “purported, but baseless, belief” that she was a noncitizen subject to deportation from the United States.

The plaintiff, her lawyers claim, moved to the U.S. with her family in 1991 and was admitted as a lawful, permanent resident two years later at age 13.

Documents provided by her attorneys suggest Ms. Yost’s mother married a native-born U.S. citizen in 1985 and was naturalized herself four years later when her daughter was still a child. Federal statute cited by the plaintiff’s attorneys and backed-up with evidence included in over 100 pages of legal paperwork filed in October with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California reinforce claims that Ms. Yost, contrary to ICE’s insistence, became a full U.S. citizen on April 28, 1993 and remained one when a warrant for her arrest was issued in 2011.

Ms. Yost’s attorneys accuse ICE officers at the San Diego Field Office of failing to review the agency’s files, which lawyers say would have informed the agents of their client’s valid citizenship status. Instead, those agents executed a summons authorized by the Department of Homeland Security on May 14, 2011 in which Ms. Yost was determined by DHS to be “not a citizen or national of the United States” and subject to removal over a methamphetamine possession guilty plea she entered in 2010 that thus made her eligible for deportation.

Lawyers for Ms. Yost do not divulge information about the guilty plea in the complaint filed on Oct. 18 against the federal government, but mention of it is included in the trove of evidence submitted by attorneys. Nevertheless, that counsel insists that Ms. Yost was never eligible for deportation and was instead wrongly imprisoned for more than half-a-year.

From May through Dec. 2011, Ms. Yost was held by officials and threatened with deportation, during which she appealed for assistance no fewer than 20 times. Ms. Yost repeatedly insisted to ICE that she was a U.S. citizen with proper documentation, though time and time again her pleas were shrugged off and she was directed to make her complaints through a seemingly endless array of complicated bureaucratic channels, attorneys claim.

“ICE policy requires that, ‘[w]hen officers and agents encounter an individual who they suspect is without lawful status but claims to be a USC [US citizen],’ they should not take the individual into custody unless there is no probative evidence that the individual is a US citizen,” her attorneys wrote in the complaint.

Copies of several detainee request forms completed by Ms. Yost behind bars indicate that she was willing to speak with officials and provide them with papers verifying her citizenship, but ICE ignored Ms. Yost’s claim regardless and held her in custody for a total of 208 days.

Only nine days after being released that December, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a certificate verifying Ms. Yost’s claim that she became entitled to full legal protection as an American citizen 18 years earlier, “effectively acknowledging that the entire period of her detention was unlawful,” her attorneys wrote.

Months later, the USCIS issued a notice of intent indicating that they planned on cancelling Ms. Yost’s citizenship, “presumably in retaliation” for a complaint she filed, according to her attorneys.

She is now suing the federal government with assistance of Trina Realmuto, an attorney with the national Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild of Boston. (