ACLU sues ICE over attempted deportation of U.S. citizen in Grand Rapids

Maria Gomez-Velasquez holds up a photo of her son, Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, at an ACLU press conference, Nov. 20, 2019 | Nick Manes

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and a Chicago civil rights law firm have teamed up for a lawsuit against the federal immigration agency that sought to deport an American citizen and Marine veteran in Grand Rapids last year. 

R-L: Maria Gomez-Velasquez, Miriam Aukerman, Loevy & Loevy attorneys Anand Swaminathan and Merrick Wayne, ACLU press conference, Nov. 20, 2019 | Nick Manes

The two-part lawsuit filed by the ACLU with attorneys from the Loevy & Loevy law firm seeks records related to the detention of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez. 

The lawsuit also seeks: data and policies on wrongfully detained and deported U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and legal immigrants, as well as policies and procedures regarding people with mental health issues or disabilities, the ACLU said in a statement. 

As the Advance has previously reported, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and officers with the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) last year detained and attempted to deport Ramos-Gomez. 

The Marine combat veteran suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and had been arrested for trespassing on the helipad of Spectrum Health in downtown Grand Rapids last November. 

Grand Rapids police under fire from civil rights groups for Latino arrests

The city of Grand Rapids has agreed to pay Ramos-Gomez a $190,000 settlement over the issue, according to news reports. 

“I’m proud of my son,” Maria Gomez-Velasquez,” Ramos-Gomez’s mother, told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday to announce the lawsuit. “What they did to him was not fair.”  

ACLU press conference, Nov. 20, 2019 | Nick Manes

Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU, said she’d seen positive policy changes with the GRPD and Kent County Sheriff’s Department over interactions with federal immigration agents. 

The issue, Aukerman said, is the tactics by ICE to block records requests and its deportation efforts.

“But ICE has simply refused to take responsibility, or even to release documents about how this happened, why they locked up and mistreated and tried to deport a United States citizen [and] Marine Corps combat veteran,” Aukerman said. 

“What happened to Jilmar is terrible, but also a completely predictable consequence from ICE’s reckless approach to immigration enforcement,” she continued. “In a rush to deport people, no matter the cost, ICE cuts corners.”

Grand Rapids police set guidelines for interaction with immigrants

In an email, a spokesman for ICE declined to comment, citing pending litigation. 

Aukerman added that the Ramos-Gomez case is far from an isolated incident, particularly in recent years as deportations have picked up and anti-immigration rhetoric has become more mainstream. 

An August study by the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute estimates that due to “database errors, inadequate investigations and other mistakes,” ICE likely wrongfully targeted almost 20,000 U.S. citizens nationwide between 2005 and 2017.  

Aukerman also pointed to other similar cases in California and Florida. 

“This is part of a much, much larger problem, Aukerman said. “Unfortunately, the terrible suffering that Jilmar endured is not an isolated incident.”