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Brooklyn Man Held on Someone Else's Immigration Detainer

cropped image of prison officer wearing handcuffs on prisoner
By Laura Temme, Esq. on September 23, 2019 12:00 PM

In a case of mistaken identity and a lot of agency finger-pointing, the Second Circuit recently revived a claim by Brooklyn resident Luis Hernandez that he was unlawfully detained based on his name.

Police in Manhattan arrested Hernandez in 2013 on a misdemeanor public lewdness charge. During his processing, the Department of Homeland Security issued an immigration detainer, saying Hernandez was the subject of an order of removal.

There was just one problem: Hernandez is a U.S. citizen.

Detained and Confused

The order for removal was actually for a Honduran immigrant named Luis Enrique Hernandez-Martinez. Hernandez informed several people, including a social worker and two corrections officers, that he was a U.S. citizen, to no avail. By the time DHS realized its error and withdrew the detainer, Hernandez had been in custody for four days.

The Government attempted to shift the blame by arguing that it was city officials who continued to hold Hernandez in custody. Meanwhile, the City of New York pointed out that the only reason Hernandez remained in custody was because of the ICE detainer.

At Hernandez’s arraignment, the Assistant District Attorney initially recommended three days of community service and that Hernandez be released on his own recognizance. However, the judge pointed out this was impossible, saying, “You can’t ask for community service. He has an ICE detainer.”

Close, But Not Close Enough

The court found Hernandez could plausibly allege that the Government lacked probable cause to lodge the detainer, given the fact that it was issued for someone with a different name and nationality. Furthermore, the Government failed to conduct “even a rudimentary inquiry” into Hernandez’s identity. Had someone checked DOC Inmate Lookup Service records or Hernandez’s rap sheet for the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, they could have easily determined that they had the wrong man.

The court rejected arguments that the similarity between “Luis Hernandez” and “Luis Enrique Hernandez-Martinez” was enough to establish probable cause, saying “a lack of cultural familiarity does not excuse disregarding easily confirmable differences.”

Never mind the fact that Hernandez is among the most common surnames in the United States.

The panel vacated the district court’s decision to dismiss, giving Hernandez a second chance to prove his claims of false arrest and false imprisonment.

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