U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Illinois detained an immigrant in court for a traffic ticket, the Chicago Tribune reported, and released him three days later on Thursday.
As Christian Gomez Garcia — a 29-year-old immigrant who came to the country at the age of four from Mexico — came out of traffic court in Cook County’s Skokie branch court on Monday, federal immigration agents called his name and arrested him. They detained him and sent him to a holding facility in Wisconsin for nearly three days.
“I step out of the courthouse. They say my name. I never expect they would be ICE agents,” the 29-year-old told CBS News after his release. “I thought they were regular people. As soon I said, ‘Yes, my name is Christian,’ I just basically got turned around and handcuffed.”
“You can’t tell whether it’s night or day. It’s horrible, sitting down in a square room,” he added.
Federal authorities released Gomez Garcia on Thursday after immigrant advocates and his lawyer appeared at a news conference in front of the courthouse.
Gomez Garcia is in the renewal process of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era initiative that grants temporary deportation protection and work authorization to certain immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16.
President Donald Trump phased out the DACA program in September 2017, putting a hard stop on renewals for beneficiaries whose statuses expire after March 5, 2018. A federal judge has since issued a temporary injunction ruling which allows some DACA beneficiaries to continue their renewal process, but new applications will not be accepted. The Trump administration has expressed that it planned to appeal the decision.
Gomez Garcia’s DACA status has lapsed, but Juan Soliz, one of his attorneys, believes that “federal authorities recognized that because Gomez Garcia is still eligible for a DACA extension, ‘they shouldn’t have picked him up in the first place and they’re compelled to release him.’”
Gomez Garcia said federal authorities released him and told him that his detention was the result of a computer glitch. As the Chicago Tribune found, the Secretary of State’s office explained that “Gomez Garcia’s driver’s license was suspended for failing to pay a fine for a driving offense. A search of court records in Cook County and other Chicago-area counties found no indication of criminal charges against Gomez Garcia.”
Gomez Garcia’s detention is alarming for a couple of reasons. For one, the ICE agency issued a directive Wednesday that greenlit arresting immigrants at courthouses. Although courthouses have never been off limits for ICE detentions, such arrests could dissuade immigrant victims of crime from showing up to defend themselves against perpetuity. But his detention also adds a new level of urgency to the so-called March 5 deadline that the Trump administration insists Dreamers have. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in January that the administration wouldn’t pursue DACA recipients until after March 5. But DACA recipients never had until March 5 to avoid deportation. As Gomez Garcia’s case highlights, contact with federal agents could mean a three-day stint in a Wisconsin holding facility based on a “computer glitch.”