U.S. Citizen With Passport on Him Detained at Tacoma Immigration Facility for Week, Lawsuit Says


A man who says he had his U.S. passport with him when he was detained and then held for a week at the immigration detention facility in Tacoma has sued the federal government.

Carlos Rios filed his lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

"I cannot understand why I was detained and why no one listened to me," Rios said in a news release from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the nonprofit that's representing him. "I had my U.S. passport with me when I was detained, and I told this to the immigration officers many times. I hope that this lawsuit can make a difference to ensure that others are not subjected to such terrible, unlawful treatment by U.S. immigration officials."

An ICE spokesperson said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, gives this account of what happened:

Rios became a United States citizen in 2000.

He was arrested November 17, 2019 on suspicion of driving his motorcycle under the influence.

Two days later immigration officials took him into custody when he was released from the Pierce County Jail.

"Despite Mr. Rios's repeated and frantic requests for an explanation as to why he was again being arrested, the individuals refused to provide Mr. Rios any information or explanation," the lawsuit said. "Instead, they restrained Mr. Rios's wrists and ankles and placed him in the back of a van."

When he realized they were with ICE, he told them he had his passport.

The immigration officials allegedly refused to look at it or to release him.

They transferred him to the privately owned and operated Northwest Detention Center (now called the Northwest ICE Processing Center) on the Tacoma Tideflats, where he was held until release a week later.

"During those seven days, Mr. Rios was subjected to conditions similar to criminal carceral settings, and was placed in a cell for people at high risk of self-harm and subjected to continual monitoring," the lawsuit said. "He recalls that his bed was taken from him and he was forced to sleep on the floor, with officers threatening to confiscate his clothes as well. A medical provider warned Mr. Rios that he would be medicated."

Then Nov. 26, 2019 he was taken to the Tukwila ICE office.

"After collecting his biometrics and reviewing his records, Mr. Rios recalls a sudden change of tone in the way the surrounding officers addressed him," the lawsuit alleged. "They were very polite as they explained that he would be released immediately, and even asked if they could help him arrange for transportation. Mr. Rios asked if the officers would pay the $700 necessary to reclaim his impounded motorcycle, but the officers refused to do so."

As a result of his detention Rios had to pay that $700 fee for his bike, couldn't send money to family in Mexico, couldn't visit them for Christmas, had to find another job, and his marriage was affected, the lawsuit alleges.

"This is an egregious example of immigration enforcement acting with impunity, completely unconstrained by the law," Matt Adams, Legal Director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said in the news release. "ICE officers should not have arrested him absent clear evidence of an immigration violation. They are free to investigate him, but not to callously imprison him while they perform their investigation."