A document presented as critical evidence in a case to deport an immigrant back to Mexico was knowingly falsified by an attorney for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a lawsuit filed Thursday alleges.
Attorneys representing Ignacio Lanuza Torres, who is now a U.S. citizen, said he suffered through nearly five years of costly immigration court proceedings in order to stay in the country with his U.S.-born wife and children. He is now seeking $500,000 in damages through a lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Lanuza’s troubles began 2008, when ICE officials placed him in deportation proceedings after he pleaded guilty to weapons charges for flashing a pistol in public.
Lanuza, who said he entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico in 1996, married his American-born girlfriend the following year. He then tried to have his deportation case thrown out, arguing that with the marriage, he had legal, permanent status because he had lived in the U.S. continuously for more than the requisite 10 years. But pointing to a crucial document provided as evidence, ICE assistant chief counsel Jonathan M. Love argued in court that Lanuza had left the U.S. roughly five times for Mexico and was not eligible to cancel his removal proceedings.
According to Love, Lanuza had signed away his right to appear before an immigration judge after an incident in 2000 when he was picked up by Border Patrol agents. In doing so, Love argued the document proved Lanuza had not lived in the U.S. continuously for the 10 years. With that evidence, Judge Kenneth Josephson ordered for Lanuza to be deported.
But when appealing the decision, Lanuza’s attorney noticed details on the document that seemed impossible.
For one, the document, dated Jan. 2000, was printed on Department of Homeland Security letterhead. But at that time, the agency didn't even exist. The U.S. government created the department more than a year after the document date in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Also, the ICE agent who allegedly signed the document, Anthony Dodd, was the same ICE agent who picked up Lanuza’s case in Seattle. Dodd serves nowhere near the district where Lanuza was caught near U.S.-Mexico border in 2000. And according to the lawsuit filed Thursday, any trace of the original document does not exist; the only document on file is the version that attorneys claim was falsified.
"This case demonstrates a level of impunity by an ICE official that is quite shocking," said Matt Adams, attorney at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and attorney for Lanuza, said in a statement. "We are deeply concerned that this incident may well indicate a broader pattern of unlawful conduct."
Andrew Munoz, a spokesperson for ICE, said in a statement that any unlawful conduct is contrary to the standards the agency holds its employees. "We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and an internal review has been launched," Munoz said. "Due to the nature of the allegations and the pending lawsuit, we cannot comment further.”