Jail Cell (Stock Photo)

Two civil rights groups today sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on behalf of a Riverside County man who allegedly was unlawfully transferred to an ICE immigration lockup for deportation proceedings even though he is a citizen. Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and the ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed the federal lawsuit in Los Angeles on behalf of Brian Bukle, 62, of Corona.

The lawsuit alleges that state corrections officials handed Bukle over to ICE on June 17, 2020, at a time when immigration detention centers were in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak. The lawsuit does not say why Bukle was in local custody, and a message seeking an explanation from one of his lawyers was not immediately answered. Bukle spent over four weeks at an ICE facility in Bakersfield before the agency acknowledged he was a U.S. citizen and his deportation case was tossed, according to the lawsuit.

An ICE representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment from City News Service. The complaint — seeking unspecified damages — alleges false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence.

The civil rights groups allege that transferring people to ICE detention violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, and that state officials’ coordination with ICE in other ways — such as permitting an ICE private contractor to arrest people at state facilities, and accepting ICE detainers based on error-ridden databases — violates state and federal law. Bukle was the subject of an ICE detainer based on information from the agency’s electronic databases, which are “notoriously riddled with errors,” according to ACLU NorCal.

Attorneys for the civil rights groups contend that after Bukle was transferred to the Mesa Verde Detention Facility, an immigration judge and detention facility staff urged him to sign paperwork consenting to his deportation, despite the fact that he is a U.S. citizen and has made a home and raised a family in this country.

After 36 days, ICE released him, acknowledging that he should not have been in immigration detention, according to the lawsuit. “When I learned that (state corrections) was turning me over to ICE, and not to my family, I was terrified,” Bukle said in a statement released by his lawyers.

“My whole heart felt empty. I had no one to cry out to but Christ. It was important for me to file this claim because I want justice for the pain I went through, and because I want state officials to stop doing this to other people. I want them to stop this nightmare of uncertainty and fear.”