Northwestern lawyers settle for release of immigrant incorrectly identified as gang member


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Pritzker School of Law. Lawyers from Northwestern’s MacArthur Justice Center settled a case for an immigrant who was falsely accused of being a gang member.

Alexis White, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern lawyers helped settle a case for the release of an undocumented immigrant who was detained for 10 months after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents incorrectly identified him as a gang member.

Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez was arrested March 2017 and detained by ICE agents. Vanessa del Valle — one of his civil rights attorneys — said he was released Jan. 22 after his attorneys struck a deal with the federal government, after previously filing a civil rights complaint on May 1.

According to the complaint, ICE raided Catalan-Ramirez’s home after the Chicago Police Department shared information from its gang database with the organization that said Catalan-Ramirez was a gang member. Del Valle, also a clinical assistant professor at the Pritzker School of Law, said Catalan-Ramirez was in the database as a member of two rival gangs, but is not actually a member of any gang.

The Chicago Police Department, as part of its settlement, later issued a letter saying Catalan-Ramirez was falsely recorded as a gang member, del Valle said. The Chicago Tribune reported in December that this letter was sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

As he was arrested, Catalan-Ramirez was slammed to in the ground by ICE agents, del Valle said. He hit his head and suffered a fractured shoulder.

The complaint also stated Catalan-Ramirez,the primary provider for his family, already had previous injuries after being the victim of a drive-by shooting last January, which left him partially paralyzed on his left side and with “cognitive deficits.”

“(ICE agents) violently arrested him,” said del Valle, a lawyer at Northwestern’s MacArthur Justice Center. “They really used excessive force when arresting him, and exacerbated his existing injuries and caused him new injuries.”

Del Valle said the MacArthur Justice Center learned about Catalan-Ramirez’s case through Organized Communities Against Deportations, an advocacy group for fair treatment of immigrants, with which the center already had a relationship.

The civil rights claims, del Valle said, were against the medical provider at the detainment center for neglecting Catalan-Ramirez’s injuries, ICE agents for entering his house without consent and using excessive force, CPD for putting false information in the gang database and sharing it with ICE and McHenry County for failing to accommodate Catalan-Ramirez’s injuries and disabilities.

“At the detention center, he wasn’t getting adequate medical care for his injuries,” del Valle said. “He wasn’t getting any of the physical or occupational therapy that he was receiving before he was detained. … He wasn’t getting any appointments with doctors to address the injuries that he got during the raid with the ICE agents, and he wasn’t getting any of his medications.”

Del Valle said Catalan-Ramirez’s attorneys filed a motion for preliminary injunction to get care for their client the same day they filed the complaint. This care included accommodations to help him eat and dress and ensure that he would be transported with seatbelts and without shackles in vehicles.

Pritzker Prof. Sheila Bedi, another of Catalan-Ramirez’s attorneys, said while settling with CPD, the county and the medical provider, they had to drop his claim against ICE agents in order for their client to be released from detention.

“What Wilmer has said repeatedly is that you can’t put a price on the ability to spend time with his children,” Bedi said. “So he bargained away his freedom so that he could be at home with his kids in exchange for dropping the civil rights claim.”

The case concerning whether or not Catalan-Ramirez can remain in the U.S. is currently being adjudicated at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and may not be decided for up to two years, del Valle said.

Catalan-Ramirez’s case demonstrates the consequences of inaccuracies in the CPD database, del Valle said, and the difficulties immigrants face in detention centers where they may not receive adequate care or representation in court.

Bedi said despite claims that Chicago is a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, Catalan-Ramirez’s case “makes it clear that that’s a myth.”

“The Chicago Police Department, in Wilmer’s case, collaborated with ICE and established what we believe is a pervasive CPD-to-deportation pipeline,” Bedi said. “Merely because Wilmer was a young Latino male that CPD thought was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

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Twitter: @AlexisFWhite