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N.H. ACLU sues ICE on behalf of asylum seeker who was mistakenly deported in 2019

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
According to the lawsuit, a federal immigration employee failed to read a note in the agency’s database and placed Jose Daniel Guerra-Castañeda on a flight out of the country despite a court's order to pause his deportation.

An asylum seeker from El Salvador who was held at the Strafford County House of Corrections in 2018 is suing federal immigration officials, claiming he was unlawfully deported and then tortured.

In his new civil lawsuit, Jose Daniel Guerra-Castañeda alleges that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement violated a court order by sending him to El Salvador in September 2019 while he was still appealing his deportation. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had previously agreed to put his deportation on hold while he challenged that decision.

Guerra-Castañeda’s removal to El Salvador, according to a lawsuit filed on his behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, followed a breakdown in communication between ICE officers in multiple states.

“This case is an extraordinary case where the government made a huge and grave mistake, and because of that mistake, Mr. Guerra-Castaneda had to go through detention and torture,” said ACLU immigration attorney SangYeob Kim.

After arriving in El Salvador, Guerra-Castañeda alleges that he was detained at a notorious prison, subjected to routine torture and beatings, denied basic hygiene and ultimately held for 297 days before securing his release. He is seeking monetary damages from the federal government over allegations of negligence and wrongful deportation.

According to court paperwork, Guerra-Castañeda sought asylum in the United States at age 18 after facing violence within his own family. He was detained at the southern border in 2015 but was released on bond, eventually obtaining a work permit and driver’s license in Massachusetts.

In 2018, according to court paperwork, Guerra-Castañeda was informed that the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, was seeking his arrest on now-dismissed murder charges related to alleged gang activity in El Salvador. Guerra-Castañeda denies these allegations and, according to his lawsuit, believes the claims originated with a family member.

Soon after, Guerra-Castañeda was detained by ICE and held at the Strafford County House of Corrections in Dover, which has long housed immigrant detainees under a deal with the federal government. He filed an appeal challenging his deportation, which was granted by the 1st Circuit after a lower court initially rejected the request.

As part of its ruling, the 1st Circuit ordered immigration officials to hold off on deporting Guerra-Castañeda, who had been transferred to a facility in Louisiana. He was scheduled for a flight out of the country in September 2019, but according to court paperwork, officials with ICE's Boston field office instructed their counterparts in Louisiana via email to remove him from that manifest.

According to his lawsuit, an ICE employee failed to read a note in the agency’s database and placed Guerra-Castañeda on the flight despite those orders.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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