This story also ran in the Los Angeles Times.

A U.S. Army veteran who spent more than seven months in an immigration lock-up, despite his protestations that he was a naturalized American citizen, has received a $400,000 settlement and a written apology from the U.S. government.

Rennison Vern Castillo, 33, of Lakewood, Wash., had sued officials at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, where he was held as a suspected illegal immigrant.

In a letter that was part of the settlement, the U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle acknowledged the immigration agency’s mistake.

“I believe that none of my clients… would ever have wanted to, or knowingly would have, detained a veteran and United States citizen,” wrote Philip H. Lynch, chief of the civil division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We very much regret that you were detained.”

The settlement was to be formally announced Thursday.

Castillo was born in Belize and was a child when his mother brought him to this country. He grew up in Los Angeles and become a naturalized citizen in 1998 while in the Army, where he served seven years.

In 2005, he served an eight-month jail term in Washington state for a felony count of harassing an ex-girlfriend. Instead of being released after completing his sentence, he was transferred to the federal detention center in Tacoma. A federal officer told him that records showed he was an illegal immigrant.
Castillo repeatedly told immigration officers he was a naturalized citizen.

“They were disrespectful and told me that I would say anything to get out of detention,” Castillo said in a statement. “It was a nightmare.”

In January 2006, an immigration judge ordered Castillo deported. With the help of attorneys, Castillo challenged the decision before the Board of Immigration Appeals, which blocked the deportation. ICE officials released him a month later without explanation.

It turned out that he was the victim of paperwork mixup: His name was misspelled in immigration records and he’d been assigned multiple “alien numbers.”

A Times story in April 2009 detailed Castillo’s case and several similar instances of mistaken detention of U.S. citizens or legal residents.

ICE Director John Morton ordered procedures changed to avoid future mistakes, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a statement Wednesday.

ICE “deeply regrets Mr. Castillo’s detention and worked closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle to seek a just resolution of this case,” Kice said.

Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which represented Castillo, said: “It is important that the government recognized that closer attention must be paid to these cases, as it is simply inexcusable to have U.S. citizens locked up and placed in removal proceedings.”

Read the USAO apology letter

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Andrew Becker is a reporter for Reveal, covering border, national and homeland security issues, as well as weapons and gun trafficking. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse – with stories ranging from border corruption to the expanding use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, from the militarization of police to the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, from terrorism to drug trafficking. Becker's reporting has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and on National Public Radio and PBS/FRONTLINE, among others. He received a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. Becker is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.