Bernardo Medina, an American citizen, “spent three days in a nightmare, imprisoned in immigration detention centers, being moved from city to city, and insisting to everyone he could that he was an American citizen,” in 2015, according to lawsuits recently filed in federal court.
Medina, 22, was born in Montrose, Colorado and was living in Gunnison, the lawsuit states. He was detained by immigration agents on Jan. 27, 2015, while he was attending to a legal matter at the Gunnison County courthouse, according to the complaint. (The lawsuits were filed exactly two years later, in January 2017.)
Two men followed Medina outside “and aggressively confronted him,” the lawsuit states. They asked whether his name Bernardo Medina, which he confirmed by providing a Colorado photo ID, his lawyer told the court.
The men reportedly searched Medina and told him “he would have to come to Alamosa to answer some questions,” promising he would be returned to Gunnison afterward.
An Immigrations and Customs Enforcement spokesman previously told The Colorado Independent that Medina was detained because he had earlier told officers that he was a Mexican citizen who had entered the country illegally. Medina’s attorney denies that.
The lawsuit states that Medina was taken from Gunnison County to a “detention center” in Alamosa.
Multiple people then told Medina “that he he was a liar, that he was a Mexican citizen and was in America illegally,” the court filing states. When he protested, one unknown defendant allegedly told Medina, “You don’t look like you were born in Montrose.”
The lawsuit says that statement was a “clear allusion” to the plaintiff’s “Hispanic appearance.”
Medina’s interrogators reportedly told him that he would have to pay a “$12,000 ICE bond,” if he wanted to leave. He was transferred that evening to an unidentified facility in Colorado Springs and eventually to “yet another detention facility in Denver, Colorado,” the document states.
The facility in question appears to actually be in Aurora, based on a related lawsuit filed on Medina’s behalf.
Meanwhile, Medina’s friends and family, along with activists, were “attempting to present Plaintiff’s birth certificate to every official they could get in contact with,” the lawsuit states.
Released in Denver:
On Jan. 30, 2015, three days after he was allegedly detained, the detention center staff realized that Medina was an American citizen and “began aggressively questioning” why he hadn’t told them so, the lawsuit claims.
He was soon after removed from the facility and “left in a neighborhood he had never been to, in a city he knew nothing about with less than five dollars in his pocket,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit was filed by attorney Andy Richmond of Crested Butte on Jan. 27 of this year. It seeks damages from individual people involved in the detention.
The other lawsuit filed on behalf of Medina targets The GEO Group, a private operator of immigration detention facilities, including the one in Aurora.
The first lawsuit claims that individual ICE agents violated Medina’s constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure, as well his right to due process and equal protection. The other accuses GEO of negligence, false imprisonment, emotional distress and assault and battery. The assault and battery claim is related to “offensive contact” allegedly made by GEO employees.
Both lawsuits seek damages and a jury trial.
We’ve reached out for comment from both The GEO Group and ICE. Neither has filed factual responses to the claims of the lawsuits.
ICE declined to comment to ABC7, which first reported on the lawsuit.
While Medina’s reported detention happened under President Barack Obama’s administration, it plays into current concerns about ICE enforcement at courthouses. Immigration advocates say that the presence of immigration agents in the courts can deter undocumented people from seeking legal services.
Separately, GEO is the subject of a class-action lawsuit that claims it wrongfully forced detained people to work or paid them too little money to maintain its detention facility.
Update: GEO deferred comment to ICE. An ICE spokesman said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.