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Chicago man accuses feds of racial profiling

By Tom Watkins, CNN
  • Puerto Rican detained over the weekend on ICE orders
  • "This was based on a clear case of racial profiling," his defender says
  • ICE: "We immediately canceled the detainer"
  • Lawyer: "This is not what America is about"

(CNN) -- A 32-year-old Puerto Rican recruiter for a cosmetology school in Chicago, Illinois, accused federal immigration authorities on Thursday of throwing him in jail over the weekend as a result of racial profiling.

"I was just profiled," Eduardo Caraballo told CNN in a telephone interview.

The incident began on May 18, when police showed up at the building housing the school in the suburban Chicago town of Berwyn. The school is owned by his mother. The building includes a storage area where police found a car that Caraballo said he was storing for a friend -- but which turned out to have been stolen.

After 48 hours in police custody, Caraballo was interviewed by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, he said.

"She did not believe I was Puerto Rican because of the way I look and the way I talk," he said. "I guess I have a Mexican accent."

On May 20, he was taken to the Cook County Correctional Center. Authorities there told his mother, Patricia Caraballo, that she could not bail him out because immigration had a hold on him, he said.

His mother, who is Mexican, then took her son's birth certificate to immigration authorities, her son said. But immigration officials asked the younger Caraballo to describe his life in Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth; scrutinized the papers brought by his mother; and came away unpersuaded.

"Last time I was in Puerto Rico, I was 18 years old," Caraballo said. "I don't really like Puerto Rico -- or Mexico. I like Chicago. I was raised here."

Finally, on Monday, an ICE supervisor allowed him to leave.

"If it was that simple, why couldn't they do it Friday?" Caraballo asked.

The Rev. Walter L. Coleman, of Lincoln United Methodist Church in Chicago, has taken up Caraballo's cause.

"This was based on a clear case of racial profiling and a clear distrust that would not have been extended to a Caucasian or somebody who was Anglo-American," Coleman told reporters Thursday.

"We have an integral connection between racial profiling and discrimination and the prosecution of our broken racial laws," he added. "It's everywhere in this country and it's going to intensify."

Chris Bergin, a lawyer for Familia Latina Unida Ministries and Centro Sin Fronteras, said he was considering taking legal action against the government on behalf of Caraballo.

That is an example of what we're facing as we see a broken immigration system that is aimed really at Latinos and aimed at intimidation and aimed at persecution and aimed at discrimination and ultimately aimed at disempowering the entire community in this country," Bergin said.

In a statement, ICE said it "places 'detainers' or holds on individuals whom we have reason to believe are in the U.S. in violation of law. Based upon the evidence initially available on this individual, ICE agents placed a detainer on him. However, after ICE confirmed the individual's identity as a U.S. citizen, we immediately canceled the detainer.

"This individual was held in local law enforcement custody over the weekend on an ICE detainer based on initially available information that he was an alien subject to deportation. ICE took custody of him on Monday morning and released him within one hour, after his identity was verified, and the ICE detainer was canceled."

But that explanation didn't placate Bergin.

"They're supposed to be the experts in this and they didn't act like experts," he said. "When it comes to Latinos, what has happened is they have flipped the coin on its head: The burden of proof now is on them to prove that they are legal, that they are citizens. ... That is not what America is about."

And ICE's defense raised eyebrows from Jacqueline Stevens, professor of political science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, outside Chicago.

"Their defense is only valid if someone is foreign-born," she said. "It's not a valid defense if someone is asserting that they're born in the United States. That's basically kidnapping and false imprisonment."

But such incidents are not unusual, said Stevens, who went through the files of an immigration and refugee rights project and found that 82 cases -- 1 percent of the total -- involved U.S. citizens, most of whom had been held for one to three months.

That would translate to 4,000 of the 400,000 people detained last year by ICE, Stevens said. She also tracked 30 cases since 2003 where ICE went a step further and deported U.S. citizens, she said. In one case, it took a man wrongfully deported to Jamaica a decade to put together the paperwork to return to the United States, she said.