A Brooklyn man spent more than three years in an immigration detention center, living under the constant threat of deportation, even though he's a U.S. citizen.
Davino Watson was born in Jamaica, but moved to Brooklyn to live with his dad when he was just a child. He was eventually naturalized and then served time in a New York State prison on a drug charge. Watson was supposed to be released in 2008, but was instead met by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
"They said 'We have reason to believe that you're an illegal alien,'" Watson said. "I contacted my family. I said 'Listen, send all the documents. Send all the paperwork.' And they did."
But the paperwork didn't help him. He was told he would see a judge in the next 24 hours and that, if he was a citizen, he'd be freed. Those 24 hours turned into three and a half years.
Court documents show how mistake after mistake was made in Watson's case. ICE agents never checked his story. Doubt and depression set in while Watson stayed in custody. He considered suicide.
"I felt less than human," he said. "I felt like I was an animal."
In immigration court, there is no right to an attorney and Watson didn’t have money for a lawyer, but he never lost hope. Eventually his case got the attention of a nonprofit organization and a law firm.
"There are thousands of other Americans in the same position as I was," he said.
A new investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that since 2012, 1,480 U. S citizens have been detained by immigration agents: some for days, others for months.
"I saw a lot of guys, they had good grounds to fight their case but because they couldn’t read and write, they got deported," Watson said.
Finally in 2011, Watson became a free man. He’s trying to rebuild his life, but he’s still haunted by all the days and nights he spent in detention.
"I don’t think that I will ever have a normal life," he said. "It's just scary stuff what happened to me."
ICE did not respond to a PIX11 request for comment.