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U.S. citizen detained 3 years awarded $82,500 in immigration case

A Brooklyn federal judge on Friday awarded $82,500 to a man detained more than three years by the government on suspicion he wasn’t a citizen before it figured out that he was, and complained the case pointed out the need for lawyers in immigration detention cases.

“Until individuals — citizens and aliens alike — are afforded a right to qualified counsel in immigration cases, it is likely that the system will continue to fail many of those it was designed to protect,” wrote U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein.

The case involved Jamaican-born Davino Watson, who became a citizen by virtue of his father’s naturalization but was detained after his release from shock-incarceration on a drug charge in New York in 2008.

Weinstein said the error arose from confusion about how the interplay of New York, Jamaican and federal law affected citizenship for a child of unmarried parents who is in his father’s custody.

He said he was only able to compensate the first 27 days of detention because a change in the immigration law at that point made the government’s failure “reasonable.”

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