Immigrant claims arrest, abuse after wrongly named on Chicago gang list

Jeanne Kuang / Injustice Watch

Celene Adame, wife of Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, speaks about her husband’s arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a May Day rally at Chicago’s Union Park.

Celene Adame thought the officials who came to her front yard one morning in late March were Chicago Police officers. She told them she did not recognize the man in the photograph they showed her, and she went to drop her children off at school nearby.

She returned to her South Side home to find the officers — who were actually Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — had forced their way into her home without permission or a warrant, and wrongly arrested her partially paralyzed husband, Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, on false information, according to a lawsuit filed by Catalan-Ramirez on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The suit alleges ICE agents arrested Catalan-Ramirez, a 31-year-old mechanic, based on false information provided by the Chicago Police Department, which had listed him as a gang member in its gang database. In the lawsuit, Catalan-Ramirez denies being a member of a gang and contends he was arrested on false information that deprived him of his due process rights.

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“He’s not in a gang, he’s never been in a street gang,” said Vanessa del Valle, Catalan-Ramirez’s attorney through the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law. “Being put in the database is completely arbitrary,” she said in an interview. Inclusion on a gang list could result from “where you live, if you’re wearing certain clothes, interacting with certain people, anything the police might suspect” indicates gang affiliation, she said.

The lawsuit states that Catalan-Ramirez was never notified by CPD that he was in the Gang Database: “CPD never confronted him with evidence that he was gang-affiliated before including him in the Gang Database. There is no procedure by which Mr. Catalan-Ramirez can contest his inclusion in the Gang Database.”

The suit raises questions about Chicago’s “sanctuary city” ordinance, which prohibits local police from cooperating with federal ICE agents to identify and arrest immigrants suspected of living in the U.S. illegally. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has touted the ordinance as proof the city is protecting immigrants from the Trump administration.

While the Trump administration is threatening to pull back federal funding unless Chicago promises to cooperate more fully with federal authorities, immigration advocates have contended that the city’s protections do not extend far enough. They cite what they call “loopholes” in Chicago’s ordinance that enable police cooperation when ICE agents inquire about immigrants who have outstanding criminal warrants, a felony conviction, a pending felony charge, or have been identified by police as a “known gang member either in a law enforcement agency’s database or by his own admission.”

The suit states: “Mr. Catalan-Ramirez’s liberty has been deprived based on false evidence used against him that he could not challenge.”

ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits. A Chicago police spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Adame spoke about her husband’s case at a May Day rally Monday highlighting labor and immigration rights.

Catalan, a Guatamalan immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for about 10 years, has been partially paralyzed since a January drive-by shooting, to which he was a bystander, his lawyer said. The lawsuit also names officials of the McHenry County Jail, where Catalan-Ramirez has been in ICE custody, for allegedly depriving him medical care.

Jeanne Kuang / Injustice Watch

Celene Adame’s poster at a May Day rally shows pictures of her, her husband Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, and their children.

Before his arrest, Catalan-Ramirez had been receiving rehabilitative services and Adame cared for him at home.

“They need to release him immediately,” she said in an interview through a Spanish interpreter. “My husband is paralyzed on his left side and he needs my help constantly, 24 hours a day, so I’m really worried.”

Adame has not been able to visit Catalan-Ramirez but has spoken with him on the phone. She said her husband’s detention is hard on their three young children, who are suffering “psychologically, really badly.”

Catalan-Ramirez faces deportation proceedings but has filed an application for asylum. Del Valle said her client plans to apply for a visa reserved for crime victims, but his status on the gang database puts that at risk.