IMMIGRANTS & CIVIL RIGHTS GROUP SUE JAIL FOR ILLEGALLY DETAINING SAN JUAN COUNTY RESIDENTS ON ICE HOLDS
NOVEMBER 19, 2014
FARMINGTON, NM--Three Farmington residents and civil rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido filed a class action lawsuit against the San Juan County Commission and Sheriff Ken Cristesen on Wednesday morning for violations of civil and constitutional rights. Plaintiffs, represented by the New Mexico-based Rothstein Law Firm, include longtime residents of Farmington who were detained at the San Juan County Detention Facility solely based on ICE Detainers, not criminal charges.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of several federal court opinions confirming that ICE Detainers at local jails are mere requests by the federal government to hold inmates for an additional 48 hours beyond their release time and that they do not provide independent legal grounds for detention. ICE Detainers also do not absolve local counties from liability if rights abuses occur as a result of prolonged detention.
The individual plaintiffs were initially detained by local law enforcement officials for minor traffic violations. The stops then led to ICE detainers being issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which closely collaborates with the San Juan County Sheriff and jail. As a result of the ICE Detainers, plaintiffs were held by the County beyond the time they would be otherwise released. They seek damages and declaratory relief for themselves and similarly situated individuals.
Kristina E. Martinez of the Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom, Schoenburg & Bienvenu Law Firm said on Wednesday: "ICE detainers have resulted in the illegal imprisonment of countless residents of New Mexico. These individuals are often held without any charges pending, sometimes for days or weeks after they should have been released from custody. Such practices by New Mexico jails are illegal and unacceptable. Martinez went on to add: "The recent trend across the nation has been for law enforcement offices to back away from complying with ICE Detainers. In fact, certain counties in New Mexico chose not to comply with ICE Detainers for years, but San Juan County Detention Center continued the practice until at least this past summer, to the detriment of our clients and likely many others. The people that have been illegally held by the San Juan County Detention Center pursuant to ICE Detainers over the years are entitled to compensation."
Plaintiff Monserrat Gutierrez, a 14 year resident of San Juan County and worker in the oil and gas industry, was arrested by an ICE officer who was called to the scene of a routine traffic stop by a local sheriff deputy. With no criminal record or charges (he was initially detained for not making a complete stop at an intersection), Gutierrez was booked at the jail solely based on an ICE Detainer and eventually transferred to ICE custody.
Gutierrez, who is married with US Citizen children, said at the press conference: "During the three days I was at the jail, I was very afraid. I couldn't sleep for fear that something bad would hapen to me. But I was mostly worried about my family. What was going to happen to them, my wife, my six children? I was their sole source of income and didn't want to be separated."
Susana Palacios, also a 14 year resident of Farmington, was questioned by a Farmington Police officer about her status after her brother was stopped while driving her car. ICE was called to the scene, and she was arrested and booked at the jail solely on an ICE Detainer. She was held for over a week before being transferred to ICE custody.
"My family and I have not recovered from this incident," Palacios said in a statement. "We are always afraid, as so many of San Juan's immigrantcommunity members are, of driving and going out into our city because we fear that we will be stopped by local law police, jailed and deported."
22 year-old Ricardo Olivas has lived in Farmington since he was three years old. In July, he was booked solely on an ICE Detainer after being stopped on his way to work for having an unregistered trailer hitched to his truck. ICE was called to the scene, and Olivas was arrested for immigration violations and taken to the jail. He said on Wednesday: " I work hard to provide for my family. I only want the best for them and my community. I feel betrayed by this county that used its resources to help immigration try to deport me and separate me from my family."
Marcela Díaz, Executive Director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an organizational plaintiff in the case, said: "Somos has been warning New Mexico counties for years about the potential rights violations and public safety consequences of honoring ICE Detainers. We have documented several instances in which the San Juan County jail detained residents well beyond their official release date and denied them the ability to post bond.
The close collaboration between local law enforcement agencies, jails, and ICE comes at a great cost. It has led to prolonged detention, denial of due process rights, and increased financial burdens to counties. More alarming is its effect on public safety. The immigrant community mistrusts and fears the local law enforcement agencies that work closely with ICE to identify, deport and separate mixed status families. That harms everyone's safety. San Juan County shouldn't be left off the hook."
Somos Un Pueblo Unido and its San Juan County membership team, Families United for Justice, have filed several administrative complaints in the past against ICE agents for violating ICE's internal policy not to issue Detainers for individuals who have not been arrested for a crime by local police, as well as against local area law enforcement officials for racial profiling and bias-based policing.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido is a statewide civil and worker's rights organization with membership teams in ten counties and offices in Santa Fe and Roswell. The plaintiffs' families are members of Families United for Justice, an affiliate team of Somos in San Juan County.
© 2014 SOMOS UN PUEBLO UNIDO