Organizations Sue L.A. County Sheriff’s Office For Unlawfully Detaining Immigrants

Rights groups filed a class-action lawsuit last week against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for unlawfully detaining immigrants at the federal government’s request for days longer than they should have been held. Specifically, the lawsuit highlights the case of Duncan Roy, a British filmmaker and legal immigrant who spent 89 in jail after an erroneous immigration hold prevented Roy from posting bail.

The federal government can ask for an immigration hold to keep a person in police custody while immigration officials seek deportation, but the immigrant and civil rights groups behind the lawsuit say the practice needs to stop:

This massive unconstitutional detention is a symptom of the criminalization of immigrants, a dangerous trend that must be reversed,” Jessica Karp, an attorney for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network that was one of the groups involved in the suit, said in a statement. […]

Three Mexican immigrants and an Estonian who say they were unlawfully held were also party to the class action suit, filed on behalf of all current and future detainees held in a county jail for more than 48 hours solely for immigration holds.

Of the Los Angeles County jail population, around 14 percent – or roughly 2,100 people on any given day – are subject to Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds, according to the ACLU of Southern California, which was also involved in the lawsuit.

Those individuals are held in jail nearly three weeks longer than those without such holds, the group said.

In addition to unnecessary immigration holds, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has also refused to allow detainees to post bail, even when a court has set bail. After sending a demand letter before the lawsuit was filed, the ACLU says the department officials “recognized that individuals subject to ICE holds should be allowed to post bail, have sent bulletins to watch commanders clarifying this rule, and are working on revising policies and data systems to prevent unlawful detentions in the future.” So far, though, the sheriff’s department has not agreed to end detentions for people subject to ICE holds once they are eligible for release.

A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department said officers were following federal law, according to Reuters. In a statement, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said federal officials’ partnership with local officers on immigration holds ensures that “potentially dangerous criminals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities.”

Through the Secure Communities program, local officials have worked with federal immigration officials to flag undocumented immigrants who are arrested. Some jurisdictions are trying to limit the scope of the joint program, and the California legislature passed the TRUST Act last session, which pushed back against Secure Communities by preventing local law enforcement officials from referring a detainee to ICE unless the person detained has been convicted of a violent or serious felony. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed the bill that he said was “fatally flawed” because it had too narrow of a list for the crimes.