Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Immigrant advocates filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Wednesday alleging that immigration agents are filing paperwork to keep arrestees in custody longer without investigating whether they're in the country illegally. (Photo: Immigration protesters take to the streets of Los Angeles for a May Day rally march, May 1, 2013.)
More than 800 U.S. citizens have reportedly been mistakenly identified as deportable immigrants and subject to immigration detainers in recent years. Those detainers or holds, are the focus of a class-action lawsuit against immigration officials filed Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles.
The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and immigration advocates, alleges that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement places immigration holds on people arrested without first thoroughly checking their immigration status.
The lead plantiff in the case is Gerardo Gonzalez, Jr., who according to the complaint is a U.S. citizen born in Pacoima, Calif. Arrested on drug charges last December, he was placed on an immigration hold the following month based on erroneous information that he was born in Mexico, although Gonzales allegedly stated that he was a U.S. citizen. He didn't learn about the hold until his girlfriend attempted to post bail.
Immigration holds, or detainers, are placed on arrestees and inmates at state and local facilities at the request of federal immigration agents. Once eligible for release, a person on an immigration hold is turned over to immigration agents for deportation. According to the complaint, Gonzales became eligible for release on bail in May.
But he hasn't posted bail, said ACLU attorney Jennie Pasquarella, because he fears the immigration hold placed on him could land him in ICE custody once he's released and further complicate matters.
"Technically he can post bail, but he fears he would be subject to deportation," Pasquarella said.
The complaint alleges that the current practice violated the constitutional rights of Gonzales and other individuals under the 4th Amendment. The lawsuit seeks to stop ICE from issuing immigration holds without confirming probable cause that someone is deportable. It also wants the agency to withdraw existing immigration holds, which would then be reissued if probable cause for holding someone for deportation is found.
ICE issued a brief statement:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes very seriously claims of U.S. citizens being improperly detained for immigration enforcement purposes. ICE processes an individual for removal only when all available information indicates that the individual is a foreign national. As a matter of law, the agency cannot assert its civil immigration enforcement authority to arrest and/or detain a United States citizen.
Read the complaint below.