The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against the Jefferson County Sheriff, accusing him of illegally detaining a man for 47 days for the suspicion that he was an illegal immigrant.
Sheriff Ted Mink, the group says, kept Luis Quezada in Jefferson County jail in the summer of 2009 without any official charges after he was booked for failure to appear in court on a traffic violation.
"The sheriff held our client with no legal justification whatsoever," says Mark Silverstein, the ACLU of Colorado's legal director. "During that 47 days, he was held -- really he was deprived of liberty without due process of law. There was no legal process, no charges, no paperwork. There was no process for him to address charges, because there weren't any."
Quezada was arrested in May 2009 for not following up with the court about a traffic offense -- a charge Silverstein says has been resolved. But instead of releasing him, the Sheriff's Office held him longer because a federal immigration office sought to investigate his immigration status.
The routine detainer issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorizes law enforcement to hold suspected illegal immigrants an additional 48 hours. But Quezada's jail stint lasted far beyond the time frame allotted by federal code -- nearly two months -- even though he was never formally charged with anything, the ACLU says.
"The sheriff might believe that this detainer provided additional authority to hold our client, but it only provides 48 hours," Silverstein says. "It was the sheriff's legal duty to release our client."
When ICE followed up on the case in July 2009 and took Quezada into agency custody, he was released on bond. Quezada is currently free on bond while defending himself in immigration court. Regardless of his legal status, the ACLU says, the county and Sheriff Mink owe him some dough for violating his civil rights.
"ICE recognizes that he's not a danger to the community, he's not a flight risk," Silverstein says, adding that Quezada has no criminal history.
Jacki Kelley, a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office, confirms that the allegations will be forwarded to the county attorney but declined further comment. "We have to investigate what they're saying these allegations are," she says. "My guess is it will take a couple of days for us to wrap our arms around this."
Silverstein says the entire situation could have been avoided. In 2008, ACLU of Colorado representatives noticed similar situations where suspected illegal immigrants were detained beyond the customary 48 hour period. In response, they sent letters to local law enforcement agencies, urging officers not to hold suspects unlawfully -- or be at risk of a civil rights lawsuit.
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"Apparently, the letter didn't do the job we had hoped," Silverstein says. "Because six, seven months later, this happened."
Get more details from the ACLU of Colorado press release below:
April 21, 2010
DENVER -- The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit in a Colorado federal court today against the Sheriff of Jefferson County in Colorado arguing that he unjustifiably and illegally imprisoned a Colorado resident for 47 days last year simply because federal immigration officers suspected that the man was here in violation of federal immigration laws.
"Without any legal authority whatsoever, Sheriff Ted Mink imprisoned our client and kept him in legal limbo for 47 days, with no charges pending, no opportunity to see a judge, and no opportunity to post bail," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. "Our fundamental constitutional values prohibit depriving any person of liberty without due process of law."
Luis Quezada, the ACLU's client, was arrested and taken to the Jefferson County Jail in May 2009 for failing to appear in court on a traffic charge. He promptly resolved the traffic charge, and the county court judge ordered him released.
Quezada was not released, however, because Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent the jail an Immigration Detainer advising that it was investigating whether Mr. Quezada was violating immigration laws. An Immigration Detainer instructs a jail or prison to hold a particular inmate an additional 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) after the inmate's release date. The detainer states that its purpose is to provide adequate time for ICE agents to determine whether to take the inmate into federal custody and begin formal deportation proceedings.
When ICE finally took Mr. Quezada into custody in mid-July, 2009, the agency immediately allowed him to be released on bond while he defended himself in immigration court.
"By allowing Mr. Quezada to post bond and be released, ICE determined that our client poses no danger to the community and is not a flight risk," said Dan Williams, of Faegre & Benson and cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Colorado. "No right is more firmly ingrained in our Constitution and our understanding of freedom than the right not to be left in jail indefinitely without charges filed or an opportunity to post bail," continued Williams. "Yet that is what happened here. This suit seeks to compensate Mr. Quezada, and we hope that it will serve as a wake-up call to law enforcement throughout Colorado to stop this lawless deprivation of liberty."
The Colorado ACLU has received multiple complaints of similar cases in which Colorado jails held suspected immigration violators without legal authority. To address the recurring issue, the ACLU of Colorado wrote to all Colorado sheriffs in the fall of 2008, advising that any legal authority of an Immigration Detainer expires after 48 hours. The ACLU also asked Colorado sheriffs for copies of any written policies instructing jail deputies how to proceed when the jail receives Immigration Detainers. The Jefferson County Attorney responded that the sheriff's office had no applicable written policies.
ICE routinely issues immigration detainers to law enforcement agencies around the country as part of various immigration enforcement initiatives, including Secure Communities, the Criminal Alien Program, and 287(g). In addition to causing racial profiling and harming public safety, those initiatives raise the risk that agencies and officers will face increased claims for damages as a result of cases like Quezada's.
"ICE is issuing detainers by the thousands in an attempt to use state and local police and sheriffs as adjunct federal immigration officers," said Omar Jadwat, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "However, police officers and jailers are always required to obey the Constitution and they simply cannot imprison a person in this way, even if an immigration detainer exists. States and municipalities open themselves to liability when they treat ICE detainers as if they were sentences imposed by a court."