As final settlement of a federal-court lawsuit filed last year, Jefferson County will pay $40,000 to ACLU client Luis Quezada, who spent 47 days illegally imprisoned in the Jefferson County jail in 2009 after federal immigration authorities said they wanted to investigate whether he was violating immigration laws.
Earlier this month, the United States Government, also a defendant in the lawsuit, agreed to pay $50,000, for a total of $90,000.
“This settlement, $90,000 total, is a victory for the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “It sends a message that law enforcement officers must follow the law while enforcing the law. All persons in this country—including persons suspected or accused of immigration violations—have the right to due process of law and the right to be free from arbitrary arrest and arbitrary imprisonment.”
The ACLU’s lawsuit asserted that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent an Immigration Detainer to the Jefferson County Jail while Mr. Quezada was held on a traffic charge. The detainer asked the jail to hold Mr. Quezada an additional 48 hours after his traffic charge was resolved, so that ICE could determine whether to take him into custody and file an immigration charge seeking to remove him from the country.
ICE did not take any action within 48 hours, and the jail did not release Mr. Quezada at the end of that period. Instead, the ACLU’s client languished in the Jefferson County jail for an additional 47 days. During that time, there were no immigration charges or any other charges pending against Mr. Quezada, nor was there a warrant or any other legal authority authorizing Mr. Quezada’s imprisonment, or any hearing to determine whether his imprisonment was lawful.
After 47 days, ICE finally took action. ICE issued an immigration arrest warrant, picked Mr. Quezada up from the jail, and issued a notice that formally began an immigration proceeding. On the same day ICE picked him up from the jail, ICE released Mr. Quezada on bond, confirming that ICE does not regard him as a flight risk or a danger to the community. Mr. Quezada remains free on bond while he is defends himself in immigration court.
The ACLU’s lawsuit, filed in April 2010, originally named only Sheriff Ted Mink as a defendant. In response, Mink pointed the finger at ICE, arguing that he held Mr. Quezada at the request of the federal government. ACLU lawyers then brought the United States into the lawsuit by filing a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act. That portion of the suit was resolved earlier this month with a $50,000 settlement.
“Once the United States agreed to a settlement, we were determined to press the case against Sheriff Mink and the Jefferson County Jail,” said Dan Williams, of Faegre & Benson, who litigated the case as an ACLU Cooperating Attorney. “Our position, and the position of the United States in this case, is that Sheriff Mink was obligated to release Mr. Quezada no later than the date when the 48-hour detainer expired. When the detainer expired, Sheriff Mink had no arguable legal authority to imprison our client.
The Quezada suit is one of a growing number of cases against local, state, and federal agencies involving immigration detainers. “Immigration detainer procedures disregard fundamental principles and requirements that protect everyone – citizens and noncitizens alike – from being jailed without sufficient justification,” said Omar Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, who is co-counseled the case. “This settlement is an important step towards forcing ICE to re-examine its detainer practices and is a reminder to state and local police to approach ICE programs like Secure Communities, which rely on detainers, with the utmost caution.”