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Texas Sheriff Sued for Immigration-Related Discrimination

barbed-wire-600471_640A sheriff in Texas is facing a lawsuit today, filed by 16 immigrant plaintiffs who claim they were detained in police custody for unconstitutionally long periods. It addresses Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment issues.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez faced criticism from Governor Greg Abbott on the same day the lawsuit was filed – the Republican Governor warned Valdez that she should back down from her recently changed policy on federal immigration detention requests, saying in a public letter that he would penalize the county over it. Valdez said in her September announcement that the county jail would no longer hold immigrants believed to be in the US illegally and suspected of minor crimes – policies that are generally called “sanctuary city” laws.

This is something Governor Valdez addressed in his letter to Valdez, saying the state of Texas could pass laws against these “sanctuary cities” that shield residents from federal immigration authorities, but also that he could find other ways to penalize Dallas County.

Several hundred cities and counties across America have in recent years adopted these somewhat controversial policies that limit or outright prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with US immigration authorities. The communities who do so, like San Francisco, cite concerns about damaging relationships with immigrants who live there and making them afraid to seek help from law enforcement when it’s need. These cities also live in fear of lawsuits, after a federal judge ruled last year that detaining inmates solely on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s request was unconstitutional (ICE has since narrowed its focus to people convicted of more serious crimes).

ICE has access to all fingerprint data taken when a person is first booked at a county jail, and asks sheriffs to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after their planned release dates to allow ICE agents to pick them up. But the lawsuit filed alleges that during the past two years – before Valdez’s policy change – Dallas County held 16 immigrants for extended periods even after bond was set. In some cases, the lawsuit says, the unconstitutional detentions lasted months.

A lead lawyer in the case, Anthony Garza, insisted the suit is not seeking to challenge policies on detention holds, it is just trying to prevent the pre-trial holds themselves. Garza cited the claim of one man who said he was held for three months for a misdemeanour – one of which he was later acquitted.

According to a spokesman for the Dallas County sheriff’s office, Valdez would not comment while the suit – which also names Dallas County and is seeking unspecified damages – is pending.

If you would like legal consultation regarding sanctuary city laws, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Daniella Lyttle at Lyttle Law Firm. You can make an inquiry via the website or by calling 512-215-5225.