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Class Action Lawsuit Forces New Mexico County to Stop Proactively Working with ICE

San Juan County has settled a class action lawsuit concerning the involvement of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in local detention centers, creating critical changes in the county’s jail operations.

In 2014, Santa Fe-based immigrant rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido filed a class action lawsuit in federal court, seeking an end to the alleged illegal detention of three noncitizens. According to the lawsuit, over 200 immigrants were illegally detained by the San Juan County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Ken Christesen on behalf of ICE.

Today, signs are posted at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center—in both English and Spanish—informing detainees that they are not required to speak with ICE officials. The county has also ceased initiating contact with ICE regarding inmate releases.

Susana Palacios-Valencia is one of the more-than-200 immigrants whose say their rights were violated by local law enforcement. She is also one of the lead plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit.

In a press release centered on the dangers of illegal detainers issued by ICE to local law enforcement, she notes: “These types of collaborations between our local government and ICE make our entire community less safe. This settlement is proof of what is possible when we come together, organize to defend our rights under the constitution and fight back. We are not afraid to defend our families and community.”

As a result of the settlement, more than 190 immigrants illegally detained at the detention center for three years leading up to the lawsuit are eligible to receive $2,000. County attorney Doug Echols reports that only a portion of victims have since claimed the reward. He also notes that the county is only shouldering $50,000 while the remaining balance – around $300,000 – is set to be handled by the county’s insurance.

Echols also remarks that the policy and operation changes demanded in the lawsuit were already in effect even before it was filed. “It was east to agree to not do something we were already not doing,” he adds.

Echols may be referring to the San Juan County’s Board of Commissioners’ decision to only honor ICE requests should an individual be charged under federal statutes or local or state laws. The decision, strikingly similar to many others currently being made in jurisdictions throughout the country, was made in July 1.

This is one of several cases across America ruling ICE detainers in local detention centers illegal and even unconstitutional. Most recently, a Massachusetts court panel decided unanimously that the detainers simply did not coincide with existing local laws. Chicago took this a step further by filling a complaint and preliminary injunction on the existing ICE practice, branding it as “unconstitutional.”

In Texas, the fight against ICE detainers continues, with debates on the constitutionality of Texas Senate Bill 4 (SB4), a law designed to penalize so-called sanctuary cities, which refuse to heed detainer requests.

If you or a loved one needs to know more about so-called sanctuary city policies in Texas, especially Austin, talk to the immigration law experts of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today to learn more from immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.


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