The ACLU of Montana and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project filed a class-action lawsuit this week on behalf of people unlawfully jailed at the Gallatin County Detention Center at the request of U.S. Immigration officials. According to the complaint, Gallatin County officials are exceeding their authority under Montana law by imprisoning people on the grounds that they may have committed a civil violation under federal immigration law. 

Luis Soto-Lopez, the named plaintiff in the case, has been wrongfully jailed at the Gallatin County Detention Center at the request of federal immigration officials since November 11, 2018. Upon his arrest for a misdemeanor, his family immediately attempted to pay his $500 bond, which would have secured his release pending trial. Despite their attempts to pay the bail, Gallatin County refused to release Soto-Lopez due to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold - commonly called an “ICE detainer.” Three months later, at the expense of Montana tax payers, Soto-Lopez remains in jail, while his wife and children - all U.S. Citizens - wait for his release.
 
The lawsuit seeks to end the use of ICE detainers for all current and future people incarcerated at the Gallatin County Detention Center who are being held at the behest of federal immigration authorities. It also seeks compensation for Mr. Soto-Lopez’s unlawful imprisonment. 
 
“Gallatin County officials are illegally depriving Mr. Soto-Lopez of his liberty,” said ACLU of Montana Legal Director Alex Rate. “The law is clear: when a person posts bond, they must be released from custody.”
 
An ICE detainer is a written request that a local jail or law enforcement agency detain an individual for an additional 48 hours after their release date. This extra jail time allows immigration officials to decide whether to take the individual into federal custody to begin the process of deporting them from the U.S. Under Montana law, ICE detainers are illegal.  Furthermore, numerous cases across the country have show that local jurisdictions face significant risk of litigation and financial liability when they honor ICE requests. People who have posted bond, completed their sentences, or otherwise resolved their criminal cases are free to go. The lawsuit argues that Soto-Lopez has been denied this basic right.
 
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, Gallatin County illegally detained 10 people in 2018 with ICE holds, the most out of any Montana county for that year. In 2017, The ACLU of Montana was one of a dozen organizations to stand against ICE detainers after Arturo Valerio-Gonzales was illegally held in Gallatin County Detention Center.
 
Gallatin County is not the only one to use ICE detainers, however. Other law enforcement agencies in Montana have also held people for ICE when they are suspected of being immigrants. The ACLU of Montana and ACLU filed a similar lawsuit against Lincoln County in November of 2018. 
 
While the Trump Administration continues to push for draconian anti-immigrant policies and practices, including the use of ICE detainers by local law enforcement agencies, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and law enforcement leaders from across the country have all adopted positions opposing local entanglement with immigration enforcement on the ground that it harms public safety. 
 
“The anti-immigrant actions by federal and state agencies has reached a fever pitch throughout the country and here in Montana. They’re separating families, they’re punishing people for speaking Spanish, and they’re illegally detaining people.  The result: they’re ruining lives, wasting taxpayer dollars, and making our communities less safe. Enough is enough,” said Rate.  
 
Earlier this month, the ACLU of Montana and ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ana Suda and Mimi Hernandez, both U.S. citizens, who were illegally detained by Customs and Border Protection in Havre, MT, simply for speaking Spanish. 
 

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