Commentary: Albuquerque, NM--On Thursday, as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued his attempt to coerce local jurisdictions across the country, including Bernalillo County, into enforcing federal immigration law, U.S. District Court Judge William P. Johnson granted final approval to a class action settlement barring the San Juan County Detention Center from honoring ICE Immigration Detainers in the case of Susana Palacios-Valencia and Somos un Pueblo Unido v. San Juan County Board of Commissioners.
"The federal government cannot force local jails or municipalities into violating the civil rights of its residents," said Marcela Díaz, Executive Director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido. "This class action settlement sends a clear message, if local governments choose to detain people in jails without proper legal authority, our community will hold them accountable by taking them to court."
Santa Fe-based attorneys John C. Bienvenu and Kristina Martinez brought this class action suit in 2014 on behalf of plaintiffs, seeking to end the unconstitutional practice of detaining jail inmates based solely on ICE Immigration Detainers. The suit sought damages for all inmates who were wrongfully detained at the San Juan County Detention Center beyond their release date.
The Department of Homeland Security was previously dismissed as a Defendant in this case.
"San Juan County is to be commended for recognizing that these detainer requests issued by ICE do not provide lawful justification for the continued detention of inmates regardless of their immigration status," said Plaintiffs' attorney John C. Bienvenu. "And for working with us to adopt model policies that safeguard the constitutional rights of those persons in the County's custody while still permitting the County to cooperate as appropriate with federal officials."
The settlement provides that San Juan County will no longer detain any inmates, or deliver any inmates into ICE custody, based solely on an Immigration Detainer, unless accompanied by a warrant or order signed by a federal judge. The policy further provides that inmates will be notified that they are not obligated to speak or meet with ICE officials while in custody, and their immigration status or national origin will not be requested and will be treated as confidential. In addition the information regarding the release of an inmate will not be proactively provided to ICE.
The judge's final approval, allows for the payment of $2,000 in damages to each individual unlawfully detained at the San Juan County Detention Center based on an ICE Immigration Detainer in the three years prior to the filing of the lawsuit. The final agreement also provides for financial compensation to Somos un Pueblo Unido and Susan Palacios for their involvement in the case, along with payment of the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees and costs.
"These types of collaborations between our local government and ICE make our entire community less safe," said Susana Palacios-Valencia. "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."
For stipulation of settlement, click here.
For order granting final approval of settlement, click here.