Colluding with the out-of-control Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency on its mass deportation agenda isn’t just wrong, it may end up costing a pretty penny. Los Angeles County on Tuesday agreed to pay $14 million to settle a 2012 class action lawsuit brought forward by immigrants who had initially been detained by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office but were then unlawfully held for federal immigration agents to pick up later. It’s the largest such settlement ever reached, The Washington Post reports.
“The holds, also called ‘immigration detainers,’ forced individuals to be held in county jails after they were legally entitled to be released,” National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC) said in a release received by Daily Kos, some for months at a time. The settlement, which must still be approved by a judge, could affect as many as 18,500 immigrants. “This is a very significant settlement,” the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Jennie Pasquarella told The Post, “and it is hopefully a wake-up call to law enforcement agencies around the country who continue to hold people for ICE.”
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Like immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice has previously noted, multiple courts over the years have ruled against ICE’s unlawful detainers, including in 2014 when a court ruled an immigrant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when Oregon police unlawfully held her after her case was settled so ICE could get her. “Following the ruling of constitutional rights violations, Washington County Sheriff’s Office changed its policy by not obeying immigration detainers without a warrant.”
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office has also since stopped this practice under community pressure, but only after thousands of immigrants were thrown into ICE’s grasp throughout the years named in the lawsuit, from 2010 to 2014. “During the time period covered by this settlement,” NIJC continued in its statement, “Los Angeles County was responsible for holding more people in its jails on ICE detainers than any other county and most other states in the nation.”
Under the lawsuit, affected immigrants could be eligible for awards between $250 and $25,000, NIJC said. “Surplus funds, if any after class members are paid, will go to programs that provide legal representation to persons facing immigration consequences because of an arrest or conviction.” However, The Post notes that because some may have already been deported, “[l]awyers said they plan to publicize the settlement in hopes of locating all the class members.”
The settlement will be from the sheriff’s budget, which apparently came at much ire to Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who said he believed he shouldn’t be forced to pay for his predecessor’s policies. “I kicked ICE out of the jails, and I banned all transfers of inmates to the custody of ICE,” he said according to The Post. “It’s morally indefensible to slap the current sheriff’s department in 2020 with the mistakes of previous sheriffs and previous boards of supervisors.”
I think what’s truly unfair here is that ICE continues to get away scot-free for its abuses. Just this week we found out that ICE and private prison guards were torturing Black immigrants at a Mississippi prison to coerce them to be deported, including leaving one man with several broken fingers. The agency then set out to rush the deportation of more than 100 Black immigrants, including many asylum-seekers from Cameroon, despite pleas from elected leaders and advocates that deportation could mean a death sentence for many.
But ICE ignored pleas from members of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Homeland Security Committee to deport them anyway. ICE doesn’t care, so its incumbent on all communities to stop colluding with this agency now.
“This settlement will likely contribute to a growing trend where local jurisdictions are taking appropriate steps to kick ICE out of their prisons, jails, and courthouses,” National Day Laborer Organizing Network legal director Chris Newman said in the statement. “There is already an emerging consensus that ICE is a rogue law enforcement agency, a menace to public safety, and a serial civil rights violator, and it is now clear that its coercive practices expose local governments to financial liability as well.”