ACLU Challenges Multnomah County Sheriff's Office for Unlawful Imprisonment

September 5, 2012 - The ACLU Foundation of Oregon filed a lawsuit today against the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office for unlawfully detaining a Portland resident at the request of federal immigration officers despite a judge’s order releasing him on his state charges.

The ACLU’s lawsuit claims the Sheriff’s detention policy on immigration-related requests violates Oregon law – which prohibits the use of state and local resources to detain people suspected only of violating civil immigration restrictions – and the Oregon Constitution.

“The reason that Oregon law prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from doing the job of federal immigration agents is that it promotes public safety,” said David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon. “Local police need everyone who is a victim of crime or a witness to feel safe coming forward if our communities are going to be safe places to live. If immigrants think that calling police will mean they will be thrown in jail until they can prove they are in the country lawfully, they won’t report crimes.”

Longtime Portland resident Miguel Cabrera Cruz was arrested by Portland police officers on a Friday afternoon in October of 2011. He had been dropped off after work on Grand Avenue, an area known as a gathering place for laborers to seek and offer short term or day labor projects. At that time, he spotted a familiar vehicle, that of a man that had hired him in the past for a project. Though Cabrera had completed the job, the man had refused to pay him. When Cabrera saw the vehicle, he approached it and demanded the wages he was owed. When the man started the engine to leave, Cabrera jumped into the bed of the truck to stop him. The man then called the police.

After accepting Cabrera’s identification and finding no outstanding warrants in his record, the police arrested Cabrera. The officers took Cabrera to the Multnomah County Jail, indicating that he was likely to be released in an about an hour. Days later on October 17, 2011, after a short court hearing, a judge reduced Cabrera’s two nonviolent misdemeanor charges to violations and ordered him released on the charges.

However, the Sheriff’s Office chose to detain Mr. Cabrera because, on October 14, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had sent the jail an administrative notice that it was investigating whether Cabrera was in violation of civil immigration laws. An immigration detainer requests that a jail hold a particular detainee for up to 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) so ICE agents can determine whether to take the detainee into federal custody. Mr. Cabrera was held until October 19, 2011, when he was taken into ICE custody, transported to Tacoma, Washington, and shortly thereafter released.

"Unlike an arrest warrant, most federal immigration detainers are voluntary civil requests and are not based on probable cause or reviewed by a judge," said Jennifer Middleton, ACLU cooperating attorney.

"Once the minor charges against our client were reduced to violations, the Sheriff’s staff should have released him. Instead, the Sheriff’s Office chose to jail him for another two days without any lawful authority."

ICE routinely issues immigration detainers to law enforcement agencies around the country as part of enforcement initiatives involving state and local police. The ACLU says that in addition to encouraging racial profiling and harming public safety, those initiatives raise the risk that local law enforcement agencies and officers will face increased claims for damages as a result of cases like Cabrera’s.

"When local Sheriffs’ offices choose to act as adjunct federal immigration officers, they do a grave disservice to large portions of our community that need local law enforcement protection or who  otherwise must participate in the justice system, whether as witnesses, good Samaritans, civil litigants, or crime victims," said Kevin Díaz, Legal Director of the ACLU Foundation of Oregon. "Police officers and jailers are always required to obey the Oregon Constitution and state law. Oregon sheriffs that imprison a person just to help federal immigration agents investigate a possible civil violation of immigration laws open themselves and their counties to the possibility of legal liability and damages."

Mr. Cabrera is being represented by ACLU cooperating attorney Jennifer Middleton of Johnson, Johnson, Larson & Schaller, PC and Kevin Díaz of the ACLU Foundation of Oregon.