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Police Settle Suit for Illegal ICE Detention of U.S. Citizen

Local police are not authorized to arrest people for civil immigration violations. (wademcmillan/Adobe Stock)
Local police are not authorized to arrest people for civil immigration violations. (wademcmillan/Adobe Stock)
September 18, 2019

PITTSBURGH - Police in northern Allegheny County will pay $175,000 for holding a naturalized U.S. citizen in jail overnight at the request of federal immigration authorities.

Angelica Davila, who immigrated to the United States when she was 2, was detained during a minor traffic stop in 2011. Despite having identification, the Northern Regional police officer reported her to ICE, which said erroneously that she was in the country illegally and requested her arrest.

Sara Rose, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the officer had no legal reason to detain Davila in the first place.

"Prolonging that roadside stop for two hours to investigate Ms. Davila's immigration status, even though he had no basis to suspect that she was not in the country legally, violated her Fourth Amendment right," Rose said.

She said local police don't have the authority to arrest people for civil offenses, and the vast majority of immigration violations are civil offenses.

Immigration detainers, such as the one used to detain Davila, are not judicial warrants. They're issued by ICE officials, not judges, so, Rose said there are many due process problems. She added that her client was very lucky that ICE caught its own mistake.

"She had no idea why she was even being held in jail; she knew she was lawfully present," Rose said. "Nobody was giving her any answers, and she was released the next morning, just saying, 'Immigration changed their mind.' "

In Florida alone, ICE has issued 420 immigration detainers for U.S. citizens since 2017 and there have been cases of citizens actually being deported based on faulty immigration data.

The ACLU also is suing the Pennsylvania State Police on behalf of motorists who say they were targeted and detained because they are Latinx. Rose said this settlement should serve as a reminder that police should not be enforcing federal immigration law.

"Local law enforcement agencies are not trained in immigration enforcement," she said, "and when they act as immigration enforcement, it often leads to racial profiling and Fourth Amendment violations."

In a separate settlement, the Allegheny County Jail, which also was a defendant in Davila's case, agreed that it will no longer hold people based solely on immigration detainers.

More information is online at aclupa.org.

Disclosure: ACLU of Pennsylvania contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Human Rights/Racial Justice, Immigrant Issues, LGBTQIA Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA