The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, alleging his office skirts state law by using secretive policies to transfer immigrants from his jails to federal immigration authorities.
The suit, filed in Sacramento Superior Court by the ACLU of Northern California, NorCal Resist, United Latinos and a former inmate at the jail, says Jones is violating California’s four-year-old Senate Bill 54, which prohibits local law enforcement from enforcing federal immigration law or holding inmates past their release dates until Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents can arrive to take them into custody for potential deportation.
“Sheriff Scott R. Jones has long championed cooperation with ICE and fiercely opposed SB 54 and similar laws,” the suit says. “Unable to stop SB 54’s passage, the sheriff and his office have revised its operation through a policy and practice of notifying ICE of when a person will be released from its custody and transferring that person to ICE, including in situations where that person lacks a qualifying criminal conviction or charge.”
The suit, based in part on emails and other documents obtained through public records requests, cites a number of examples, including a July 7, 2018, case where a sheriff’s official contacted ICE and advised agents that an inmate would be released the next morning at 6:15.
In another case, an inmate serving time for a DUI was told he was being released July 9, 2018, at 11:54 a.m., but he was not actually released until 3:30 p.m., when he was taken to the lobby of the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center. There, he met with ICE officers, who were holding his property and had a photo of him to identify him, the suit says.
“As a result of SCSO unlawfully transferring him to ICE, he continues to face possible deportation,” the suit says.
Jones’ office said Tuesday it was not aware of the lawsuit “and cannot comment on this pending litigation at this time per long-standing Sacramento County protocol.”
Ironically, the ACLU’s announcement of the lawsuit comes the same day that an immigration judge is scheduled to rule on the possible removal of Iraqi native Omar Ameen from the United States.
Ameen, a Sacramento resident, was accused of killing a police officer in Iraq and of being a terrorist leader and faced a lengthy court case until a magistrate judge threw the case out and ordered his immediate release from the jail.
Instead, as his lawyers waited outside the jail anticipating his release, Ameen was turned over the ICE officials who had a longstanding federal hold on him based on allegations that he lied on his immigration forms to gain entry to this country. He was driven overnight to a federal holding facility in Southern California pending a decision on whether he should be deported.
One of the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit is Misael Echeveste.
“Echeveste, 26, was transferred from the RCCC to ICE in 2018, in violation of SB 54, after serving six weeks in jail for a misdemeanor offense,” the ACLU said in an announcement Tuesday. “He has lived in California for 22 years, having been brought to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of four.
“Echeveste remembers that, a few days before his scheduled release from the RCCC, sheriff’s deputies told him he was getting released early. They congratulated him and took him to a changing room. But, instead of returning his street clothes, they handed him a green ICE detainee uniform and announced, laughing, that they were transferring him to ICE custody.
“He remained in ICE custody for a month-and-a-half before being released on bond due to his minimal charges. As a result of the ICE transfer, he is now fighting deportation to Mexico — a country he does not know, and where he has no family or personal contacts.”
The ACLU quoted Echeveste as saying he is suing to help others going through similar situations.
“Just because we weren’t born here doesn’t mean we’re not human and that we’re not deserving of rights,” he said. “I’m very lucky to have a lot of help in fighting this, and I want other people to be able to fight for their rights too.”
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