Lawsuit: County jail shouldn’t cooperate with ICE

Federal suit filed by Wyoming man against Kent County Sheriff's Department


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As part of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration enforcement, requests from federal agencies seeking cooperation from local law enforcement show no sign of slowing down. But a lawsuit filed by a Wyoming man against the Kent County Sheriff’s Department says local authorities are violating the rights of people they hold for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It is common practice for the Kent County jail to keep people behind bars whenever federal immigration authorities suspect there may be a violation. But that common practice may not be constitutional.

Juan Jose Romero-Lara is a 32-year-old father who has been in the U.S. for about 15 years. He is a native of Mexico. He was arrested and charged with domestic violence Thursday and then arraigned Friday in Wyoming, where a judge gave him a personal recognizance bond. Usually, that would mean that he would be out of jail within a few hours, but ICE contacted the jail and ordered him held.

“So he should have been free Friday at around 10 or 11 in the morning and ICE didn’t come pick him up until Monday at around 11,” said Wyoming-based attorney Robert Alverez.

The law says jails can keep someone for 48 hours on an immigration hold. That doesn’t include weekends, so Romero-Lara was released on time. His attorneys say that is not the issue.

“Being unlawfully present in the country is not a criminal act,” Alverez said.

The detainer is a request, unlike a warrant that comes from police agencies.

“We have to have documentation from that entity that they have a legal interest in this person and a pending case,” Kent County Undersheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said. “We require that paperwork to be here or we will not hold somebody.”

But Romero-Lara’s attorneys say that is not enough.

“That’s an unlawful seizure, that’s false imprisonment, that’s a violation of his due process rights,” Alverez argued.

The undersheriff says the jail cooperates with the federal government as a professional courtesy.

“If they get us the documentation while the person is still in custody, we’ll retain custody just like we do in cooperation with all criminal justice entities,” she said.

ICE looks at county jail records and gets fingerprint records that are shared when someone is processed. Under the Obama administration, detainers tended to come for those with criminal records. But now, even those without records are being held.

“It’s just very hostile, the attitude — I think a lot of prevailing attitudes — about immigration and immigrants right now,” said Meghan Moore, an attorney who also represents Romero-Lara.

The attorneys want Kent County to disregard the immigration holds. They have filed a lawsuit asking a judge to declare the holds unconstitutional and order the jail to stop abiding by them.

>>PDF: Lawsuit against Kent County jail

Courts in California and Texas have said that local law enforcement is not mandated to cooperate.

In an email to 24-Hour News 8, ICE said refusing the holds could put the community in danger and impedes the agency from doing its job.

“It takes careful planning and extensive resources to mitigate risks and make a safe apprehension in a community setting,” the ICE statement reads. “It is much safer for all involved – the community, law enforcement, and even the criminal alien – if ICE officers take custody in the controlled environment of another law enforcement agency.”

But Romero-Lara’s attorneys say communities need to understand the risks of the detainers.

“Well, they choose not to refuse at their detriment because they’re violating every one of those individuals’ rights,” Alverez said.

The federal lawsuit was filed Tuesday. The lawyers plan to make it a class-action suit to cover all who are detained, but so far represent only one client.

Romero-Lara is charged with a 93-day misdemeanor that rarely results in jail time. He is expected back in Wyoming District Court Aug. 30.