Cops Are Now Detaining U.S. Citizens Just for Being Latinx

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 26, 2019

In the face of constant ICE raids and incessant immigration arrests, even U.S. citizens are wondering what documentation they need to carry to prove their citizenship and prevent being detained. U.S. passport? Valid state driver's license? Social Security card? As it turns out, if you look a certain way or have a certain last name, even that may not be enough.

Ramon Torres was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Ascension Parish, Louisiana last year. Despite being a citizen for almost ten years, and providing all of the aforementioned identification to police, and being ordered to be released by a judge, Torres was placed on an "immigration hold" and detained for four more days because of a sheriff’s office policy of detaining all Latinx people for immigration review. Is that legal?

Illegal Detention

We may soon find out. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on Torres' behalf, claiming Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations as well as false imprisonment.

"Ramon Torres is a U.S. citizen and a Baton Rouge resident," the suit claims. "He has a family, owns a home, and has worked in local Baton Rouge industry for years. Despite these longstanding community ties, Ramon Torres was detained in jail for more than three days simply because he has brown skin and a Latinx last name." ("Latinx" is the gender-neutral equivalent of Latino or Latina.)

The lawsuit also cites a supervisor at the jail who "stated that it is the policy of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office to call U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") when APSO officers suspect someone is undocumented, and the APSO then waits to release that individual once he or she has been 'cleared' by ICE." Another administrator allegedly told Torres "that APSO contacts ICE pertaining to all Latinx arrestees, resulting in 'holds' that delay their release." Ultimately, the ACLU claims:

Mr. Torres' detention was due to Defendants' policy, practice, or custom of detaining Latinx-appearing individuals on holds, without probable cause that those individuals are actually in violation of any federal immigration law. Defendants further failed to train and supervise staff on holds, lawful seizures, and probable-cause requirements of the Constitution.

Policies and Proof

Not only did Torres give officers a security passport and drivers' license at the time of his arrest, a coworker also emailed the sheriff's office copies of his Certificate of Naturalization issued by the United States Citizen and Immigration Services, social security card, birth certificate issued by the Republic of Honduras, and passport issued by the United States Department of State. Officers also had access to various cards and other forms of identification that were in Torres's car, including his security clearance at Exxon, Monsanto, Shintech, and Dow Chemicals, and a Transportation Worker Identification Credential ("TWIC" card), which are only issued to eligible U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants.

"Defendants had no reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that Mr. Torres was a noncitizen subject to removal from the United States," the ACLU's lawsuit contends. "The only reason the Defendants continued to detain Mr. Torres ... was their unfounded suspicion that Mr. Torres was unlawfully present within the United States. Such suspicion was based solely on discriminatory motives."

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