A pair of lawsuits filed in federal court in West Michigan could have a huge impact on how members of law enforcement deal with undocumented immigrants across the U.S.
Robert Alvarez, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, says he is ready to take both Allegan and Kent County Sheriff’s Departments to the Supreme Court if necessary.
“We have a constitution for a reason,” Alvarez says, referring to his client Aaron Lopez-Lopez.
Lopez is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who has lived in the U.S. since 2001.
In August he was arrested and accused of driving drunk by an Allegan County deputy.
According to Lopez’s lawyer, shortly after appearing before a judge, Lopez’s family posted the $1,000 bond required to get him out of jail, but that deputies in Allegan County kept him in custody regardless.
“Defendants (Allegan County) had contact with agents of ICE of the Department of Homeland Security, which provided Allegan County with an Immigration Detainer,” reads the lawsuit.
However, Lopez’s attorney argues that Allegan County deputies and DHS overstepped his client’s rights by keeping him after posting bond.
“He didn’t have an order of deportation, he wasn’t wanted for any federal crimes, it’s simply being here without permission and that is a civil infraction,” Alvarez says.
Alvarez said the use of immigration detainers is not new, but that the detainers are increasingly being used in unlawful ways.
“It’s a civil infraction,” he emphasized again, referring to the fact that Lopez not being undocumented. “They don’t want to make it a crime because when Mr. Lopez finds himself in front of an immigration judge facing a crime of being here unlawfully, then the government would have to provide him with an attorney and they don’t want to do that.”
Allegan County Sheriff Frank Baker, listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, wrote that he could not say too much about the ongoing litigation, but he did give the following statement.
“We believe that all actions, policies, and practices of the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office and its staff have been consistent with the law,” he wrote. “Including our cooperation with federal authorities, such as the Department of Homeland Security.”
According to TracImmigration, Allegan County has received 44 Immigration Detainer requests in 2017, whereas Kent County has received 123 requests.
In Kent County, Alvarez is also representing an undocumented immigrant, Juan Jose Romero-Lara, who Alvarez says had his charges dismissed, but also found himself detained because of an Immigration Detainer.
“Despite the Defendants’ legal authority to detain Plaintiff having expired pursuant to the state’s current order, Defendants failed to release the Plaintiff and detained him for approximately 72 hours, depraving him of his liberty,” reads the lawsuit brought by Romero-Lara.
Both the Department of Homeland Security and ICE declined to participate in this story.
“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation,” wrote Joanne Talbot, a DHS spokesperson.
A hearing-motion is set for December 18 at U.S. District Court in Kalamazoo.
Alvarez said he is prepared to litigate this for the long haul, but expects the U.S. DOJ lawyers to challenge a potential outcome in his favor.
He said, “No matter what the judge decides, this is going to get appealed.”