LOS ANGELES — The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network have settled a tort claim filed on behalf of a U.S. citizen who was illegally detained by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies as a result of a controversial federal immigration program, known as 287(g).
Diego Rojas, 18, was arrested in May 2014 and taken to Los Angeles County’s Twin Towers jail. A short time later, his family posted bail. As he was set to be released he was prevented from doing so by sheriff’s deputies who instead detained Rojas and questioned him about his immigration status. Despite his American citizenship, sheriff’s deputies accused Rojas of lying and threatened that if he did not “confess” to being born in Mexico, they would have him prosecuted or deported.  Only after his sister provided a birth certificate was he released.
“Diego Rojas is one of thousands of people who have been questioned, mistreated, and illegally detained under the county’s decades-old 287(g) program,” said Jennie Pasquarella, staff attorney at ACLU SoCal.  “But you need to look no further than Diego’s case to see that this program is ill-advised and should not be permitted a minute longer.  We call on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to finally terminate this agreement.”
Under the 287(g) program, sheriff’s deputies work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to act as immigration agents in the jails, including questioning inmates about their citizenship and even initiating deportation proceedings against them. The program relies on racial profiling and results in delays in the release of individuals from jail, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Several other municipalities across the state, including San Bernardino and Riverside counties, terminated their 287(g) agreements last year, after a federal district court in Oregon found a county liable for detaining a woman at ICE’s request.
However, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors renewed its decade-old 287(g) last year. The agreement does not reimburse the county for the costs of participating in the 287(g) program, including legal liability.
Under the settlement reached this month, the county will pay Rojas $6,000 for the half-a-day over-detention he suffered.
In Rojas’ case, delaying his release to conduct immigration interrogation also violates the county’s own limitations on 287(g) because he was not convicted of a crime.
Rojas is not the first U.S. citizen to be wrongly targeted by the program. In 2007, Pedro Guzman, a man with a developmental disability, was deported to Mexico due to a 287(g) officer who questioned him in the jail. Guzman spent two months lost in Tijuana, Baja California, begging for food and sleeping outdoors before his family located him.
Sandra Hernandez, 213.977.5247, shernandez@aclusocal.org