ACLU sues Homeland Security to stop feds from moving immigrant detainees far from Orange County
Ubaldo Arroyo, who has lived most of his life in Orange County, is being held as an undocumented detainee at the James A. Musick Detention Facility in Irvine, unsure where he will be sent following the Orange County Sheriff’s announcement that it will no longer house detainees while their deportation cases are pending.
Bashir Abdi Wabare, a Somalian who arrived last December seeking asylum, faces similar uncertainties. He is imprisoned at the Theo Lacy Detention Facility near Orange.
On behalf of Arroyo, Wabare and other immigrants detained in Orange County, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and others seeking to halt the transfer of detainees to far-away locations, where detainees would face hurdles in talking with attorneys and seeing their families.
The ACLU also plans to file a request for a preliminary injunction to stop any transfers pending a trial unless the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will commit to refrain from transferring detainees outside of Southern California, said Sameer Ahmed, a UCLA senior staff attorney.
ICE officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Orange County Sheriff Dan Barnes announced on March 27 that his department would end its contract with ICE to house up to 958 civilian immigrant detainees. Barnes said the move would help the department better focus on the mental health and substance abuse needs of its general inmate population as his agency works to upgrade existing facilities and build a new Musick detention center.
Immigrant-rights advocates immediately expressed concern about the fate of the civilian immigrant detainees – which at the time numbered around 700 – and asked that they be released as they go through the immigration court process.
At the time of the Sheriff’s announcement, ICE issued a statement saying that Orange County’s move “will negatively impact local ICE operations” and detainees will likely be moved to far-off locations, making family and attorney visits much harder.
Since then, the number of immigrant detainees in Orange County has decreased and ICE has not said where they are being transferred. Some have been transferred to Adelanto, immigrant-rights advocates said. As of Thursday, May 2, the number had dropped to 404, according to a Sheriff’s spokeswoman.
According to the lawsuit, an ICE deportation officer told an attorney with the Immigrant Defenders Law Center on April 18 that immigrants at Theo Lacy would be sent to northern California, Florida and other states. The only exceptions would be immigrant detainees who have mental disabilities and fall under a 2013 class-action case; those detainees would be transferred to the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Santa Ana. Defendants in the suit include the departments of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as two Orange County Sheriff’s captains at the Theo Lacy and Musick facilities, among others.
“ICE’s decision to transfer immigrants thousands of miles away from their lawyers and families violates the Constitution and ICE’s own policies,” Ahmed said.
It would make it difficult, if not impossible, to build cases if the detainees are cut off from their attorneys and families, according to Ahmed and representatives from two other legal organizations participating in the suit, the Public Law Center in Santa Ana and Public Counsel in Los Angeles. The transfers would, among other things, violate the federal Immigration and Nationality Act and ICE’s own policies, according to the lawsuit.
The ACLU lawsuit reiterates the request made by immigrant-rights advocates since Barnes’ announcement: that ICE release immigrant detainees on parole or bond, and that detainees who cannot be released be transferred to Adelanto.
The plaintiffs are a mix of new arrivals seeking asylum and long-time locals, including: Jorge Poroj, a permanent legal resident from Los Angeles who faces possible deportation following a criminal conviction; David Blea, of Thousand Oaks, whose family includes five U.S.-born children; and Sergio Jonathan Moreno, of El Monte, who is married to a U.S. citizen and has a daughter born here.
Other plaintiffs include asylum seekers from Honduras and the African countries of Eritrea and Cameroon.