Kelvin Hernandez Román was driving a friend’s car in Tustin in July when police stopped him because the tinted windows on the vehicle were too dark.
Though he was arrested on suspicion of auto theft and possession of forged documents, he was never charged with those crimes. Still, he found himself in immigrant detention days later.
That same month, Jose Maldonado was arrested in Huntington Park on suspicion of public intoxication. He was picked up by immigration officials while leaving the police station after spending a night in jail.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed complaints this week against Orange County and the cities of Tustin and Huntington Park. The ACLU alleges that the county and cities violated the California Values Act when local law enforcement turned the men over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The California Values Act, the so-called sanctuary state law, was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017 and restricts local law enforcement’s cooperation with ICE.
“When police and sheriffs detain local residents for ICE, it has devastating effects for their families and their communities. It is also illegal,” Jessica Karp Bansal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement. “We are closely monitoring compliance with the California Values Act to make sure that local law enforcement agencies are held accountable for harmful violations.”
When Hernandez Román, 32, was stopped in Tustin on July 13, two police officers ordered him to step out of the car and began questioning him about his immigration status, including asking what country he was from, the ACLU alleges in its claim.
Hernandez Román told them he did not have legal status and asked why the officer wanted to know. The officer responded that they were routine questions, the claim states.
Lt. Andrew Birozy, a spokesman for the Tustin Police Department, said it is not a policy or practice to ask the immigration status of any members of the community. Birozy declined to comment about the specifics of the case, saying it involves an active investigation.
A day after he was taken into custody, Hernandez Román was transferred to the Theo Lacy jail facility, where Orange County sheriff’s deputies told him that “ICE was coming for him,” the claim states. About an hour later, private security guards placed him in handcuffs and transported him to an ICE processing center in Los Angeles. From there, he was taken to the Adelanto Detention Center, where he remains in custody.
Orange County sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said the department complies with state law and is looking into the circumstances of the case.
“OCSD strongly agrees with those who argue that local law enforcement should not be enforcing immigration law. We have never, do not, and will not arrest individuals on the street for violation of immigration law,” she said. “It is not our charge and doing so could hinder the relationships we have worked hard to develop with the immigrant communities we serve.
“Cooperating with ICE in a custody setting makes possible the removal of criminals who pose a threat to all members of the community. We have an obligation to protect all members of the communities we serve, and that includes preventing those who have committed crimes from returning to the neighborhoods they prey upon,” Braun said.
Last year, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department announced it would end its more than decadelong agreement with federal immigration officials to house some detainees in the county jail system to free up space for better treatment of mentally ill inmates. Until last year, Orange County was among a few large counties that continued to work with ICE in a state that has become increasingly accommodating of immigrants, including those in the country without legal status.
The ACLU alleges that Maldonado was detained longer than normal — roughly seven hours — after he was arrested by the Huntington Park Police Department on July 15 on suspicion of being intoxicated in public. According to the claim, this was done at the behest of ICE to give agents enough time to pick him up as he was being released from custody. Maldonado is facing allegations of immigration violation and is out on bail.
The ACLU has accused the Huntington Park Police Department of regularly working with ICE to transfer individuals to federal custody, even after the California Values Act went into effect. The organization contends that 29 people were transferred by the police department to ICE custody between January 2018 and August 2019.
Huntington Park officials declined to comment on the details of the case and said in a statement that the city is fully cooperating with the ACLU.
“The department is assessing ACLU’s claim that there were additional instances and into its internal controls to ensure complete adherence to the California Values Act,” Police Chief Cosme Lozano said in the statement.
The ACLU said the agencies caused both men emotional distress and is seeking $100,000 in damages for each, as well as U visa certification — given to crime victims who are immigrants — based on allegations that the men were falsely imprisoned.