Deported father awarded $35,000 by Corona in settlement
Victory for former Corona resident Daniel Alberto Valenzuela came with a steep cost nearly 18 months after the 35-year-old man was pulled over for speeding.
Valenzuela, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, was awarded $35,000 by Corona as part of a settlement against the city, it was announced Tuesday afternoon.
“We certainly believe that this demonstrates and provides some measure of vindication,” said attorney Eva Bitrán of the ACLU Southern California branch. “We want to make sure the city of Corona doesn’t do this again to someone else.”
The money will be sent to Valenzuela, who was deported in early 2019 to Mexico and has remained away from his Corona family since. He has spent his time between Tijuana and the Mexican state of Sinaloa, where he’s been working with other family members and trying to raise money to obtain a visa, according to Bitrán.
Valenzuela was pulled over Jan. 31, 2019, while dropping his daughters off at school; Corona police say he was driving 70 mph in a 45 mph zone.
Valenzuela, a Mexican national, presented his foreign driver’s license. Corona police said he was not the owner of the vehicle he was driving, which Bitrán said belonged to a family member.
Corona police said they contacted the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to verify if Valenzuela, who lived in Corona with his wife and daughters, “was qualified to drive under a foreign license,” according to a Corona news release.
Corona police say the Border Patrol told them Valenzuela had overstayed his visa and would need to be brought to a checkpoint. Corona police refused to transport him to a border patrol facility, but detained him for an hour until customs agents arrived, investigated and took Valenzuela into custody.
He was eventually deported.
The ACLU maintains that if Valenzuela had been speeding, he should have been issued a citation and his legal status should never have been questioned.
The city of Corona says its officers were in the process of writing a ticket and impounding the car when customs agents arrived, so they terminated both events.
The ACLU said the actions of Corona police violated California’s “sanctuary state law,” or SB 54, which acts to prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies “from using money or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes … in connection with immigration enforcement by law enforcement agencies.”
The ACLU added that Corona police violated Valenzuela’s due process and other constitutional rights.
Bitrán said she was happy that the Corona Police Department has made two reforms since Valenzuela’s detainment, including issuing a memo to all staffers to speak with supervisors before contacting customs agents.
The city disagrees “that the officer’s actions violated federal or state law,” an official statement said. “The officer was handling a traffic stop, not immigration enforcement. Because the unusual facts of this situation may cause people of goodwill to view it differently, and because of the high costs and disruption of litigation, the city decided to settle this singular and isolated claim.”
A call to a Corona police spokesman was not immediately returned.
The $35,000 payment is a settlement of an original $1-million claim for damages made by the ACLU in June 2019.
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