Jose Montelongo-Morales was detained in the Coconino County Detention Facility after he did not make a court-ordered payment for being found guilty of driving under the influence in 2015.
But a new class-action lawsuit filed last week alleges that Montelongo-Morales is being “unlawfully” held on an ICE detainer due to his suspected status as an undocumented immigrant.
This is the second lawsuit in the past two years filed against the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office for their longstanding policy on ICE detainers, where the Sheriff’s Office detains a person suspected of being undocumented for 48 hours to allow the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to pick them up.
Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll said he had not yet retrieved notice of the document when asked on Tuesday afternoon. Driscoll is named in the lawsuit with jail commander Matt Figueroa.
Some groups in the county have pushed their view in courts to Flagstaff City Council that these ICE detainers are illegal. Last year, a federal judge dismissed a case filed against the Sheriff’s Office policy, leaving it intact.
But Lee Phillips, a local lawyer representing Montelongo-Morales who has lived in Flagstaff since he was about 7 years old, explains that this lawsuit is looking at the same issue from a different angle. Phillips explained that their new lawsuit alleges that Driscoll exceeded his authority under state law, while last year’s suit focused on the violation of a person’s civil rights under the federal constitution.
The lawsuit alleges that the current policy does not require a judicial warrant or probable cause to detain a subject beyond their original charges.
“Requests made by immigration officials do not confer state or local law enforcement officers with any authority to arrest, detain or prolong the detention of individuals of civil immigration violations,” according to Montelongo-Morales’ lawsuit.
Phillips alleges that the policy asks officers to determine reasonable suspicion if an inmate in the detention facility is unlawfully present in the country. This includes having officers ask questions about an inmate’s social security, foreign identification and difficulty speaking English.
“You can’t keep someone in jail because you have a personal view that you suspect they’re in the country unlawfully,” Phillips said. “If they want to change the law, I wouldn’t like that, but we wouldn’t be suing the sheriff if he had any legal authority to do what he’s doing.”
The class-action lawsuit poses this legal question as a representative party for any detainee that is the subject of an ICE detainer or ICE administrative warrant sent to the defendants Driscoll or Figueroa.
Driscoll said at the time of the first lawsuit that he would comply with whatever order a judge decided.