ACLU: Sheriff's office holds all Hispanics for immigration check

American citizens held until ICE checks status

By Web Staff
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

BATON ROUGE, La. - When Ramon Torres was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, he produced his Louisiana driver's license, social security card, and U.S. passport, but the ACLU says the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office refused to release him until an ICE official confirmed his immigration status.

Despite the fact that any of the three identifying documents are enough to legally prove an individual's status as a U.S. citizen, Torres was held in jail for four days, until his friend was able to contact a lawyer who challenged the sheriff's office.

When Torres asked his jailers why he was being held and why his citizenship was in question, Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office deputies told Torres that every Hispanic person was automatically held for a immigration review, according to a new lawsuit the ACLU of Louisiana has filed against the sheriff's office.

"Ramon Torres was held in jail for four days simply because he has brown skin and a Latino name," ACLU of Louisiana legal director Katie Schwartzmann said. "This is racial profiling, which is unconstitutional and deeply harmful to our communities. What happened to Mr. Torres is inexcusable. Locking people up based on race or ethnicity is antithetical to our most cherished American values."

According to the lawsuit, the Ascension Parish court's policies clearly state that someone arrested for driving while intoxicated as Torres was in August of last year should have been released from custody the very next morning.

Not doing so violated Torres' constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, according to the ACLU.

"The increasing national rhetoric of fear and racism around immigration is tearing apart our local communities," Schwartzmann said. "We're suing on Mr. Torres' behalf to stop these unconstitutional practices and to uphold the basic civil rights of all people."

The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, is demanding unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

"Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office is tasked with enforcing the law and protecting our community; however, they have violated our most sacred law, the Constitution, in order to attack our own citizens based on an extreme and racist anti-immigrant agenda," James Bullman, cooperating counsel with the ACLU of Louisiana, said.

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