Published January 21, 2013
A U.S. citizen is suing various law enforcement authorities for jailing her on the erroneous suspicion that she was an undocumented immigrant.
The citizen, Angelica Davila, who was born in Mexico and later became a U.S. citizen, said in the federal civil rights lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, that she was arrested by a Northern Regional Police Department in Pennsylvania officer in 2011 after he stopped her for driving without headlights.
Police contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to check on the immigration status of Davila and her passenger, Joel Garrete, who had told police he was not in the country legally. At that time, she was a permanent resident.
Immigration agents erroneously told the police that neither Davila nor Garrete were in the country lawfully, ACLU said.
An ACLU news release about the lawsuit contends that Davila, 28, “provided her license, proof of registration, and insurance card” to the officer who stopped her.
“The police had no reason to check Ms. Davila’s immigration status for a routine traffic stop when her paperwork was in order,” the ACLU said. “The police questioned her status only because of her ethnicity and that of her passenger.”
Ross Feinstein, a national spokesman for ICE, declined comment on the litigation.
The agency has twice revised its guidelines for immigration detainers since December 2011. The new guidelines call for detainers to be used only for people who meet certain standards, increasing the focus for catching felons and repeat offenders, as opposed to those arrested for less serious violations, such as traffic offenses and petty crimes.
The 22-page lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and attorney's fees.
Davila's father was born in Texas and is a U.S. citizen and her mother was naturalized in 1997. Davila became a permanent resident in April 2000 when she was 16 and later became a citizen.
The ACLU said Davila’s case underscores the dangers of having local police try to take on immigration matters.
“When ICE makes a mistake about someone’s immigration status – as it did in this case and in a similar case filed by the ACLU-PA on behalf of another U.S. citizen unlawfully detained for an immigration violation – the police officers who carry out the illegal detention violate the Fourth Amendment,” said Sara Rose, an ACLU attorney representing Davila.
This story contains material from The Associated Press.