In January 2019, the ACLU of Arizona and Flagstaff attorneys Lee Phillips and Bob Malone filed a class-action lawsuit, Montelongo-Morales v. Driscoll, against the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office. Jose Montelongo-Morales is a long-time Flagstaff resident who was stopped by local police for unpaid court fines and taken to the county jail. When Montelongo arrived to the jail, ICE sent the sheriff’s department a detainer request, which asks that the sheriff delay Montelongo’s release. The sheriff eagerly, and unlawfully, complied with this request.
Since at least 2017, the Sheriff’s Office has acted as an arm of the federal deportation force, calling ICE when someone held in the jail is potentially undocumented and unlawfully delaying that person’s release from jail. Because of this practice, Montelongo was dissuaded from posting bail and he spent more than 40 nights in jail.
An ICE detainer is a written request that a local jail hold someone for an additional 48 hours after his or her release date to give ICE officers additional time to take the individual into federal custody. Suspicion that an individual is undocumented is not a lawful reason to keep someone in jail, even when ICE issues a detainer request. Yet many sheriffs throughout Arizona continue to hold inmates in jail for precisely that reason. In Coconino County alone, approximately 70 people per year are caught up in this unlawful practice.
Since 2017, the ACLU has secured victories in Colorado, Minnesota, and New York under similar circumstances. These other states have recognized that state law does not allow local law enforcement agencies to facilitate immigration enforcement on behalf of ICE. The same is true in Arizona. The ACLU of Arizona is working to shut down this unlawful form of collaboration, building upon previous work in Arizona to ensure that our sheriffs and our local police do not mix local policing with federal immigration enforcement.
The ACLU of Arizona will continue to fight for those, like Mr. Montelongo, who are caught up in this unlawful form of collaboration.