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ACLU accuses Sacramento County Sheriff's Office of transferring inmates to immigration authorities

The lawsuit accuses Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones of cooperating with ICE, which the ACLU said in a press release violates two state laws.
Credit: ABC10
Sacramento County Sheriff's Office car.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones and Sacramento County, alleging the sheriff's office is transferring jail inmates to immigration authorities.

The lawsuit was filed on Nov. 15 in Sacramento County Superior Court by ACLU of Northern California on behalf of NorCal Resist, United Latinos and a Sacramento resident, Misael Echeveste.

Echeveste was "unlawfully transferred" to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2018, according to Sean Riordan, senior staff attorney at ACLU of Northern California.

The lawsuit accuses Jones of cooperating with ICE, which the ACLU said in a press release violates two state laws.

"It's clear that the Sheriff's Department is violating state law in systemic waves, in particular, the Sheriff's Department is working with ICE to transfer people to ICE custody who have already served their sentences and should be going home to their families and communities," Riordan said.

ABC10 reached out to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office, who said it is a "long-standing policy" not to comment on pending litigation.

RELATED: US ends immigration arrests at schools, 'protected' areas

The two laws ACLU is accusing the sheriff's office of violating are the TRUTH Act and the California Values Act.

The TRUTH Act requires that local law enforcement officials provide a person with written notice in advance of their transfer to ICE. The law was signed Sept. 28, 2016, and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

The California Values Act, also known as SB 54 or California's sanctuary law, prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from using money or personnel to "investigate, interrogate, detain or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes." It was signed into law Oct. 5. 2017 and went into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Riordan said although it mentions both laws, the lawsuit is focusing on the California Values Act.

"The legislature has said that local law enforcement can only cooperate with ICE when somebody who's in sheriff's custody has certain criminal history factors," Riordan said. "Now what we've seen over time and is demonstrated through internal Sheriff's Department documents, is that there's a systemic practice of ignoring that law."

According to ACLU, one of the plaintiffs, Echeveste, was transferred to ICE in 2018 after serving six weeks in jail for a misdemeanor offense. He remained in ICE custody for a month and a half, according to a press release. Echeveste was brought to the U.S. as a 4-year-old and is now fighting deportation to Mexico as a result of the ICE transfer.

“Through this lawsuit, I hope to give a voice to other people who are going through this situation, other people who might not know English as well as me, since I was raised out here in California,” Echeveste said in a statement. “Just because we weren’t born here doesn’t mean we’re not human and that we’re not deserving of rights. I’m very lucky to have a lot of help in fighting this, and I want other people to be able to fight for their rights too.”

RELATED: Court tosses ban on private immigration jails in California

Riordan told ABC10 that records, including emails between deputies at the sheriff's office which are attached to the court filing, show that this is not an isolated incident.

"We also hope that this lawsuit illustrates to lawmakers and the public why tighter laws are needed in the future because it's clearly all too easy for a law enforcement agency like the Sacramento Sheriff's Department looking to skirt the existing protections to do so," Riordan said.

The plaintiffs are seeking a court order requiring the sheriff's office to change its policies to comply with California Values Act and TRUTH Act as well as pay the plaintiff's attorneys' fees among other requests.

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