SAN ANTONIO (AP) – A Texas sheriff who faced criticism from Gov. Greg Abbott for not complying with federal immigration holds is being sued by people who say they were detained for unconstitutionally long periods.
The lawsuit was filed Monday, the same day Abbott made public a letter to Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez threatening to penalize the county over her revised policy to no longer honor all federal immigration detention holds. Valdez said in September that the county jail would no longer hold immigrants believed to be in the U.S. illegally and suspected of minor crimes.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has access to fingerprint data taken at jail bookings, asks local jails to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after their planned release dates to allow its agents to pick them up. But the suit alleges that during the past two years — before Dallas County changed its policy on immigrant holds — 16 people were held for extended periods even after bond was set. In some cases, the lawsuit says, the long detentions lasted months.
Anthony Garza, a lead lawyer in the case, said the detentions were unconstitutional, though he insisted the lawsuit is not seeking to challenge policies on detention holds. Garza said one man was held for three months for a misdemeanor, of which he was later acquitted.
"For that whole time he was held pretrial by Dallas County — and that is what we are trying to prevent," he said.
A spokesman for the Dallas County sheriff's office said Valdez would not comment while the suit is pending.
The suit, which also names Dallas County, seeks unspecified damages.
In his letter to Valdez, Abbott said the state could pass laws against "sanctuary cities" that shield residents from federal immigration authorities or find other ways to penalize Dallas County.
Several hundred cities and counties adopted policies in recent years limiting or prohibiting cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities. The communities cited concerns about damaging ties with immigrants and fears of lawsuits after a federal judge ruled last year that detaining inmates solely on ICE's request was unconstitutional.
ICE has since narrowed its focus to people convicted of more serious crimes, and some counties and cities have begun cooperating with the agency again, notably after a high-profile incident in San Francisco where a man released from jail despite five deportations was charged in the shooting death of a woman walking on a city pier.