Los Angeles County pays $ 14 million to inmates illegally held attributable to immigration investigations

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva expressed disappointment that funds would be cut from his office's budget as many of the crimes were committed by his predecessors.

Los Angeles County will pay $ 14 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the sheriff's department held detainees beyond their scheduled release dates due to immigration investigations.

The Washington Post reports that the county's five-person board of directors unanimously voted to approve the payment on Tuesday.

However, the settlement must be approved by the judge overseeing the case. If approved, former county inmates could earn anywhere from $ 250 to $ 25,000 depending on a number of factors, including the time they spent illegally in detention.

Unclaimed money, the Post adds, is being put into a fund that helps undocumented immigrants fighting deportation pay their legal fees.

For now, attorneys working on behalf of the class have yet to identify anyone who is eligible for a payout. In many cases, the affected applicants have already been deported to countries such as Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Police Cars; Image courtesy of James via Wikimedia Commons,

According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 18,500 people have been illegally detained – sometimes for days, weeks, or months – after their release date. In each class action case, detainees have been detained on the basis of requests from Immigration and Customs Services.

While the sheriff's department agreed to stop honoring ICE prisoners after 2014, immigration lawyers and attorneys say the county's decision to settle is still a victory.

"It should send a very strong message to law enforcement agencies across the country who are continuing to blindly comply with ICE's apparently unlawful requests," said Jennie Pasquarella, American Civil Liberties Union attorney.

Lindsey Battles, another attorney involved in the case, said the county sheriff's department has "ruthlessly denied the constitutional protection of immigrants that applies to all other inmates in general, including the right to bail and the right to be on the same terms to be released quickly like any other arrested or detained. "

California, the Washington Post notes, has long enforced a number of statewide sanctuary laws that prohibit local law enforcement agencies from working with federal immigration authorities.

Although California's sanctuary-style legislation has been criticized by the Trump administration and the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that state laws can apply.

According to the Post, ICE has not responded to requests for comments.

However, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has expressed regret that the $ 14 million severance pay will be paid by cutting his department's budget rather than a payout from the county general fund – as of in large part because former sheriffs and correction officers, in place of the Villanueva administration, were responsible for the violations.

"I threw ICE out of prisons and banned all transfers of inmates into the care of ICE," Villanueva told the board of directors at an earlier meeting. "It is morally unacceptable to beat the current sheriff's department in 2020 with the mistakes of past sheriffs and past board members."

Both the Post and the Los Angeles Times note that many of the crimes listed in the lawsuit were committed by former sheriffs Leroy "Lee" Baca and Jim McDonnell.

Baca is currently serving a three-year sentence in federal prison for obstructing an investigation by his agency.


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