ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Bernalillo County taxpayers could be on the hook for another issue at the Metro Detention Center after word that a new suit is looming regarding immigration. County jails across the state have been warned of a potential lawsuit regarding the controversial ICE holds, that several federal courts have been deemed unconstitutional.
Ryan Villa, is one of two attorneys behind the notice. His group sent a letter to Bernalillo County officials that MDC is one of the jails they are looking into.
Villa said former MDC inmates have had their rights violated. He said they were forced to stay in jail after a judge released them or after they posted bail at the request of Immigration Customs Enforcement. ICE officials made the request to check the immigration statuses of the inmates.
“They’re not a valid basis to hold somebody in jail,” Villa said. “It’s just that, they’re requests only. So there isn’t a legal basis to detain them in the detention center.”
Jails, across the country, have stopped the practice because of federal court rulings against it. In one case, a Pennsylvania man who was put on an ICE hold was found to be a U.S. citizen.
County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said because of those court rulings MDC changed its policy in July. That put an end to ICE holds in Bernalillo County. However, the practice was in place for years before that.
MDC officials said from January-July of 2014 approximately 333 people were put on holds. There’s no telling how many could be represented in the potential lawsuit.
“Its hard to tell how many people it has affected,” Villa said.
That could mean that county taxpayers will be forced to pick up the tab of a settlement or payout. The county’s already shelled out at least $10 million in an ongoing overcrowding lawsuit.
“The fact that it’s been ruled unconstitutional is a very big concern,” Hart Stebbins said. “I think its important that we try to protect the taxpayers from another lawsuit the best way we can.”
Hart Stebbins said the county has been revising its ICE hold policy for years but just recently decided to stop the practice altogether.
The potential lawsuit is not just aimed at Bernalillo County. Other county jails that have honored or still honor ICE holds were also put on notice.