Court Rules Law Enforcement Can’t Prolong Stop to Question an Individual About Immigration Status

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
September 17, 2013 12:00 am

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In a victory for fair treatment of immigrants, Pierce County Superior Court has found that local law enforcement officers cannot prolong a detention to question individuals about their immigration status, citizenship status, and/or country of origin.

The ruling came in a lawsuit (Ramirez-Rangel v. Kitsap County) filed in January 2012 by the ACLU of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project on behalf of three individuals who were unlawfully detained so that Kitsap County Sheriffs could question them about and investigate their immigration status. In its Order, the Court gave guidance to all local law enforcement by finding that the Washington State Constitution “forbids local enforcement officers from prolonging a detention to investigate or engage in questioning about an individual’s immigration status, citizenship status and/or national origin.”

On February 1, 2010, the three plaintiffs were harvesting shellfish when two Kitsap County deputy sheriffs noticed them speaking Spanish. Once the plaintiffs exited the beach, the deputies followed their truck and pulled them over, allegedly to investigate a defective headlight and their shellfish licenses. Although the deputies resolved all issues relating to the headlight and shellfish, the deputies prolonged the traffic stop to question the plaintiffs about their immigration status. The deputies then called the Border Patrol and held the plaintiffs until Border Patrol officers arrived at the scene.

“This is a great victory for civil liberties. The Court recognized that even if police have a lawful basis to stop people, police cannot continue to detain individuals to question them about their immigration status,” said ACLU of Washington staff attorney La Rond Baker. “The ruling provides clarity for law enforcement officers that questioning about immigration status during routine stops is unconstitutional.”

“This case was a clear-cut example of racial profiling. We are pleased that the Court made clear that state and local law enforcement are not authorized to detain individuals to investigate their immigration status. This will help ensure that people are not subjected to unlawful detention just to investigate their perceived immigration status,” said Matt Adams, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project Legal Director.

Plaintiffs were represented by Matt Adams of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project; Sarah Dunne, Nancy Talner, and La Rond Baker of the ACLU of Washington Foundation; and Maren Norton, Karin Jones, and Skylee Robinson of Stoel Rives LLP.

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