Montana Supreme Court Outlines Limits on Local Arrest Authority in Victory for Immigrants

Ruling Declares Federal Immigration Detainers Do Not Provide Arrest Authority Under Montana Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Montana
March 25, 2020 3:45 pm

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MISSOULA, Mont. ­— The Montana Supreme Court today ruled in favor of Agustin Ramon, who was held by the Lincoln County Detention Center pursuant to a federal immigration detainer. The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Montana, ACLU, and Border Crossing Law Firm, effectively ends the ability of state and local police and sheriffs in Montana to hold people based on federal immigration detainers.

According to the lawsuit, Agustin Ramon, a dual citizen of France and Mexico, had been wrongfully jailed for more than two months in the Lincoln County Jail at the request of federal immigration officials. The groups sued Roby Bowe, Lincoln County sheriff, for violating Montana law by honoring an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer to hold Ramon. Ramon was booked in the Lincoln County Jail on August 3, 2018, after being accused of a criminal offense. The court set his bond for $25,000. But when Ramon tried to pay his bond to secure his release from jail pending trial, he was informed that because of an ICE detainer, the jail could not release him.

Ramon’s lawsuit claims that the ICE detainer violated his rights under the Montana Constitution and that his continued detention was also illegal under Montana law.

In today’s ruling, the Montana Supreme Court agreed with Ramon, concluding that “neither federal law nor Montana law provide state or local Montana law enforcement officers with the authority to arrest individuals based on federal civil immigration violations.”

“This is a major victory for immigrants in Montana,” said Alex Rate, legal director for the ACLU of Montana. “Immigrants throughout Montana must now be treated the same as every other individual who is charged with a crime. They will enjoy the presumption of innocence, have the right to post bail and be free pending trial, and step out from underneath the boot of over-aggressive federal immigration officials.”

An ICE detainer is a written request that a local jail or other law enforcement agency detain an individual for an additional 48 hours after their release date. The state Supreme Court’s opinion explains that these requests are not judicial warrants, and that the continued detention that they request is unlawful.

“The court unanimously ruled that local and state police in Montana cannot hold people on ICE detainers,” said ACLU attorney Dan Galindo, who argued the case. “Montana joins a growing list of other states, including Minnesota, Massachusetts, and New York, whose courts have come to the same conclusion. The federal government cannot force local authorities to do their bidding.”

Across the U.S., the Trump administration continues to push draconian policies towards immigrant communities, and neglects to care for people currently detained during the COVID-19 pandemic. This ruling comes at an important time. During the COVID-19 public health crisis, the ACLU has been urging the release of those in ICE custody. The ACLU and other advocates sued ICE on March 13 on behalf of immigrants detained at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, referencing the risk of infection and public health.

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