Salvadoran Woman Sues Sheriff’s Department over Detainment

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Baltimore, MD—Two immigrants’ right groups are assisting a Salvadoran woman who claims that she was unconstitutionally detained and interrogated last year by the Frederick County, Maryland sheriff’s department.

Roxana Orellana Santos was sitting on a curb eating her lunch when two deputies began questioning her. According to a lawsuit filed in court by Orellana Santos, the deputies had no probable cause to question or detain her, but did so simply because of her Hispanic ethnicity. The officers had difficulty communicating with Orellana Santos, because she speaks little English, but asked her about her immigration status. Orellana Santos was then taken into custody, transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and detained for five weeks, although not charged. She was released on humanitarian grounds in November 2008. The incident occurred on October 7.

Now Orellana Santos is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages in the lawsuit which names both the Frederick County sheriff’s department and federal officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Despite having committed no criminal offense under Maryland law, Ms. Orellana Santos was detained, taken into custody and subsequently transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” states the complaint.

Under an arrangement known as a 287(g) agreement, local law enforcement officers may not inquire about a person’s immigration status unless there is a crime being committed. In Orellana Santos’s case, her complaint alleges, the officers had no probable cause and therefore no reason to arrest her.

The 287(g) agreements were initially conceived as a way to free up overcrowded court dockets and prison cells, by deporting criminals who are in the country illegally. Opponents, however, say that local officials sometimes abuse the privilege and use the freedom of 287(g) partnerships to profile and expel undocumented immigrants.

The agreement also stipulates that any officer who makes an arrest must be trained and certified in the proper procedures, but according to court documents filed on behalf of Orellana Santos, the arresting deputies in her case were not certified.

Orellana Santos is being assisted in her suit by two groups which lobby for immigrants’ rights, CASA de Maryland and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

It is unclear what Orellana Santos’s immigration status is, and her lawyer has refused to comment.

 

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