WENATCHEE - A Douglas County woman’s attorney says she’s suing Okanogan County because the jail compromised her immigration rights in March 2019.
On Wednesday, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Columbia Legal Services announced that Maria del Rayo Mendoza Garcia filed a lawsuit against Okanogan County for unlawfully detaining her.
On March 18, 2019, Mendoza Garcia was arrested in Douglas County accused of fourth-degree domestic violence assault and was booked into the Chelan County Regional Justice Center. That same day, Mendoza Garcia was transferred to the Okanogan County Jail (likely due to lack of holding space at the Chelan County Jail).
According to legal documents, on March 20, Mendoza Garcia was interviewed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while she was in custody at the Okanogan County Jail. Following the interview, the USBP agent issued a detainer request accompanied by a “Statement of Probable Cause” for Mendoza Garcia alleging that Ms. Mendoza violated a civil immigration provision by being unlawfully present in the U.S.
Nearly three hours after the detainer request was filed, the Douglas County District Court ordered Mendoza to be released on personal recognizance. The jail notified Border Patrol of the release request and the Border Patrol Hold was authorized by the agent preventing her from being released from the jail.
On March 22, Mendoza Garcia was released from the jail when a Department of Human Services officer picked her up and transported her to an Immigration Customs Enforcement office. Later, Mendoza was later taken into custody at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
Her attorney, Matt Adams, says a judge later granted Mendoza Garcia’s release based on evidence as she was already in the process of achieving legal status in the U.S. Adams stated that Mendoza is now back with her family in Douglas County.
Adams says Mendoza is seeking monetary compensation as a result of the ordeal and wants to make an example of Okanogan County so it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Mendoza’s legal counsel says Okanogan County violated the Fourth Amendment (right to be free from unreasonable seizures) of the U.S. Constitution. Her attorneys also claim that she was held by Border Patrol via Okanogan County Jail without probable cause and without a judicial warrant.
“Okanogan County violated our client’s Fourth Amendment rights when they kept her locked up based on an immigration detainer, as it is simply a request made by a low-level immigration officer without any judicial oversight,” said Matt Adams, Legal Director for NWIRP.
In February, Yakima County entered a settlement as a result of another joint NWIRP-CLS lawsuit, agreeing to change its practice of holding individuals in county custody on an immigration hold past the time they are otherwise eligible for release from jail, Moreover, Washington State’s Keep Washington Working Act, signed into law in May 2019, further explicitly prohibits local law enforcement agencies from holding people in custody based on detainers like the one in this case.
“Federal courts have repeatedly made clear that state and local government agencies have no authority to enforce federal civil immigration laws,” said CLS Attorney Alfredo Gonzalez Benitez. “Honoring a detainer without a warrant or probable cause is unlawful and communities expect local law enforcement to follow the law.”
iFIBER ONE News has reached out to Okanogan County’s legal counsel for a response and has yet to hear back.