Immigration officials allegedly laughed at and “mocked” Abel Tovar Hernandez when he told them he was a U.S. citizen.
An American citizen who was turned over to immigration officials after stealing a pair of socks has filed a lawsuit against Oregon’s Washington County, Northern Oregon Corrections, and the United States government.
According to The Oregonian, the civil rights complained was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Portland-based law firm Stoel Rives on behalf of Abel Tovar Hernandez.
The complaint broadly accuses the U.S. government, Washington County, and a state prison of false arrest, false imprisonment, and violations of Tovar Hernandez’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Tovar Hernandez, notes The Oregonian, was born in Mexico but became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2000.
Tovar Hernandez, adds OPB, was homeless early last year when he was arrested for a probation violation: stealing a pair of socks from a TJ Maxx.
While Tovar Hernandez only had to serve a short sentence for his probation violation, he was quickly remanded to the custody of United States immigration officials.
After taking him into custody, immigration officers allegedly “mocked” Tovar Hernandez when he insisted that he was a U.S. citizen.
They then took him to the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities in The Dalles, OR, where he was kept behind bars for two days. According to Tovar Hernandez’s attorneys, he suffered “anxiety, fearfulness, worry [and] depression” before a lawyer helped him win his release.
“This is a clear case where law enforcement, both at the local level and at the federal level, targeted Mr. Tovar Hernandez because of the color of his skin, and that simply is not right,” said ACLU-Oregon executive director Sandy Chung.
The ACLU’s state-level legal director, Kelly Simon, further said that Tovar Hernandez likely would not have been handed over to immigration officials if he had been White.
“Washington County, ICE, and NORCOR tried to illegally sweep Mr. Tovar Hernandez into the deportation and detention machine that silently disappears too many Oregonians,” Simon said. “We refuse to let these inhumane systems dispose of our friends and family.”
Stoel Rives attorney Amy Edwards issued a similar statement, saying that Tovar Hernandez was detained simply because he fit officers’ expectation of what an undocumented immigrant should look like.
“What happened to Abel should not happen to anyone in this country — the United States Constitution explicitly forbids it,” Edwards said. “It is past time for Washington County, ICE and NORCOR to be held accountable for illegally detaining people due to their officers’ assumptions based on a person’s family name and the color of their skin.”
OPB notes that Oregon has a long-standing “sanctuary” law that prohibits law enforcement from arresting people for their immigration status.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed the Sanctuary Promise Act, which enhanced existing sanctuary laws by prohibiting local law enforcement and state-level agencies from sharing immigration information with federal immigration authorities, or otherwise assisting them in the arrest or detention of undocumented persons who do not pose a significant threat to their community.
The Sanctuary Promise Act also allows people who have been illegally detained to file a lawsuit against law enforcement or any other state-level agencies which violate its provisions.