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Montana Sheriff, County Move to Dismiss ACLU Immigration Lawsuit

— April 2, 2019

A Montana sheriff and jail administrator are asking the courts to dismiss an immigration lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle¸ Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin and jail Cmdr. Jason Jarett made the request Thursday. The ACLU is accusing them of illegally holding inmates eligible for release at the request of federal immigration authorities.

Initiated by the ACLU of Montana and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project in February, the suit claims that Gootkin and Jarett are exceeding the authority allowed by state. Many of the inmates represented were purportedly detained or held after being found guilty of civil immigration violations.

On Thursday, Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert petitioned for dismissal, saying the sheriff and jailers are entitled to comply with detainers issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Lambert, writes the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, referenced another case in which a judge determined that Montana law allows for jails to hold inmates with active immigration warrants.

The ACLU aims to end ICE detainers for everyone who is now and may later be held at the Gallatin County Jail.

Image of a jail cell
Jail Cell; image courtesy of AlexVan via Pixabay,

It also seeks compensation for plaintiff Luis Soto-Lopez, who was arrested late last year. Soto-Lopez, notes the Chronicle, had relatives willing to post bail. He was later advised not to seek release, as immigration officials had placed a hold on his case.

Soto-Lopez posted bail in mid-March and then renewed an application for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented Gootkin from jailing the man on civil immigration charges.  His petition was rejected by a district judge.

The ACLU hopes to certify the lawsuit as a class action, adding other plaintiffs who’ve endured similar experiences in Gallatin County.

The case comes scarcely a month after two Montana women filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The pair were briefly detained near Havre, Montana—roughly 35 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border—for speaking Spanish in a local convenience store. Border Patrol agent Paul A. O’Neal allegedly inquired about one of the women’s “very strong” accent before asking where she was born.

Both women, says the New York Times, were born and raised in the United States—Ana Suda in Texas, and Martha Hernandez in California.

After the duo accused O’Neal of racial profiling, the officer responded that he’d only stopped them because they were “speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it is predominately English speaking.”

O’Neal’s supervisor later arrived on the scene. When asked by Suda whether she’d have been detained if she’d been speaking French, the supervisor replied, “No, we don’t do that.”

The ACLU is also representing the women, arguing that it’s unconstitutional for law enforcement and immigration agents to detain people based on their race, accent or language skills.


A Border Agent Detained Two Americans Speaking Spanish. Now They Have Sued.

Gallatin County sheriff asks judge to dismiss ACLU lawsuit

Gallatin County sheriff asks judge to dismiss ACLU lawsuit

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