PITTSBURGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has reached a settlement with the Northern Regional Joint Police Board in its case on behalf of a naturalized U.S. citizen who spent a night in the Allegheny County Jail after a Northern Regional officer reported her to federal immigration authorities during a minor traffic stop and arrested her at the federal authorities’ request.
Northern Regional, which provides services to four municipalities in northern Allegheny County, agreed to pay Angelica Davila $175,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to settle her claims that being detained to investigate her immigration status and then arrested violated her Fourth Amendment rights. Davila, a naturalized U.S. citizen who immigrated to the United States when she was two years old, was arrested in 2011 after a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent erroneously determined that she was unlawfully present in the United States.
“We hope this case will dissuade local police departments from cooperating with ICE’s requests to arrest people for alleged immigration violations,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It’s a warning to police departments to stay out of federal immigration enforcement.”
Davila is not the only U.S. citizen to be illegally detained by immigration authorities. In Florida alone, ICE has issued 420 immigration detainers for U.S. citizens since 2017. Unlike criminal warrants, which are supported by a determination of probable cause, ICE routinely issues detainers simply because it wants more time to investigate a person’s immigration status. And unlike warrants, ICE detainers are issued by executive branch agents without any authorization or oversight by a judge.
In February, a federal judge ruled that the Northern Regional Joint Police Board’s policy of arresting individuals on immigration detainers issued by ICE violated the Fourth Amendment. The court also ruled that the police officer—who stopped Davila for driving without headlights—violated her Fourth Amendment rights when he extended the stop to investigate her immigration status because he lacked any basis to suspect she had violated any laws.
After spending a night in jail, Davila was released without any explanation, criminal charges, or citations.
“I didn’t understand why the officer arrested me and took me to jail,” said Davila. “It was only after filing a right to know request that I learned ICE had made a mistake about my immigration status. I filed this case because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
Davila has already settled her claims against Allegheny County and the United States. As part of her settlement agreement with the county, the Allegheny County Jail no longer holds people on immigration detainers if they are otherwise eligible for release.
But the effort to stop local police officers from acting like immigration agents is not over. In June, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania State Police and seven troopers on behalf of 10 motorists, alleging that the troopers targeted the motorists for vehicle stops because they are Latinx and then unlawfully detained them—some for hours at a time—to investigate their immigration status.
The case is Davila v. Northern Regional Police Department, et al. Davila is represented by Sara Rose and Witold Walczak of the ACLU-PA and Tom Farrell of the law firm Farrell Reisinger & Comber.