On September 5, 2008, a non-profit immigrants rights organization and individual Latino residents of Sonoma County filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California, under § 1983, Bivens, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Tort Claims Act and state tort law against the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The plaintiffs, represented by private and public interest counsel, asked the court for declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, alleging a violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the Sheriff’s Department and ICE had been illegally collaborating to stop and search people who appeared to be of Latino origin, interrogate them about their immigration status, and detain them in the county jail without informing them of what charges they were being held on, providing them with access to legal or consular services, or notifying them of their right to a hearing.
On January 28, 2009, the defendants moved to dismiss the case, and on July 31 the Court (Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton) partly granted and partly denied their motion. Comm. for Immigrant Rights of Sonoma County v. County of Sonoma, 644 F.Supp.2d 1177 (N.D. Cal. 2009). The Court held that plaintiffs’ Bivens claims were not subject to dismissal based on sovereign immunity and that plaintiffs had stated a claim under federal and state law for discrimination in programs that receive government funding, but also held that the regulations authorizing immigration officers to issue detainers to other law enforcement agencies were not invalid, that plaintiffs’ claims for unlawful withholding and unreasonable delay of hearings was not cognizable under the APA, that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for conspiracy and that plaintiff’s failure to comply with state law requirements precluded state tort claims.
Plaintiffs amended their complaint on August 28, 2009 and again on September 14 to include federal tort claims. Defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint on October 29. On March 10, 2010, the Court (Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton) granted in part and denied in part defendants’ motion to dismiss the amended complaint. Comm. for Immigrant Rights of Sonoma County v. County of Sonoma, C 08-4220 PJH, 2010 WL 841372 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 10, 2010). The Court held that ICE's interpretation of regulations allowing it to issue immigration detainers to initiate local custody of immigration detainers was reasonable, but withheld judgment on whether the defendants' implementation of those regulations and their use of immigration detainers violated the law, and did not dismiss any of plaintiffs’ claims.
On March 18, 2010, the case was reassigned to Judge Richard Seeborg, and defendants moved for reconsideration of Judge Hamilton’s March 10 order. The Court (Judge Richard Seeborg) reaffirmed the order in all respects on June 11 and allowed the parties to proceed with discovery. Comm. for Immigrant Rights of Sonoma County v. County of Sonoma, C 08-4220 RS, 2010 WL 2465030 (N.D. Cal. June 11, 2010).
On July 15, 2011, plaintiffs came to a private settlement with the Sheriff’s Department. The terms of the settlement required the Sheriff’s Department to (1) pay damages ($3000 to one of the remaining individual plaintiffs and $5000 to the other), (2) change its policies on immigrations violations to, among other things, prohibit independent sweeps for such violations and not to alert ICE concerning people arrested for low level traffic violations unless the law so required, (3) change its booking procedures to include, among other things, alerting the consulates of non-citizens who had been arrested, (4) post information on the rights of non-citizens in its jails, and (5) give notice to plaintiffs of any changes to the above policies and procedures during over the following three years.
Plaintiffs concluded a private settlement with ICE about six months later, on December 5, 2011. Under the settlement, ICE (1) affirmed its interim policy governing the use of immigration detainers, adopted in August 2010, which only allowed the use of detainers after another law enforcement agency had independently arrested a non-citizen for a criminal violation, (2) agreed to distribute the above policy to all of its agents, and three (3) agreed to post information on free legal counsel and on the rights and procedures of the immigration system in Sonoma County jails for a period of three years.Christopher Schad - 05/24/2012