Lawsuit filed against Okanogan County for allegedly unlawfully detaining immigrant at feds' request

click to enlarge A Customs and Border Protection agent on a bridge between Mexico and Hidalgo, Texas, Nov. 9, 2018. - TAMIR KALIFA/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Tamir Kalifa/The New York Times
A Customs and Border Protection agent on a bridge between Mexico and Hidalgo, Texas, Nov. 9, 2018.
The Okanogan County Jail illegally detained a woman last spring at the request of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, despite a judge clearing her for release on a criminal charge, a new lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit was jointly filed on Wednesday morning by Columbia Legal Services — a progressive legal advocacy organization — and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in federal court on behalf of Maria Del Rayo Mendoza Garcia, an undocumented Washington resident.

The filing states that Mendoza was booked into the Chelan County Regional Jail on a fourth degree assault charge on or about March 18, 2019, before getting transferred to the Okanogan County Jail to await arraignment in Douglas County District Court. Two days later, she was interviewed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent, who subsequently faxed over a detainer request form. However, despite a Douglas County District Court judge ordering that she be released on her own recognizance, the jail continued to hold Mendoza until she was picked up by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security officer on March 22.


Listing Okanagon County, the Okanogan County sheriff and Chief Corrections Deputy Tammi Denney as defendants, the lawsuit alleges that Mendoza's civil rights were violated because the detainer request lacked probable cause and wasn't based on a criminal violation. Additionally, the filing characterizes Okanogan County's broader standing policy of holding inmates who are eligible for release for 48 hours at the request of federal immigration officials as illegal.

"Ms. Mendoza was entitled to release from defendants’ custody immediately after the Douglas County District Court ordered her release on personal recognizance," the filing states. "Washington state has no law that purports to authorize state and local law enforcement officials to enforce federal civil immigration laws."

"
Okanogan County’s practice of placing immigration holds and detaining individuals pursuant to administrative requests from DHS is unlawful and violates the rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment," the lawsuit goes on to state.

Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley — his agency manages the jail — did not respond to the Inlander's request for comment.

The case comes months after Columbia Legal Services settled another lawsuit against Yakima County over a similar issue, where an inmate was held at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after they were technically released by a judge. Among several concessions, Yakima County agreed to pay damages and to end the practice and only detain individuals after they are eligible for release on behalf of immigration authorities if warrants are physically delivered by federal agents.


According to an analysis conducted by the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, roughly half of Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests that occurred between 2014 and 2018 in the state involved the cooperation of county jails. Almost a quarter of those arrested had no criminal conviction.

Norman Rockwell's America @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 12
  • or

About The Author

Josh Kelety

As a staff writer, Josh covers criminal justice issues and Spokane County government. Previously, he worked as a reporter for Seattle Weekly. Josh grew up in Port Townsend and graduated from the University of Washington. Message him through Signal @ (360) 301-3490.