Montana: Gallatin County inmate turned over to immigration officials amid ACLU lawsuit

Montana: Gallatin County inmate turned over to immigration officials amid ACLU lawsuit

March 16, 2019– Mary Greeley News – An inmate who was held at the Gallatin County jail on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold has been turned over to immigration officials amid an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit claiming his incarceration after posting bail was illegal.

Alex Rate, ACLU attorney, said Luis Soto-Lopez was placed into federal custody Thursday afternoon after posting $500 bond in a local misdemeanor case.

Soto-Lopez initially requested a temporary restraining order that would have prevented Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin from jailing him on an immigration hold if he posted bail in his misdemeanor case.

Gallatin County District Judge Holly Brown decided she couldn’t rule on Soto-Lopez’s request because he was being held by Gallatin County at that time and hadn’t posted bail.

Then Soto-Lopez posted bail and renewed his request for a temporary restraining order to prevent the county from jailing him any longer on the immigration hold.

But Judge Brown denied the second request, saying it was moot, because Soto-Lopez had already been turned over to federal immigration officials after posting bail.

The ACLU of Montana and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project filed the lawsuit against Gootkin and jail administrator Jason Jarrett last month. The ACLU claims Gallatin County officials are exceeding their authority under Montana law by imprisoning people on the grounds that they may have committed a civil violation under federal immigration law.

Soto-Lopez, the named plaintiff in the case, has been held at the jail since Nov. 11, 2018, and immigration officials have placed a hold on him since then. Upon his arrest for a misdemeanor, Soto-Lopez’s family tried to pay his $500 bail, which would have secured his release pending trial. However, the detainer asks local authorities to hold inmates for 48 hours after they would normally be released — regardless if he or she is acquitted at trial, posts bail or pleads guilty — so immigration officials can pick them up.

Rate said Soto-Lopez’s case is an example of people who are in between a rock and a hard place. Immigration detainers don’t get reviewed unless an inmate posts bail, he said, but, when they post, they’re immediately turned over to immigration officials and the case isn’t relevant.

“The courthouse doors are being closed to individuals in these situations,” Rate said.

The lawsuit seeks to end the use of ICE detainers for all current and future people incarcerated at the Gallatin County jail who are being held at the behest of federal immigration authorities. It also seeks compensation for Soto-Lopez’s unlawful imprisonment.

Rate said the ACLU’s case is still active and that it’s waiting for class certification, which would allow it to represent multiple people who are in a similar situation as Soto-Lopez. He said he hopes the case continues because he thinks the county would continue to honor immigration detainers.

“It’s unlikely to benefit Soto-Lopez, but if we could get a court to review the legality of the immigration hold, then, perhaps, we could benefit individuals who are subject to the same proceedings,” Rate said.

Mary Greeley News

credit: in part with