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Court Rules That Frederick County Police Improperly Detained Immigrant

Ruling Nixes Arrests Based On Suspicion Of Immigration Status

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The court's ruling will set a precedent for Maryland and Virginia, as well as North and South Carolina.
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The court's ruling will set a precedent for Maryland and Virginia, as well as North and South Carolina.

A federal court of appeals has ruled that Frederick County sheriffs violated the Fourth Amendment rights of an undocumented immigrant by unreasonably and illegally detaining and arresting her. The court overruled two lower courts that had found in favor of Frederick County, setting a precedent for Maryland and Virginia, as well as North and South Carolina.

In the ruling, the court found that Frederick County sheriff's deputies illegally arrested Roxanna Orellana Santos, an undocumented immigrant, back in 2008. Santos was approached, questioned, detained and arrested while she sat outside in the employee parking lot during her lunch break.

At the time of her arrest, she was under a civil warrant for remaining in the country illegally. Frederick County had signed an agreement with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to allow officers to help enforce immigration law, but neither officer that arrested Santos was specifically trained to do so.

"[The court] found that these police officers had no authority to seize or arrest Roxanna. They are state police officers. They cannot engage in the enforcement of immigration laws," says Enid Gonzalez, Santos' attorney.

In a breaking voice, Santos says deputies profiled her "for being Latina.. and that's why I sued, so something like this doesn't happen to anyone else." Gonzalez says deputies had "no evidence of wrongdoing and they were on a fishing expedition."

Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins blasted the lawsuit at a 2009 press conference, saying, "I find it deplorable and disgusting that the groups involved in this lawsuit have tried to defame these deputies [and] the agency for what is clearly their agenda."

However, Jenkins' agenda regarding undocumented immigrants was crystal clear: "[T]o make it as unfriendly as we can and say no you are not coming into our county into our state illegally."

But the appeals court's decision may make it uncomfortable for Frederick County. It has ordered a lower court to hold hearings to determine the county's liability  for the unreasonable search and seizure of Santos. The appeals court also ruled that the deputies cannot be held personally responsible for the civil rights violation.

The ruling may also restrict how state and local law enforcement officers can detain and ultimately arrest people they suspect of being undocumented immigrants, especially if they have not committed any wrongdoing when questioned.

Jenkins did not respond to WAMU 88.5's request for comments on the court's ruling.

Opinion (4th Circuit)

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