HELENA – A lawsuit filed Monday claims the Montana Highway Patrol improperly detained Hispanic drivers over unfounded concerns they were in the country illegally.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance, said patrol officers were pulling over the Hispanic drivers for routine traffic violations and detaining them to check their immigration status.

The lawsuit argues the agency had no reason or authority to detain the drivers. It said race was the sole basis of the detentions. The lengthy court filing asks a federal judge to declare the policy unconstitutional and to stop the highway patrol from further constitutional violations.

“For years, Montana Highway Patrol officers have been acting like de facto immigration enforcement agents,” group president Shahid Haque-Hausrath said in a statement.

The Montana Department of Justice says it is reviewing the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.

Former Montana Highway Patrol chief Kenton Hickethier resigned this summer amid a personnel complaint that alleged he told an officer to arrest people who might be in the country illegally, amid other allegations of discrimination. Last month, Tom Butler was named the new Montana Highway Patrol chief.

The lawsuit points out that Hickethier was disciplined for other complaints, such as for inappropriate racial comments, but was never disciplined by the agency for the wrongful detentions.

The lawsuit says in one instance Jose Rios-Diaz was pulled over for speeding near Billings in 2011 and asked by the officer “are you here legally?” Rios-Diaz initially protested at what he saw was racial profiling, but acquiesced and told the officer that he is a U.S. citizen.

The lawsuit says the officer detained him and further questioned him about his immigration status and how he got it. The driver was further detained while the officer checked with federal immigration authorities before releasing him with a speeding ticket.

“He feels like he cannot drive anywhere in the state without getting harassed,” the lawsuit said. “Because of this harassment he has even contemplated leaving Montana.”

The agency has no constitutional basis for detaining drivers based on race alone, with no reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and quizzing them on their immigration status, the lawsuit said.

(4) comments

NewMontanaMan
NewMontanaMan

Well hello! How many caucasians are in this country illegally? But there are 15 million latinos here as criminal illegal aliens. Duh!

idiot state
idiot state

This is the kind of garbage stuff when you have politicians unwilling to enforce our borders. It's worse under our current administration; Hispanics and other illegals are potential Democrat voters. First they break our laws by coming illegally, then they overwhelm our social services system, then they muck up the legal system by phony lawsuits. Illegals, wherever you are, you need to go home.

Roger
Roger

Amen to that.

walter12
walter12

The vast majority of all violent street crime in America today is committed by young black males. This is simply the way it is in our country today. Look it up, the statistics are all there for anyone to see. So if you do not profile as a policeman, then you are not doing your job, whether they are young black males, young illegal Mexican men, or whatever. This is like saying, well we do know that all incidents of terrorism, minus one, in the US and across Europe have been perpetrated by young Muslim men, but we will not count that, and we will not look at young Muslim men for future terror acts. That is madness.

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