The Montana Supreme Court has dismissed a challenge filed by a Mexican man previously held in a county jail and wanted by U.S. immigration officials, leaving untouched the larger question of state-federal coordination on illegal immigration suspects in Montana.
Arturo Valerio-Gonzales, 46, had been held in the Gallatin County Detention Center since June on a misdemeanor sexual assault charge. He had feared posting the $5,000 bail, believing that if he did, he would immediately be taken into custody by federal immigration officials.
Valerio-Gonzales was ordered released on Dec. 6, 2017, by a Gallatin County justice of the peace and was taken into custody by immigration officials within an hour of his release.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, had asked Gallatin County to send notice before releasing Valerio-Gonzales from custody. The county jail has a voluntary policy of complying with immigration detainers by holding individuals for up to 48 hours longer than they otherwise would be.
In its order issued Thursday, the Montana Supreme Court wrote that the petition Valerio-Gonzales had filed was moot.
“The relief Valerio-Gonzales sought in his petition was for this court to ‘order his release from the (Gallatin County Detention Center) notwithstanding the federal immigration detention request once he posts bail,’ ” the decision read, in part. “The detention center is no longer holding him. Because Valerio-Gonzales is not ‘unlawfully imprisoned or restrained’ of his liberty by the Detention Center, this court cannot grant effective relief on his Petition.”
The court did not rule on the broader issues that propelled the Valerio-Gonzales case into the spotlight, a fact that the ACLU celebrated Tuesday.
“So that does not mean that there’s been any final ruling on whether or not the detainer or re-arrest of an immigrant like Arturo is illegal, which is what we argued before the supreme court,” said ACLU legal director Alex Rate.
Rate said in a phone interview Tuesday that the group, which had filed an amicus brief in support of Valerio-Gonzales, would take stock of its options for action in the future, which could include a class action petition for release.
A group of 43 law professors from across the U.S. joined the ACLU in support of Valerio-Gonzales and submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court arguing for his release.
On the other side, Attorney General Tim Fox and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Montana submitted arguments against Valerio-Gonzales.
Valerio-Gonzales filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in Gallatin County District Court on Aug. 10, 2017, seeking to challenge the legality of his detainer. On Oct. 5, 2017, the district court denied his challenge. Valerio-Gonzales then petitioned the state Supreme Court on Nov. 7, 2017. He was ordered released on his own recognizance on Dec. 6.
Gallatin County prosecutors and the state attorney general had asked the court to dismiss the petition, arguing it was moot after Valerio-Gonzales was released.
But public defender Annie DeWolf had said she wanted the court to rule on the county detention issue because it could be repeated.
Valerio-Gonzales was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in a vehicle at a gas station near Bozeman. The woman said she had been traveling with the defendant and that they had pulled over to rest when the alleged assault occurred. He has pleaded not guilty. His trial is set for Jan. 9 in Gallatin County Justice Court.
Valerio-Gonzales had lived in Utah for 20 years and has two children who are American citizens, his public defender previously told Lee Newspapers.