The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana sued Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe on Thursday in district court there, alleging Bowe is detaining an immigrant man against state law.
Agustin Ramon, a 32-year-old dual citizen of Mexico and France, was booked into the Lincoln County jail in early August on burglary charges, according to the ACLU's civil complaint. While Ramon's wife paid a bail bond company the agreed rate of $25,000, officials reportedly told the bondsman that payment would likely not lead to Ramon's release due to a detainer order from Immigration Customs and Enforcement.
The immigration detainer asks local authorities to hold that inmate for another 48 hours after he would be released; for example, following payment of Ramon's bond.
The ACLU contends that Bowe is overstepping his authority by holding Ramon on suspected immigration violations, which would be a civil matter, without allowing him to post bond for his criminal charge and be released ahead of trial.
"There is no state arrest authority to keep someone who is suspected of being here unlawfully incarcerated as a result of an immigration detainer," ACLU Legal Director Alex Rate told the Missoulian Thursday. "It flips innocent until proven guilty on its head."
Bowe was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
Rate said instances of local officials holding those suspected of immigration violations have become "common practice" in Montana, and the ACLU is hoping to end that practice across the state.
"Whether it's Lincoln County, Yellowstone County or Gallatin County, we know local officials are honoring these detainers," Rate said.
Shahid Haque, an immigration attorney with Border Crossing Law Firm, is also representing Ramon in the complaint. In a press release from the ACLU, Haque said Montana law requires that anyone, including immigrants, must be released from custody once they have posted bond.
The suit filed Thursday seeks class-action certification to cover all current and future inmates in Lincoln County who are the subject of such detainers. The complaint also requests compensation for Ramon's false imprisonment.
Ramon moved to Montana in April, according to the lawsuit, and married his wife in Flathead County in May. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, marriage is one of the most common paths to U.S. residency. In an email to the Missoulian on Thursday, Haque said he is assisting Ramon and his wife with their immigration options.
The Montana Supreme Court has yet to make a ruling on the legality of immigration detainers in the state. In December, the state high court dismissed a petition to release a Mexican immigrant who was held on a detainer, finding the issue was moot since he had come into custody of the Department of Homeland Security, and the question of whether Gallatin County officials were holding him illegally had passed.
The Montana Attorney General's Office filed an amicus brief in that case supporting the detainer, and called the petition a "thinly veiled request" for the court to void federal immigration law. Attorney General Tim Fox argued that Montana law did authorize Gallatin County Detention Center officials to honor the immigration detainer.
Rate argued Thursday that the detainers aren't reviewed by an independent judge, and that denying prisoners the right to pre-trial release violates the state constitution.