County seeks to enjoin feds in immigration lawsuit

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Attorneys representing the San Juan County Board of Commissioners have requested that the U.S. government become involved in a lawsuit challenging the detainment of undocumented immigrants at San Juan County Adult Detention Center.

The county's attorneys argue in a motion filed in federal court Tuesday that the class-action lawsuit, which was filed in November, challenges federal policies and procedures, and could have far-reaching implications if successful.

Therefore, the plaintiffs should also sue the U.S. government so that it can respond to the allegations, the motion states.

Currently, the lawsuit names the Board of Commissioners and jail administrator Tom Havel as defendants. San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen was initially named in the lawsuit, but he was dropped as a plaintiff on Jan. 13.

The lawsuit in question was filed in November by three Mexican nationals who were held at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2012 and 2014.

The plaintiffs argue that the jail violated their civil rights by detaining them for minor violations at the request of ICE. They are seeking unspecified damages.

Albuquerque attorney P. Scott Eaton is representing the Board of Commissioners and Havel in the lawsuit.

He said via email that he believes that the federal government should be a party to the lawsuit so that it can defend its policies.

"The county did not initiate the detention of these plaintiffs," he said. "The county was simply doing what the federal government asked it to do in the interests of national security and public safety."

The plaintiffs are being represented by Santa Fe attorney Kristina Martinez. She has not yet filed a response to the motion in court and could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Eaton argues in the motion that the county is required by federal law to detain undocumented immigrants identified by the federal government.

He said the county is also paid by the federal government to detain persons on behalf of ICE and the U.S. Marshal's Service.

In 2012, Illinois' Cook County adopted an ordinance that directed the sheriff to decline immigration detainer requests, according to the motion.

In response, ICE threatened to withdraw millions of dollars in federal funding provided to the county, the motion states.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.