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County settles immigration lawsuit
County already implemented policy changes for the adult detention center
FARMINGTON — New signs at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center inform inmates that they do not have to talk to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
The signs, which are in both Spanish and English, are one of the changes the county is making following a class action lawsuit, which was settled last week. In addition to the signs, the county has agreed not to proactively inform ICE prior to releasing an inmate, according to county attorney Doug Echols.
The class action lawsuit was filed in 2014 by Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigration rights group, on behalf of immigrants who say their rights were violated by the San Juan County Adult Detention Center. Among these immigrants was one of the original plaintiffs, Susana Palacios-Valencia. Palacios-Valencia was awarded $25,000. Somos Un Pueblo Unido received $15,000.
"These types of collaborations between our local government and ICE make our entire community less safe," said Susana Palacios-Valencia in a press release. "This settlement is proof of what is possible when we come together, organize to defend our rights under the constitution and fight back. We are not afraid to defend our families and community."
More than 190 people who were held at the detention center for three years leading up to the lawsuit were eligible to receive $2,000. Echols said 27 of them came forward. Echols said the county paid a $50,000 deductible and the rest was paid by the county's insurance. The insurance paid about $300,000.
He said the majority of the changes stipulated in the settlement were already made prior to the lawsuit being filed. A series of federal cases ruled that holding inmates for ICE detainers was unconstitutional. Following the recommendations of the New Mexico Association of Counties, San Juan County changed its policy.
"It was easy to agree to not do something we were already not doing," Echols said about the settlement.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.