NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) – A class claims in a federal lawsuit that the Nashville-area government and sheriff are illegally detaining hundreds of immigrants in exchange for cash payments from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Lead plaintiff Abdullah Abriq says in a lawsuit filed Friday in Nashville federal court that he immigrated to the United States on a student visa and has never been arrested or convicted of a crime, but was nevertheless taken into custody by ICE agents on Thursday.
“On April 6, 2017, ICE took custody of the plaintiff pending civil removal proceedings,” the complaint states. “On April 6, 2017, ICE transferred custody of the plaintiff to the defendants at the Davidson County Jail location on Harding Place in Nashville, Tennessee.”
Abriq sued Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall and the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County on behalf of a proposed class of immigrants illegally held there, alleging violations of Fourth Amendment and due process rights.
“For the past five years, the defendants have illegally used Davidson County facilities to detain at least detain hundred, and likely thousands, of immigrants in return for monetary payments from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” the lawsuit states. “The defendants’ unlawful seizure of ICE administrative detainees is unconstitutional and poses serious and continuing harms to the detainees.”
According to the complaint, the Metro Nashville government contracted with ICE from 2007 to 2012 for “pre-custodial law enforcement functions and post-custodial immigration detention functions.”
Under the deal, the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office allegedly agreed to take custody of ICE administrative detainees for $61 per day for each detainee.
After a backlash that included a lawsuit against the local government, its Metro Council allowed the agreement to expire in 2012, but Abriq claims Sheriff Hall has continued to hold administrative detainees for ICE in exchange for federal dollars.
“The defendants have taken custody of, and detained, thousands of administrative detainees over the past five years. This reflects an ongoing custom, policy, and practice of the DCSO to take custody of administrative detainees illegally for ICE in return for cash payments, despite actual knowledge that no lawfully approved [agreement] has been in place since 2012,” the complaint states.
Abriq claims himself and other class members are “being held against their will in a local jail without any written contractual standards in place to protect them.”
“It is not a crime for a removable alien to be present in the United States. Accordingly, removal proceedings are a civil matter, not a criminal one,” the lawsuit states.
Abriq seeks a court order stopping the Metro Nashville government and Sheriff Hall from continuing to hold ICE administrative detainees without lawful authority, like the agreement that expired in 2012. The proposed class is represented by Anthony Orlandi of Branstetter Stranch and Elliot Ozment, both in Nashville.
“The defendants had no power to seize these plaintiff[s] in the first place. They have no power to hold them now,” the complaint states.
The sheriff's department said in a statement that it believes its actions are lawful.
"The Nashville-Davidson County Sheriff’s Office has been housing ICE/federal inmates since an Inter-Governmental Service Agreement (IGSA) was approved by the Metropolitan Council more than 20 years ago (1996)," it said. "We believe this gives the sheriff’s office authority to continue the practice of housing ICE/federal inmates. If the plaintiff’s lawsuit is successful, it will result in the immediate removal of ICE inmates from Davidson County; it will not stop removals. This will create an even greater hardship on local immigrant families."
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