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Near Deportation Shows Need to Act, ACLU Says

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) - Immigration officials announced that they will stop trying to deport a mother who faced deportation after her dogs allegedly barked too much and got her arrested.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, closed its case Friday against 38-year-old farm worker and mother of three Ruth Montano.

Its decision came a few days after the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California released a video of Montano's case with Cuentame, a Latino organization that raises awareness about social justice issues via social media.

Applauding the announcement, the ACLU said Wednesday that Montano should never have been arrested or faced deportation "in the first place."

"Had the Trust Act been in place, Ruth never would have faced deportation over her barking dogs in the first place," ACLU attorney Jennie Pasquarella said in a statement, using the nickname for Assembly Bill 1081.

Proposed by California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, the measure sought to fix problems with the much maligned deportation program Secure Communities, or S-Comm.

The government presented Secure Communities to the public as a way to let state and local law enforcement share criminal fingerprint databases with the FBI and ICE, which would make it easier to deport undocumented immigrants believed to have committed serious crimes.

Critics have slammed the program as "error-prone," however, noting that people get entered in the system for minor offenses.

Under the Trust Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed in October 2012, local law enforcement have been able to respond to ICE detainer requests that apply to people convicted of a serious or violent felony. It would also give local officials discretion to detain people for ICE if they are formally charged with a serious or violent felony.

Brown had claimed that the bill had too many flaws, such as barring "local cooperation even when the person arrested has been convicted of certain crimes involving child abuse, drug trafficking, selling weapons, using children to sell drugs, or gangs."

Pasquarella, the ACLU lawyer, disputed this reasoning in the Wednesday statement.

"The reality remains that most people facing deportation are quietly torn from their families without the opportunity to gain the public support that Ruth's [Montano's] case generated," Pasquarella said.

Assemblyman Ammiano reintroduced the Trust Act in December, and Pasquarella said Brown's endorsement is critically needed.

Montano, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in the United States for 14 years, was arrested at her home in East Bakersfield after neighbors complained that her dogs were barking too loudly, the ACLU said.

In the ACLU video, Montano described how she and her three children had returned to their Bakersfield, Calif., home from the store at around 10:15 p.m. on Dec. 31. She said she approached the home and found it surrounded by half a dozen patrol cars. Two sheriff's deputies then allegedly came from around back and scolded them for not answering the door.

Montano said one of the deputies informed her that her two small dogs were creating a "disturbance" by barking loudly. She said the other deputy then came very close, and started swearing at her and her children, calling them "trash" and saying "Shut up. I'm going to arrest you."

When Montano asked why he was going to arrest her and insisted she had done nothing wrong, the deputy allegedly asked her how long she had lived in the United States and taunted her for not speaking English.

Montano said the deputies then grabbed her, threw her against a patrol car and arrested her while her children watched, scared and crying.

In an article for the Bakersfield Eyewitness News, which the Justice for Immigrants Coalition posted on its website, Jose Gaspar reported that Montano denies claims from the police report that she "became agitated, kicked a deputy and resisted arrest."

The deputies charged Montaño with a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest and keeping a noisy animal. Though the noisy animal charge was eventually dropped, Montano reportedly pleaded guilty to resisting arrest so she could care for her children.

While Montano sat in jail, ICE placed an immigration detainer, or hold, on her. The ACLU said it did this despite having previously announced that it would no longer issue detainers for people without criminal histories.

Though the deputies allegedly should have released Montano after 48 hours, the ACLU said that the Kern County Sheriff's Office denied her bail and held her for over a week so ICE agents could take her into their custody.

Pasquarella said prejudice against immigrants played a huge role in Montano's case. The deputies made an arrest that "had no basis in the law because they knew that if they arrested her, it could possibly result in deportation," she said in the video.

Montano blamed racism against Hispanics for her ordeal, and urged the governor to to protect other immigrants from going through similarly nightmares experiences by signing the Trust Act.

"Given my experience, I believe that the governor needs to take seriously the fact that police are treating Hispanics differently knowing that any arrest they make can lead to deportation," Montano said through the ACLU's statement. "The governor should sign the TRUST Act so that no one else has to live through what I and so many other immigrants have experienced."

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