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Sheriff Accused of Abusing Immigration Holds

ALBUQUERQUE (CN) - A sheriff in northern New Mexico abuses federal "immigration holds" to hold Mexicans in jail for far longer than the legal limit of 48 hours, a federal class action claims.

Lead plaintiff Moncerrath Gutierrez sued the San Juan County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Ken Christesen on Nov. 19 in Federal Court. Also named as plaintiffs are Somos un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant rights group, and another man and a woman.

San Juan County is in north central New Mexico. The county seat is Aztec and its largest town is Farmington.

The "immigration hold" is intended to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement time to determine whether to take of custody of people about to be released from detention. The detainer, known as an I-247, is headed: "Maintain Custody of Alien for a Period not to Exceed 48 Hours," according to the complaint.

But plaintiff Susana Palacios-Valencia claims the sheriff jailed her for 10 days on an immigration detainer, after an officer ran her information during a routine traffic stop where she was a passenger and found that she had an unpaid ticket for driving without insurance. She claims she was kept in jail even after she paid the ticket.

Such treatment is commonplace in San Juan County, the plaintiffs say.

They seek an injunction and damages for civil rights violations.

They are represented by John Bienvenu, with of Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dalstrom, Shoenburg & Bienvenu, of Santa Fe.

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