Ramon Mendoza was held for four days for no reason other than being Latino


March 1, 2013

CONTACT: Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091, info@aclunebraska.org


LINCOLN - Yesterday the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska filed suit in federal court on behalf of Ramon Mendoza alleging that Sarpy County Correctional Center unjustifiably and illegally imprisoned a Nebraska resident for four days simply because local law enforcement officials suspected that the man was here in violation of federal immigration laws. The case was brought by Omaha attorneys Denise Frost and Clarence Mock of the firm Johnson & Mock.

"Without any legal authority whatsoever, Sarpy County imprisoned our client for four days with no opportunity to seek counsel and no opportunity to post bail all because they thought he was an illegal alien," said Omaha attorney Denise Frost. "Our fundamental constitutional values prohibit depriving any person of liberty without due process of law."

Ramon Mendoza, a naturalized US citizen, was pulled over in Papillion for 'windshield obstruction' - his son's boxing prize medallion, which was the size of a quarter. Mr. Mendoza was held for four days at the Sarpy County Correctional Center because they thought he might be illegal. His wife, Laura Mendoza, and children were turned away when presenting Mr. Mendoza's proof of citizenship which included his social security card, certificate of citizenship, marriage certificate and U.S. passport.

"Members of Sarpy County's correctional staff referred to my client as 'spic' and 'wetback' along with other derogatory phrases," said Denise Frost.

Upon release, Mr. Mendoza was taken to a hospital and treated for dehydration and emotional distress. He has been diagnosed with PTSD. Due to the experience, Mr. Mendoza and his family moved out of Nebraska. Mrs. Mendoza has become the financial provider for the family due to Mr. Mendoza's ongoing health problems.

"We hope this suit will serve as a wake-up call to law enforcement throughout Nebraska to stop this lawless deprivation of liberty," said Amy Miller, Legal Director for ACLU Nebraska and co-counsel on the lawsuit. "ACLU affiliates around the country have received numerous complaints of abuses like that suffered by Mr. Mendoza. Constitutional guarantees of due process and freedom from unjustified imprisonment are violated when local law enforcement holds someone for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)."

ICE routinely issues immigration detainers to law enforcement agencies around the country as part of various immigration enforcement initiatives, including Secure Communities, the Criminal Alien Program, and 287(g). In addition to causing racial profiling and harming public safety, those initiatives raise the risk that agencies and officers will face increased claims for damages as a result of cases like Mendoza's.

"ICE is issuing detainers by the thousands in an attempt to use state and local police and sheriffs as adjunct federal immigration officers," said Miller. "However, police officers and jailers are always required to obey the Constitution. They simply cannot imprison a person in this way, even if an immigration detainer exists. States and municipalities open themselves to liability when they treat ICE detainers as if they were sentences imposed by a court."