Suspected illegal immigrants detained by Los Angeles police are routinely turned over to federal immigration authorities, even when they are crime victims, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by two Salvadorans and an immigrant rights group.
Maximino Calderon-Interiano, Moris Anibal Gonzalez Centeno and the Central American Refugee Center, a legal and social services agency, sued Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and several supervisors and officers, seeking unspecified damages and a court order declaring the department's alleged practice illegal.
The suit said the center contacted police for help last year after learning that smugglers were holding Calderon, 29, and 26 other undocumented immigrants at a house in South-Central Los Angeles, demanding $1,000 ransom each.
Police arrived, and Calderon and the others soon were in a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service detention center, the suit said.
"I begged the police not to turn him over to the INS," said Madeline Janis, the center's executive director.
Janis, also one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said the "actions of police in effectively arresting victims of crime and turning them over to the INS has made it essentially impossible for us to adequately represent a client."
Centeno was arrested--but not charged--in May, 1990, the suit said. He was about to be released when officers decided to call INS agents, who took him to the detention center, the lawsuit alleged. As a result, it said, he lost his job.
The suit contends that Calderon and Centeno were deprived of their civil rights and were subjected to false arrest and imprisonment and emotional distress.
City officials have contended that Los Angeles does not have a policy of turning suspected undocumented aliens over to the INS.
A Police Department spokesman said Tuesday that he could not comment on a pending suit.