A spokeswoman for L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, shown earlier this month,… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on behalf of people who say they were denied bail for minor offenses after being flagged by immigration authorities.
British filmmaker Duncan Roy, who says he spent nearly three months in L.A. County jails without a chance to post bail, is one of the five plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which will be filed today in U.S. District Court.
Roy was arrested Nov. 15 in Malibu on an extortion charge. He was in the country legally but was identified as a suspected illegal immigrant through a federal program called Secure Communities, which sends the fingerprints of all arrestees through an immigration database.
Sheriff's Department officials rejected Roy's repeated efforts to post $35,000 bail, citing a detention order by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the lawsuit alleges.
The ACLU and other plaintiffs' attorneys say the bail denials have been a blanket practice by the Sheriff's Department, affecting thousands of people who are subjected to ICE holds in local jails. The lawsuit notes that the denials may have ceased in the last week.
A Baca spokeswoman said she had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on its specifics. She disputed the charge that the Sheriff's Department has denied bail to anyone because of ICE holds.
"If you are able to post bail — say it's $10,000 — and you're an immigrant from wherever. With or without an ICE hold, we accept that," said the spokeswoman, Nicole Nishida.
A report by prison expert James Austin cites data from Baca's office indicating that at least 20,000 Los Angeles County inmates, nearly all of them Latino males, were subjected to ICE holds in 2011.
As many as 17 other counties, including Orange, San Bernardino, Sacramento and San Diego, also allegedly deny bail for defendants with ICE holds, according to John Bench, president of the Golden State Bail Agents Assn.
"The principle of bail is something so fundamental, that you shouldn't be held until you're found guilty," said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU attorney involved in the lawsuit.
The dangerous conditions in the nation's largest jail system, which will be overseen by a special monitor after a scathing report by a blue ribbon panel, add "insult to injury" for anyone detained unnecessarily, Pasquarella added.
The Obama administration's deportation policies, which rely on cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, have come under fire in California. Legislation that would have prohibited sheriffs and police departments from enforcing ICE holds in most cases was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month.
Denying bail to arrestees would go above and beyond Secure Communities, which requires only that local law enforcement agencies honor the 48-hour ICE holds.
Alain Martinez-Perez, another plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, was arrested in December following a domestic dispute. He spent several days behind bars while his cousin's efforts to post bail were rejected because he was under an immigration hold, the lawsuit says.
"People should not be abused in this way," Martinez-Perez, a 37-year-old immigrant from Mexico, said in an interview. "The law should reflect the need to protect all people. We come to America to make better lives, not to be abused and treated differently from others."