Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

$145,000 Settlement for U.S. Citizen Held on Immigration Detainer due to Racial Profiling

$145,000 Settlement for U.S. Citizen Held on Immigration Detainer due to Racial Profiling

An American citizen who was racially profiled and held in jail on an immigration detainer has reached settlements totaling $145,000 with three government agencies in a civil rights lawsuit.

Ernesto Galarza was arrested in Allentown, Pennsylvania with three other men after one of them sold cocaine to an undercover agent. He was charged following his November 20, 2008 arrest with conspiracy to deliver cocaine, and was acquitted in 2010 after a jury trial.

Galarza, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, was the only naturalized citizen among the four arrestees. The arrest report listed his place of birth as Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Upon being booked into jail, Galarza had on his person his Pennsylvania driver’s license, a social security card, a debit card and a health insurance card.

Although the Lehigh County Prison never faxed a special form to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) concerning Galarza, a records office clerk included him on a fax listing new jail commitments. ICE then placed a detainer on him and listed him as an “alien” from the Dominican Republic.

A surety company posted bond for Galarza, but the detainer held him in jail for three more days. Lehigh County Prison officials refused to verify his citizenship or look at the documents in his wallet. It was not until Galarza was interviewed by two ICE agents that the detainer was removed, but he was not released from jail for 6 hours after the removal. The extra time in detention caused Galarza to lose a part-time job.

“I was shocked and upset that they assumed I am an immigrant. No one bothered to check or ask me about it. It’s clear that the only reason they decided I’m Dominican is because I’m Latino,” Galarza stated. “I was born in New Jersey, and I’m a proud American. This isn’t how Americans should be treated. It’s like getting slapped in the face.”

Allentown and ICE each agreed to pay Galarza $25,000 to settle his subsequent lawsuit. The district court dismissed Lehigh County as a defendant in 2012, finding the county’s policy of holding defendants for immigration matters was “nondiscriminatory and mandated by federal regulations.”

“An immigration detainer is not a court order,” countered Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU, which represented Galarza. “It just says ‘we’re investigating this guy.’ We think Lehigh County, because it humored the immigration detainer, is equally responsible for keeping Mr. Galarza in jail for three days he shouldn’t have spent in jail.”

In April 2013, Lehigh County adopted a resolution that jail officials will notify federal agencies when detainees will be released, but will not hold them for a federal agency “unless the Lehigh County Department of Corrections receives a judicially-issued detainer, warrant or order.”

On March 21, 2014, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Galarza’s claims against the county. See: Galarza v. Szalczyk, 745 F.3d 634 (3d Cir. 2014). Following remand, Lehigh County agreed to settle the case in May 2014 for $95,000, inclusive of attorney fees and costs. See: Galarza v. Szalczyk,U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 5:10-cv-06815-JKG.


Additional sources: The Morning Call, Fox News Latino


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal cases

Galarza v. Szalczyk

Galarza v. Szalczyk