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November 2, 2023

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The ACLU of Virginia and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition secured the release of a man who has been detained for seven months without being charged with a single immigration violation.

“The primary issue in this case is whether ICE can arrest and detain people without charge, and the answer is clear: that's illegal,” said Evan Benz, Senior Attorney with the Immigration Impact Lab at Capital Area Immigrants’ Right Coalition. “It should not have taken our lawsuit to release our client to his wife and family.”

The Henry County Sheriff’s Office unlawfully imprisoned Eduardo Guerrero Ortiz for seven months in its local jail at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Mr. Ortiz was transferred to Henry County from ICE detention based on a court order from the Henry County Circuit Court to appear at a hearing.

Yet both ICE and Henry County denied responsibility for his imprisonment. The Henry County Sheriff testified that based on an immigration detainer and an ICE warrant, he wouldn’t release Mr. Ortiz from his custody. The Henry County Circuit Court agreed with the sheriff that Mr. Ortiz was being detained by the federal government, and that the court had no authority to release him.

But during the seven months that Mr. Ortiz was ostensibly held on behalf of ICE, ICE did not provide Mr. Ortiz with any documents charging him with a single immigration violation. In fact, at a hearing four months into Mr. Ortiz's detention, an ICE supervisory deportation officer testified that Mr. Ortiz did not have a pending immigration case.

The result was that Mr. Ortiz was in legal limbo. With Henry County insisting that it had no authority to release Mr. Ortiz and ICE refusing to make immigration charges against him or initiate removal proceedings, Mr. Ortiz was trapped, held for seven months on behalf of an agency that said it did not have a case against him and a Sheriff’s Office that said it had no authority to release him.

"Although we’re relieved that our client is finally free, he should never have been illegally imprisoned in the first place,” said Sophia Gregg, Immigrants’ Rights Attorney for the ACLU of Virginia. “This is what happens when localities cooperate with ICE: they become complicit in violating people’s civil rights.”

Mr. Ortiz's detention was a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act and a violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Due process guarantees all people physically within the United States “free[dom] from detention that is arbitrary and capricious.” Mr. Ortiz's detention was both.

The ACLU of Virginia and CAIR Coalition are committed to protecting the civil rights of immigrants in Virginia. We will continue to vindicate violations of the rights of people like Mr. Ortiz and others who are illegally detained.