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ACLU threatens lawsuit at Salt Lake County Jail for holding illegal immigrants too long

Published: Friday, July 22 2011 5:16 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Enrique Uroza has lived in the United States since he was 3.

Today, he is a 22-year-old college student at Weber State University. Until last September, outside of a minor traffic ticket, he had no criminal history.

In September 2010, he was charged in 3rd District Court with three counts of forgery and two counts of theft by deception, third-degree felonies.

During a June 13 hearing, a judge ordered Uroza to be booked into jail on $5,000 bail. He posted bail just 10 minutes later. But he remained in the Salt Lake County Jail for nearly six weeks until Friday, when he was picked up by immigration officials and moved to another Utah jail.

Now, a battle is brewing over the length of time people suspected of being illegal immigrants can be held in the Salt Lake County Jail.

The American Civil Liberties Union says it is planning to sue the jail, possibly as early as next week, for illegally detaining inmates.

Darcy Goddard, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, says the jail has a policy of holding people behind bars — even after they've posted bail — to give U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials time to determine whether the person being held is in the U.S. illegally and if they want to take action.

The immigration holds result in some people being held in the jail 48 hours longer than than they would otherwise be released — and in some cases like Uroza's, even longer, Goddard said.

She believes it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

But Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said Thursday that the jail recently abandoned that policy because of ongoing discussions with advisers. Now, if someone is able to post bail, they will be released immediately and will not be held longer to give ICE officials time to look at them.

In Uroza's case, after he was booked into jail and posted bail, an extended hold was placed on him to give immigration officials time to look at him. About 24 hours later, ICE placed an official immigration detainer on him, according to the ACLU. That gained them 48 hours to determine whether they were going to take action.

But immigration officials didn't come until more than a month later. And Uroza stayed in jail the entire time, even though on Thursday, a judge ordered his immediate release while not dismissing the case against him.

Winder said the federal hold was still on Uroza even though the state hold was dismissed. That's why he was not released immediately from jail.

Uroza's attorney, Deborah Levi, said her client was "overwhelmed" by being held in jail for so long.

"The jail is acting like a vigilante immigration authority," she said.

His mother and brother tearfully described Friday how difficult the situation has been on Enrique, a gymnastics and cheerleading coach, and their entire family.

The policy of holding inmates was started because of SB81, Winder said.

"There's a section of the law that requires us to make a 'reasonable effort' to ensure individuals who may be here illegally are reviewed for their status," he said.

Because of the staffing situation of ICE, Winder said it is sometimes impossible for immigration officials to immediately review an inmate's status. The result of that was the jail used to hold some inmates longer.

"The whole issue is there are so few ICE agents," he said.

The inmates who were held for an extended period were identified by jail officers asking them directly if they were a U.S. citizen, Winder said. If they said 'no,' they were given an extended hold for ICE officials.

But now, Winder said the Salt Lake County Jail will no longer do that. He noted it may ultimately be an issue for the Utah Legislature.

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