Máxima Guerrero is pictured outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in central Phoenix on June 1, 2020. Guerrero was arrested while she was a legal observer of a #BlackLivesMatter demonstration on May 30. She and three others who were arrested that night now face deportation. Photo courtesy Diego Lozano/Facebook
Sheriff Paul Penzone delayed the release of Máxima Guerrero from the Maricopa County Fourth Avenue Jail last year to accommodate a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrest, in contradiction with Penzone’s stated practice and in violation of Guerrero’s constitutional rights, according to a federal lawsuit she filed Monday.
Guerrero, an entrepreneur and community organizer for migrant communities, was arrested and falsely charged with a felony for rioting following a May 2020 protest in downtown Phoenix denouncing the deaths of George Floyd, Dion Johnson and other Black Americans who died at the hands of police.
While she was processed for her arrest at a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office jail, federal immigration agents — who interview every person that is arrested and taken for processing at any of the MCSO jails — placed a custody transfer request (known as immigration detainer) on Guerrero. She has temporary protection from deportation and a work permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but the detainer meant ICE would arrest her and place her in deportation proceedings.
In jail, Guerrero and a group of women she was arrested with appeared in front of a county judge at around 8 p.m.. The judge dismissed their cases because there was no evidence to support a probable cause for arrest, and they were ordered released.
Around midnight, the other women were freed from county jail, but Guerrero was not. Instead, she was held until around 2 a.m., when ICE agents arrested her inside of the jail, nearly 24 hours after Phoenix police had arrested her, according to the lawsuit.
“(Guerrero) was unlawfully arrested and detained by MCSO solely based on an immigration detainer,” the lawsuit against Penzone and Maricopa County alleges. “This detainer was not supported by probable cause and Ms. Guerrero Sanchez was not served with an immigration detainer, nor was she afforded an opportunity to be heard about why it was unlawful.”
The lawsuit alleges Penzone and the county violated Guerrero’s constitutional rights that protect her from unreasonable searches and seizures and prohibit the deprivation of liberty without due process of law. It also argues Guerrero was subject to false imprisonment under Arizona law. The lawsuit requests compensatory and punitive damages in “an amount to be determined at trial” for the alleged constitutional violations and the physical, mental and emotional injuries Penzone and the county caused Guerrero.
The Phoenix Police Department, which initially arrested Guerrero, later said confusion on the paperwork process led to mistaken felony charges for Guerrero and others. County and city prosecutors declined to pursue any civil or criminal charges.
But because of the arrest, she faced deportation proceedings and was nearly transferred to an immigration detention center with spiking COVID-19 cases, but community advocacy successfully secured her release from ICE custody.
In a Twitter post with a photo of the title of the lawsuit, Guerrero referenced her time campaign with Bazta Arpaio, a group that in 2016 mobilized Maricopa County voters to oust infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Penzone, a Democrat, won that election. He was reelected last year.
One day you’re canvassing in 110+ degree heat over the AZ summer to shift the electorate to elect a democratic sheriff, the next, he sends you to ICE and continues unnecessary collaboration w/ICE in his jail. #arizona pic.twitter.com/OkF2flKEzo
— Máxima Guerrero (@MaximaGuerrero) June 2, 2021
At the beginning of his term in 2017, Penzone announced that MCSO would no longer honor immigration “courtesy holds,” which keep people with immigration detainers in county jail longer to give ICE agents time to arrest them.
“To be clear, we do not accept nor facilitate ICE administrative detention requests, also known as ‘courtesy holds’. At the time of lawful release, and no different than every other inmate processed through our jail system, detainees deemed by ICE to be unlawfully in the country are re-contacted by ICE personnel and are taken into their custody inside the jail and then immediately transported by ICE from our facility to their own destination,” an MCSO spokesman told the Arizona Mirror in 2019.
Guerrero’s claim in federal court shows otherwise.
The presence of ICE agents inside MCSO jails is a practice not required by any state or federal law. It is a collaboration that originated at a time when Arpaio and his deputies were found to be racially profiling Latinos.
Community groups for years have advocated for MCSO to no longer allow ICE agents in its jails. Penzone, and the Maricopa County Democratic Party that pushed for his reelection, stand by the practice.
Penzone, like his predecessor, is facing contempt charges in a racial profiling case, the Assosciated Press reported Thursday.
Clarification: A previous version of this story stated Guerrero seeks $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Guerrero is requesting the amount sought in damages to be determined by trial.
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