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Class-action lawsuit alleges county jail illegally imprisoning immigrants

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: Jun 06 2013 08:54:01 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 18 2014 12:01:44 PM CDT

Lawsuit against Dona Ana County.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -

Two sisters in Las Cruces are leading a class-action lawsuit against the Dona Ana County Detention Center.

The lawsuit alleges the jail has been keeping immigrants imprisoned illegally, causing them severe emotional and mental trauma.

"I don't want anyone else to go through what me, my daughter and my sister went through," said one of the plaintiffs, Hortencia Acahaua.

Acahua and her sister were arrested on misdemeanor charges in 2012. A judge ruled they could be released on bond. The sisters said when their mother went to pay their bail, a jail employee said they still would not be released.

"These are constitutional rights and they apply to everybody whether you're immigrants, not immigrants, undocumented, citizens, residents, whatever. The Constitution applies," said Jed Unteraker, legal director for the Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Group.

The sisters were held under immigration holds. Under federal law, immigration officials can hold anyone in jail if they question their immigration status.

Acahua's attorney said both sisters had filed applications to become legal in the U.S. before their arrests.

Acahua's attorney said that law only applies for 48 hours. Acahua and her sister were kept in jail for two months.

"I was scared because the other inmates fight. They were trying to sexually abuse me on two occasions. I didn't feel safe there," Acahua told ABC-7.

Acahua, a single mother, worried about her 4-year-old daughter while she was in jail.

"It was only me and my daughter and I'm responsible for her: her education, her food, everything. She depends on me," she said.

County spokesman Jess Williams could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. He did say the jail has improved over the years.

"We're this close to getting accreditation at the national level. This is a facility that's leading the way in New Mexico and other facilities look to us as an example," Williams said.

The lawsuit alleges there are may immigrants being imprisoned illegally at the county jail.

Through the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking an order for the jail to stop this practice and any damages a judge decides they deserve.

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