A Louisiana Sheriff's Office recently held a 37-year-old legal immigrant in a jail cell for five days until they were told by an agent of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office that they were holding him illegally. The man was charged with a crime: operating a vehicle with no lawful presence in the United States, which under Louisiana law carries a sentence of up to $1,000 in fines and a maximum of one year behind bars. When the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's office finally released the man, there remained at least eight other Hispanic inmates at the same jail being held on the same charges.
The legal immigrant and his wife were returning home after a Christmas shopping trip. According to a representative of an immigration support group, the police pulled the couple over for no legitimate reason, although police claim their vehicle did not have properly functioning tail lights. According to the wife, when she asked a deputy why they were taking her husband, the officer just looked at her and walked away.
The man ended up spending Christmas in the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center under $10,000 bond and an immigration hold. The wife declared in an interview that she and her husband are hard-working individuals pursuing American citizenship who never had problems with the police. She charged that the incident was an injustice to the Hispanic community. The family obtained the man's release after contacting an agent of ICE and Homeland Security. The agent confirmed to authorities that the man was in the country legally and should be released.
When a person is arrested and charged with a crime in Louisiana, it is critical for family members to take the necessary steps to seek information and legal assistance. In some instances, bail may be invalid or exceedingly high, and with appropriate help, it may be reduced by the court. Or, the police may have acted improperly or carried out an unauthorized procedure, such as the immigration hold that this man was subjected to. It is unclear whether the charge of driving without a lawful presence has been dropped, but if it stands the man will eventually present an answer to a court of law. In this case, quick and informed action by family members was vital in curtailing an act of injustice.
Source: The Advocate, "Advocates: Lafayette wrongly jailed immigrant," Jan. 1, 2013