In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, photo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows foreign nationals being arrested this week during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aimed at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens in Los Angeles. Immigrant advocates on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, decried a series of arrests that federal deportation agents said aimed to round up criminals in Southern California but they believe mark a shift in enforcement under the Trump administration. (Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

US Immigration policy has always been a challenging topic, but now, under President Donald Trump it has become a hot button divisive issue.

Beginning with his presidential campaign, Trump has repeatedly vowed to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to build a wall along the US border with Mexico. Trump’s stance has included racist remarks from the start referring to Mexico and Mexican immigrants as “bringing crime, bringing drugs” and “rapists.” He’s denounced immigrants as coming from “s**thole countries.”

Just days after taking office, Trump also signed a sweeping executive order that allows most undocumented immigrants to be prioritized for deportation. This order may have been viewed as a bright green light for both the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), and set them into action to aggressively seek out anyone whose citizenship may be questioned.

This may be the case for Sylmar youth football coach Raymond Torres, who was targeted, tracked and recently arrested by ICE officials after dropping off his son at school. Torres — whose family brought him to the US at age 2 and who grew up in the San Fernando Valley but is not a citizen — was released on bail but is still threatened with deportation.

But a successful pair of lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) may have, at least temporarily, slowed down those agencies’ efforts — and may force them to change their tactics.  

A federal judge has ruled in favor of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California that provided evidence that both ICE and LASD have unlawfully detained thousands of suspected immigrants and denied them bail even for minor offenses on the basis of unconstitutional requests from ICE known as immigration detainers, according to court papers obtained by City News Service.

The Feb. 7 ruling issued by US District Judge Andre Birotte Jr., will enable affected persons to seek both injunctive relief and monetary damages as a result of the suits brought by the ACLU Foundation and other civil rights groups.

“The court’s decision vindicates years of work by the Los Angeles immigrant community to challenge the Sheriff’s Department’s abuses and throws a major wrench in the Trump administration’s deportation machine,” said Jessica Bansal, litigation director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, after the Birotte announced his ruling.

“Together with the recently enacted California Values Act, this decision is proof that Trump’s assault on immigrants faces stiff — and effective — opposition in the streets, the state legislatures and the courts.”

The court’s decision is based in two separate lawsuits: Roy v. County of Los Angeles, and Gonzalez v. ICE.Birotte’s ruling holds the sheriff’s department liable for violating the Fourth Amendment rights of thousands of inmates it detained without probable cause of any crime, including some who were held for days after they should have been released.

It also holds that the department unconstitutionally incarcerated thousands of individuals with low bail amounts who would not even have been booked into jail if it were not for unconstitutional immigration detainers.

Members of both classes may be entitled to monetary damages, according to court papers.

“For years, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the largest law enforcement agency in the United States, callously denied immigrants constitutional protections that universally apply to all other jail detainees — unjustifiably holding them without cause as prisoners,” said civil rights attorney Lindsay Battles.

“This decision holds law enforcement agencies accountable for their anti-immigrant, abuse of their authority.”

A sheriff’s spokeswoman released the following statement: “The department is currently engaged in ongoing litigation regarding this lawsuit, we can’t get into specifics. However, we can indicate that this lawsuit, which was filed in 2012, involved past practices.

“Currently, the Sheriff’s Department does not detain any inmate beyond their normal release date regardless of whether or not there is a valid ICE detainer. This has been the standard practice since 2014.”

The court also ruled that ICE’s practice of issuing detainers based on evidence of a person’s foreign place of birth and no other information about a person’s citizenship or immigration status violates the Fourth Amendment. It also holds that its practice of issuing detainers without obtaining an administrative warrant violates its own statutory arrest authority.

The decision entitles a national class of people currently subject to immigration detainers to relief from their detainers. The court further found that factual issues about certain detainer-related practices of ICE and LASD would require a trial. No date has yet been set in the case.

British filmmaker Duncan Roy filed suit in October 2012, alleging he spent nearly three months in Los Angeles County jails without a chance to post bail. “This decision is a victory for the constitutional rights of both citizens and non-citizens alike who for years have been subject to unlawful arrest and detention due to ICE’s immigration requests,” said Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights and senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.

“As the highly polemical ‘sanctuary city’ debate continues, this decision further clarifies that the immigration detainers at the heart of that debate are unlawful and that police who honor them violate the constitution.”