Okanogan County Jail sued over deference to Border Patrol


SPOKANE — A woman says the Okanogan County Jail held her unlawfully based on her immigration status, and she’s suing the jail, the sheriff and the county itself in federal court.

Maria del Rayo Mendoza Garcia, 23, filed suit Wednesday in federal court in Spokane, saying the jail in Okanogan detained her unlawfully because of her status as an undocumented immigrant. Corrections officers held Mendoza for two days at the request of the U.S. Border Patrol, even though a judge in her Douglas County misdemeanor case had already ordered her release.

The suit, led by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Columbia Legal Services, says such detainer requests do not have any legal force, and past court cases have supported their position.

Douglas County sheriff’s deputies arrested Mendoza March 18 on suspicion of fourth-degree assault, and transported her to the Okanogan County Jail, which holds Douglas County suspects under an intergovernmental contract. Her lawsuit alleges a U.S. border Patrol agent interviewed her there two days later, and issued a request to the jail to hold her pending immigration action.

Later that same morning, a Douglas County judge ordered her released on her own recognizance — but Okanogan County jailers allegedly honored the Border Patrol request and held her until March 22 for immigration officers, even though the Border Patrol detainer was not signed by any judge.

The suit says Okanogan County has a broad policy of holding immigrant inmates at Border Patrol request, even when they are eligible for release.

In February, Columbia Legal Services settled a similar lawsuit against Yakima Count, which agreed to modify its own practice of detaining immigration suspects at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE and the Border Patrol are both arms of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.