Lehigh Valley

ACLU fights for Ernesto Galarza, Allentown man detained on illegal immigration charges

ACLU fights for man detained on illegal immigration charges

PHILADELPHIA - A court decision involving an Allentown man who was wrongfully detained as an illegal immigrant in Lehigh County Prison may have an impact on a national level.

In November 2008, Ernesto Galarza was mistakenly picked up by Allentown police during a routine drug sweep.

After posting bail, Galarza was detained for three days with no idea why. His attorneys said ICE had issued a detainment for him, after getting a call from an Allentown investigator.

"He is Latino, he was arrested with several other Latino men and we alleged that the local police detective based on racial profiling, called ICE on him" said Katherine Desormeau, staff attorney with the ACLU.

Turned out, Galarza is a US citizen of Puerto Rican descent, born in New Jersey. His attorneys said his Social Security card and license were in his wallet when he was arrested, and when ICE officials realized their mistake, he was let go.

Since then, Galarza has sued the city of Allentown, two ICE agents, the investigator who called him in and Lehigh County. Every party has settled except for the county.

On Thursday, both sides were heard in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. One of the major questions asked in court was whether Lehigh County thought it was obligated to keep Mr. Galarza in custody due to the detainer.

However it's unconstitutional for the federal government to require any local government to do its bidding. "That's been decided by the Supreme Court since 1997, that the federal government can't tell a local law enforcement agency 'please do our work for us, you must do our work for us'.  It can ask for assistance but it can't command it," said Desormeau.

Attorneys representing the county said the question regarding 'requirement versus request' in regards to the detainer was never part of Galarza's lawsuit which could in the end be to their advantage.

The panel of judges has taken the case under advisement.

This Week's Circulars

Lehigh Valley News

Latest From The Newsroom