Court Forbids Detaining Unauthorized Immigrants on Suspicion of Their Status Alone

One day in 2008, Roxana Orellana Santos, a Salvadoran mother of three here without proper documentation, was sitting outside of her workplace eating a sandwich. Two police officers approached her, determined that she was here illegally, and immediately arrested and detained her in jail for 45 days.

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court ruled that those officers did not have the right to arrest her.

The ruling comes as a firm answer to exactly how federal immigration law can be enforced today. There has been a good amount of confusion among state and local authorities concerning precisely how they can enforce federal laws regarding unauthorized immigrants.

In Alabama, officers have been accused of harassing unauthorized immigrants and profiling those they think might be here without proper documentation.

Said the court, after a lengthy investigation into the encounter between Roxana and the two police officers in 2008: “We hold that, absent express direction or authorization by federal officials, state and local law enforcement officers may not detain or arrest an individual solely based on known or suspected civil violations of federal immigration law.”

Roxana had tried to get up from her bench as she was being questioned and walk away. It was at this point that she was seized by the officers.

The court has established a precedent that even though certain immigrants may be here without authorization, they are still protected under the United States Constitution. (Roxana’s protection from unreasonable search and seizure was the right violated by the two officers).