We filed a lawsuit against Nobles County in 2015 for their anti-immigrant practices. They didn’t listen the first time, so we’re filing another lawsuit.
For residents of Nobles County, there is no denying the county has changed since the 1980s. The county, though still predominately white, experienced a 17 percent increase in its immigrant community over the past three decades. People say the boom in immigration helped save Worthington, Minnesota, the largest city in Nobles County, from becoming what the Pioneer Press referred to as a “ghost town.”
But with its growing immigrant population, Nobles County has seen racial tension increase, as well. Despite the fact that the Nobles County’s crime rate is decreasing, narratives around increases in crime persist—in part due to anti-immigrant stereotypes and bias.
Many immigrant families find Nobles County to be a welcoming place. Others, however, report being pushed out of their communities and homes—not by their neighbors but by the Nobles County Sheriff’s Department.
We’ve heard from countless individuals who reported their rights have been violated by the Nobles County Sheriff’s Department. The routine detaining of individuals and denying their release based solely on requests for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has created a hostile environment for the growing immigrant communities.
Local law enforcement should not be doing the work of federal agencies like ICE. Our federal Constitution and Minnesota Constitution protects the rights of people living in this country, regardless of their immigration status. Holding someone for ICE after they should have been released is not just unconscionable—it’s unlawful.
Nobles County Sheriff Wilkening held people for days, weeks, and even months past when they should have been released. Imagine being kept from your family, friends, and loved ones. Take Rodrigo, for example. He has a green card, but was arrested in April for receiving stolen property. His bond was set, but he and his family were dissuaded by the jail from posting the bond because they would hold him for ICE. After his sentencing, Rodrigo was scheduled for release, but Sheriff Wilkening held him for ICE. He continues to fear being detained without probable cause in the future, despite his lawful status.
The ACLU of Minnesota is working with three other plaintiffs with similar complaints. It’s not the first time we’ve gone up against Nobles County for their unlawful anti-immigration practices. In 2015 the ACLU-MN filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jose Lopez Orellana. Jose was arrested in 2014 for a DWI, he pled guilty and bail was set. When his wife showed up to bail him out, she was turned away and Jose was held for an additional ten days at the Jail for ICE, missing Thanksgiving.
In 2017 the lawsuit was settled. Jose received compensation for his mistreatment and the department agreed to reform their practices. However, the Nobles County Sheriff’s department continues to flout the court's orders so here we are again. This time with a class action lawsuit to remind them that immigrants have constitutional rights, and that Sheriff Wilkening is not above the law.
You don’t have to travel to the U.S. border to see unconscionable acts of family separation. The unlawful detainment of people like Rodrigo and Jose in Nobles County is part of the same anti-immigrant hostility that led to the separation of children from their parents at the border. It’s just as horrific. It’s just as unconstitutional. And we are fighting it.