Contact: Jana Kooren, jkooren@aclu-mn.org651-485-5925 (cell), 651-529-1693 (office)

St. Paul, MinnNobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening is exceeding his authority under Minnesota law by refusing to release prisoners who have posted bond, completed their sentence, or otherwise resolved their criminal case, according to a class action lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

Minnesota sheriffs have no legal authority to enforce federal immigration law. Nevertheless, according to the ACLU-MN lawsuit, Sheriff Wilkening has unlawfully imprisoned individuals without a warrant—for days, weeks, and even months—without probable cause of a crime, and without any other valid legal authority. These detentions occurred solely at the behest of ICE, which requested the detentions for potential civil immigration violations.

“Minnesota law sets the limits of a sheriff’s power, and only allows a sheriff to deprive someone of their liberty when there is probable cause that person committed a crime.  There is no state law authority to imprison someone for suspected civil violations of federal immigration law,” said Norman Pentelovitch of Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie P.A. “When individuals like the named Plaintiffs have posted bond or resolved their criminal cases, Sheriff Wilkening is required to release them.  His failure to do so violates the civil rights of these Minnesotans.”

The lawsuit names four individual plaintiffs, who were all unlawfully detained in the past year. As a class action, it also seeks to represent the scores of other unnamed immigrants who have been unlawfully detained and who will be unlawfully detained in the future unless the court grants relief.

In 2014, ACLU of Minnesota sent a letter to all County Sheriffs explaining that when they hold a prisoner on the basis of ICE detainer requests, they are making a new arrest, without legal authority.  Subsequently the ACLU-MN filed and settled a lawsuit against the Nobles County Sheriff for unlawfully detaining its client, Jose Lopez-Orellana.

“Nobles County officials have shown us time and time again that they believe they can flout the law and trample over immigrants’ rights,” stated ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “We sued over unlawful detention before and won a settlement for our client, yet here we are again. It is far past time for Nobles County to stop this immoral and unlawful behavior. These people continue to waste taxpayers’ time and resources by wrongly detaining scores of immigrants.”

The ACLU-MN’s class action seeks a declaratory judgment and an injunction on behalf of all current and future prisoners who are the subject of ICE detainers. The complaint estimates that scores of people have been unlawfully detained since 2017.

Plaintiffs are represented by Ian Bratlie and Teresa Nelson from ACLU of Minnesota and Norman Pentelovitch of Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie P.A.