A judge ruled this week that it would be illegal to deport an illegal alien after he was detained by immigration officials following a court appearance for a protection order.
In October, Miguel Angel Reynaga Hernandez, a 40-year-old construction worker living in Billings, Missouri, appeared in court alongside his wife pursuing a civil protection order against another person.
Reynaga Hernandez was in court to testify on his wife’s behalf but before he was able to do so, a witness from the opposing side told the judge that Reynaga Hernandez was in the country illegally.
“Call me a deputy. I have two illegals sitting outside, I want them picked up. Call,” said Judge Pedro Hernandez.
Reynaga Hernandez, Mexican-born, was removed and later detained by federal immigration authorities.
The deputy had asked Hernandez for identification and questioned if he was in the U.S. legally, but Reynaga Hernandez refused to answer. Reynaga Hernandez’s wife said she was born and raised in Billings.
On Monday, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project group alleged that the judge acted unlawfully.
The immigrant rights group accused Judge Pedro Hernandez of exercising outside of his power when he initiated Reynaga’s arrest.
On Friday, the group sued the judge and Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Deputy Derrek Skinner on Reynaga’s behalf in federal court. Deportation proceedings against Reynaga were dismissed based on Reynaga’s unlawful arrest, according to an order from Immigration Judge John Odell in Tacoma, Washington.
“If a county or city sticks its nose into federal immigration matters, they are going to be held liable. Their job is to serve the community, not to help out their federal immigration authority buddies,” said Matt Adams, an attorney with the Seattle-based group.
Reynaga’s case is the first of this nature that he is aware of, Adams said.
President Donald Trump has encouraged law enforcement agencies to turn over suspects to federal immigration officials. However, it has been suggested that this not take place at state courthouses for reasons of intimidating victims and witnesses.
On Monday, Hernandez said he was not served with a lawsuit. The Associated Press reported that Hernandez said he recalled the case and was obligated as a judge to report that Reynaga was an illegal immigrant.
“When the court is notified that something’s illegal, we are supposed to notify authorities. That’s the function of the court,” Hernandez said.
In November, Hernandez retired after 42 years on the bench.
Reynaga argues that he was never told why he was being arrested and wasn’t advised of his rights. The national criminal database turned up no arrest warrants for Reynaga.
Hernandez did not issue a warrant before ordering Deputy Skinner to make the arrest, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for emotional and economic harm that Reynaga underwent from being detained for three months. It also asks for acknowledgment that the court was in error by detaining Reynaga just for being suspected of being an illegal immigrant.