Photo: Allegheny County Jail, PA
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Angelica Davila, a U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico and legally immigrated to this country at the age of 2 with her parents. After being stopped for a minor traffic violation in 2011, Davila was arrested and imprisoned in the Allegheny County Jail overnight based on the erroneous belief she was in the country illegally.
“This is a blatant example of ethnic profiling,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The police had no reason to check Ms. Davila’s immigration status for a routine traffic stop when her paperwork was in order. The police questioned her status only because of her ethnicity and that of her passenger.”
On the evening of January 22, 2011, Davila and a friend, Joel Garrete, were pulled over on Perry Highway in Wexford shortly after exiting the parking lot of a Mexican grocery store. Davila, a legally licensed driver in Pennsylvania, had forgotten to turn on her headlights. She provided her license, proof of registration, and insurance the Northern Regional Police Department. The officer also demanded identification from her friend and asked if he was in the country legally.
A native of Honduras, Garrete admitted he was not lawfully present. Bienemann then called the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to check on the status of both Davila and Garrete.
Davila provided her name, country of origin, and date of birth to ICE over the phone and stated she was legally in the U.S.
Nevertheless, after waiting by the side of the road for two hours, both Davila and Garrete were handcuffed and eventually transported to the Allegheny County Jail at the request of ICE.
After transporting Davila and Garrete to the jail, a call from ICE informing the police that a mistake had been made about Davila’s identity and that she had been incorrectly detained. Despite receiving official confirmation from ICE at 9:50 p.m. that Davila was lawfully present in the United States, no effort was made to have her released from jail. Davila was eventually released the next morning after sleeping on the floor of her holding cell, which had no beds.