Media Contact

Christina Nguyen,

December 10, 2021

Photo by Doug Brown

PORTLAND, ORE.--Today, attorneys at the ACLU of Oregon and Stoel Rives filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Abel Tovar Hernandez against Washington County, the United States, the Northern Oregon Corrections prison (NORCOR), and their employees who violated his rights. The suit, filed in the United States District Court in Portland, alleges Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations, false arrest, and false imprisonment, among other claims.

Read the lawsuit here

Tovar Hernandez, a United States citizen of more than 21 years, was unlawfully detained, incarcerated, and threatened with deportation in March 2020. The actions taken by ICE, Washington County, and NORCOR against Mr. Tovar Hernandez is part of a pattern of collaboration between local law enforcement entities in Washington County and federal immigration enforcement, violating Oregon’s long-standing sanctuary law.

What happened to Abel should not happen to anyone in this country. The United States Constitution explicitly forbids it,” said Stoel Rives attorney Amy Edwards. “It is past time for Washington County, ICE, and NORCOR to be held accountable for illegally detaining people due to their officers’ assumptions based on a person’s family name and the color of their skin. These practices need to change so that people in our community can live without fear that they or their families will be targeted.”

Oregon legislators reaffirmed their commitment to protecting the rights of immigrants and refugees and preventing racial profiling by supporting the Sanctuary Promise Act during the 2021 legislative session. The new law, advocated for by the ACLU of Oregon along with other partner organizations, strengthens and clarifies Oregon’s commitment to immigrant and refugee rights.

“I just wanted to go home with my mother,” said Tovar Hernandez. “When jail officials handed me over to ICE and locked me up in NORCOR, I was so confused. Why am I here? Why won’t they believe me when I tell them I’m a citizen and that I have a passport? Why is this happening?”

“This case simply would not happen to a wealthy white person, which reveals the compounding harms that the racism of our criminal justice and immigration systems unleash on our Latino neighbors, especially those who are poor,” said ACLU of Oregon Legal Director Kelly Simon. “Washington County, ICE, and NORCOR tried to illegally sweep Mr. Tovar Hernandez into the deportation and detention machine that silently disappears too many Oregonians. We refuse to let these inhumane systems dispose of our friends and family.”

The details

Abel Tovar Hernandez, 32, was born in Mexico. When he was 10 months old, he moved to the United States with his father, a U.S. citizen, and has lived here ever since. Mr. Tovar Hernandez has been a U.S. citizen since April 2000 – nearly two years before ICE was created – and was granted a passport and social security card.

In March 2020, Mr. Tovar Hernandez was houseless and was arrested for taking a pair of socks from a department store. After serving a short sentence for a probation violation at the Washington County Jail, he was told he was being released to his mother who was waiting for him outside. However, instead of taking him to the normal exit, jail officials handed him over to two Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who were waiting in the jail’s sally port. The ICE agents arrested Tovar Hernandez, transported him to NORCOR (a regional Oregon jail operated by Wasco, Hood River, Sherman, and Gilliam counties), mocked him along the way, and then detained him in the jail’s custody. For two days, NORCOR officials imprisoned Mr. Tovar Hernandez on behalf of ICE until his attorney was finally able to get him free.  

Mr. Tovar Hernandez told every agency that he is a citizen, but no official believed him until a lawyer intervened. The coordination between Washington County and ICE is illegal, prohibited by Oregon’s long-standing sanctuary law. Arresting and detaining people without a legal justification is flatly prohibited by the Constitution. Today’s filing aims to hold government actors accountable for the multiple illegal actions that kept Tovar Hernandez in chains from Hillsboro to The Dalles.

Guadalupe Hernandez, Mr. Tovar Hernandez’s mother stated, “I went to the Washington County jail early in the morning on the day of Abel’s release to pick him up. No one was there, so I called and spoke with a woman, who told me that they were busy and to hold on a minute. I waited nearly 45 minutes with no response.  I asked another person if they could help me find Abel and was told that he had been taken by ICE. I was shocked and did not understand. He is a U.S. citizen; his family is here, not in Mexico. While I tried to locate Abel to get him released, I was stressed and anxious. I could not sleep. Even now, I am scared for myself and my family. I carry my passport in case I get stopped by the police or ICE.  We should not have to live with such fear.”

Oregon’s sanctuary law prohibits local resources and government agencies from being used for immigration arrests. Despite this law, NORCOR officials have been lending its beds, deputies, and dollars to ICE for years. Last year, the NORCOR board voted to finally end its collaboration with ICE after years of activism from the local community. In the 2021 legislative session, the ACLU of Oregon and its partners successfully lobbied to amend and clarify the crucial protections in Oregon’s sanctuary law and ensure that local Oregon government and its resources continue to be disentangled from the federal immigration system. 

The lawsuit

Abel Tovar Hernandez is represented by Stoel Rives LLP attorneys Amy Edwards and Jacob C. Goldberg and ACLU of Oregon Legal Director Kelly Simon. 

The lawsuit was filed on December 10, 2021, in the United States District Court in Portland, Oregon. 

The lawsuit makes the following claims:

  1. False arrest/false imprisonment against ICE, Washington County and NORCOR.
  2. Negligence against ICE, Washington County, and NORCOR.
  3. Intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress against ICE, Washington County, and NORCOR.
  4. Fourth Amendment violations by ICE officers.
  5. Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations by Washington County and NORCOR.

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