Attorneys working with the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Monday, demanding the agency pay $100,000 for briefly detaining a U.S. citizen outside the Washington County Courthouse in 2017.
On Sept. 18, 2017, Isidro Andrade Tafolla and his wife were leaving the county courthouse when six plainclothes ICE officers boxed in the couple’s pickup truck and started questioning Andrade Tafolla.
In the complaint filed Monday, attorneys with the ACLU alleged the officers behaved in an “aggressive, demanding demeanor” refusing to identify themselves as ICE and showing the couple a mugshot that “did not resemble Mr. Andrade Tafolla, except that he, like Mr. Andrade Tafolla, had brown skin.”
Andrade Tafolla emigrated from Mexico more than three decades ago. He is now a U.S. citizen.
According to a letter written after the incident by Elizabeth Godfrey, the agency's deputy field office director in Portland, the officers had been searching the courthouse for an undocumented man recently charged with driving under the influence. In the note, Godfrey defended the officers, saying they “handled themselves with professionalism and treated Mr. Andrade Tafolla with respect.”
But others viewed the incident, which was filmed by a volunteer from the American Civil Liberties Union, differently. It provoked an immediate outcry from members of Oregon’s congressional delegation, two of whom pushed for an investigation and asked that the agency apologize.
Andrade Tafolla said that apology never came.
“Two years ago, I asked for an apology from ICE. I didn’t get anything,” he said Monday outside the courthouse, where a large crowd that had gathered to cheer on his legal action and protest what they believe is an amped up presence of immigration officers in Oregon courthouses.
“Today, I get to fight back through the legal system.”
Andrade Tafolla said he felt humiliated by the incident, certain that the harassment stemmed from the color of his skin.
“There’s no words to describe it. Being a U.S. citizen, I thought I would never have to face such a thing,” he told reporters. “I just feel betrayed.”
In the court filing, Andrade Tafolla’s lawyers wrote that he “could not sleep for months” after being approached by the officers and had to take time off from his job as a road maintenance worker for the county.
Caitlin Mitchell, an attorney assisting with the complaint along with the ACLU, said the case of Andrade Tafolla relates to a bigger picture playing out within — and just outside — Oregon courthouses.
These arrests, she said, happen “to many, many people — some of whom are U.S. citizens, some of whom are not.”
There are no available hard numbers on how many arrests by ICE officials have taken place in Oregon courthouses, though advocates from the ACLU of Oregon believe there’s been a sharp uptick under the Trump administration.
Leland Baxter-Neal, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said the organization believes immigration officials are now targeting at least 16 county courthouses in the state. The effects of even one arrest can snowball, he said.
“Every time one person’s arrested, an entire community can be affected. An entire community can be deterred from going to court,” he said, describing clients who now refuse to challenge parking tickets because they don’t want to risk the court appearance.
ICE declined to comment specifically on the filing, citing pending litigation, but told OPB that officers have “every legal right to carry out its mission on courthouse grounds,” though they do “not make civil immigration arrests inside courthouses indiscriminately.”