The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit on November 19, 2010, on behalf of Ernesto Galarza, a New Jersey-born U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent who was held illegally for three days in the Lehigh County Prison. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents ordered his detention, erroneously believing he was an undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic.

In October 2012, most of the defendants in the case paid Mr. Galarza to settle his claims. The United States and ICE officials paid Mr. Galarza $25,000, and the local police detective and City of Allentown paid him $25,000. But the trial court dismissed Mr. Galarza’s claims against Lehigh County, ruling that the County could not be held liable for violating his rights because it had no choice but to honor the ICE detainer. Mr. Galarza appealed the dismissal of the County, and won. On March 4, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that ICE detainers are merely requests to detain someone, and that because local agencies are not required to comply with ICE detainers, they may be held liable for their role in causing an unlawful detention when there is no constitutionally valid basis for the detainer. In April 2014, Lehigh County settled with Mr. Galarza for $95,000 and agreed to adopt a policy of no longer honoring ICE detainers without a court order.

Press Releases


Valerie Burch, Witold Walczak, M. M. Tack-Hooper (ACLU-PA); Omar Jadwat, Cecilia Wang (ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project); Jonathan Feinberg (Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg LLP) and Seth Kreimer (University of Pennsylvania Law School)

Date filed

November 19, 2010


U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania