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Antonio Montejano, U.S. Citizen and L.A. Dad, Detained for Days on 'Immigration Hold'

It's one thing to deport undocumented immigrants for non-crimes like selling ice cream or driving with a headlight out, even though they've lived here since they were kids. Awful, and inhumane, but technically allowed, under the Obama Administration's harsh federal immigration policies. (Namely, a creepy Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program called Secure Communities, through which local cops can call in ICE when they've got a suspected alien on their hands.)

It's another thing to arrest American citizens and detain them for days, on the mere suspicion that they may have been born below the border. Why is everyone complaining about Arizona...

... when the law in most other states, California most definitely included, allows for equally severe racial-profiling practices?

Take Los Angeles resident Antonio Montejano. He's the star of a New York Times piece today that alleges on a mainstream platform what immigrants rights activists have been screaming about for years: That "a growing number of United States citizens have been detained under Obama administration programs intended to detect illegal immigrants who are arrested by local police officers."

The story's entire fourth paragraph is dedicated to Montejano's nightmare.

"I told every officer I was in front of that I'm an American citizen, and they didn't believe me," said Antonio Montejano, who was arrested on a shoplifting charge last month and found himself held on an immigration order for two nights in a police station in Santa Monica, Calif., and two more nights in a teeming Los Angeles county jail cell, on suspicion that he was an illegal immigrant. Mr. Montejano was born in Los Angeles.

If his story is true -- which it likely is, considering the ACLU is backing him 100 percent -- the baffling treatment he received in the custody of the Santa Monica Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, as a red-blooded American, can be considered "wrongful arrest." Because, as the Times points out, "immigration agents lack legal authority to detain citizens."

Montejano's own lengthy personal account was posted to the ACLU's Blog of Rights a couple weeks ago.

In it, he claims his original arrest by Santa Monica police was over a $10 bottle of perfume that he accidentally dropped into his Sears bag without paying, and a couple candy bars his kids ate in the store. (He says he purchased $600 worth of goods besides.)

So Montejano was charged with "petty theft" at the Santa Monica station. But that was only a segue into what police apparently wanted to nab him for:

I was detained in the Santa Monica police station for two nights until Monday, November 7. I pled to an infraction of petty theft. The judge said I did not have to pay the fine and ordered my release.

But instead of being released, the police transferred me to the L.A. County Sheriff. When I arrived at the Los Angeles County jail, an officer asked me where I was born and if I was citizen. I said I was born in Los Angeles and was an American citizen. They didn't believe me, and they detained me on an immigration hold.

For two nights, they detained me in the Inmate Reception Center. There was no bed, no mattress, no blanket, only a short bench. I did not sleep the entire time. They held me there until the morning on Wed., Nov. 9, after the ACLU sent my passport and birth certificate to ICE. As soon as I got out of that cell, I went straight to work to make up the lost pay.

All while low-level offenders like Lindsay Lohan are released in a matter of minutes, due to jail overcrowding (and apparent celebrity profiling).

Most heart-wrenchingly, upon his release, Montejano says his small son asked him, "Dad, can this happen to me too because I look like you?"

It's hard to know where to start in righting an issue this muddled and political -- arguably the largest remaining human- and civil-rights catastrophe of our time. But making damn sure that the dude you're putting on "immigration hold" is, in fact, an illegal immigrant, seems as good a first step as any.

We're contacting the Santa Monica Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for their side of the story, if they're willing to share it.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]


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