On November 14, 2018, in the third lawsuit filed by the ACLU of New Hampshire’s new Immigrants’ Rights Project, the ACLU-NH sued the Northwood Police Department after it unlawfully arrested a man—Johoani Velasco Perea—on the suspicion that he was in the United States unlawfully. This suspicion was based on Mr. Velasco Perea’s race. However, Mr. Velasco Perea resides in the United States lawfully.
Late in the evening of Friday, September 21, 2018, the Northwood Police Department detained Mr. Velasco Perea and two other Hispanic men as they were walking towards Harding Metals, Inc. in Northwood, New Hampshire. The Department’s police reports indicate that the three men were “Hispanic” and “suspicious.” Mr. Velasco Perea and the two men immediately explained to the Department’s officers that they were simply walking back to work at Harding Metals, Inc.—where they were building a carport—after buying food from a nearby convenience store.
Rather than release Mr. Velasco Perea (as well as the two men) given the obvious absence of criminal behavior, the Department then continued to detain Mr. Velasco Perea based on the suspicion that he was undocumented. There was no basis for that suspicion other than his Hispanic race. The Department asked Mr. Velasco Perea and the two other men for identification. Mr. Velasco Perea produced a valid North Carolina driver’s license to the Department. Mr. Velasco Perea also explained that he was in the United States lawfully. The Department’s detention of Mr. Velasco Perea ultimately lasted for approximately 2 hours and fifteen minutes.
The Northwood Police Department violated the law. The law is clear that local police officers may not detain or arrest an individual solely based on a suspected civil violation of federal immigration law. The law is also clear that immigration arrests, at a minimum, require probable cause to believe that the person is undocumented. Here, there was no reason to believe that Mr. Velasco Perea was in the United States unlawfully, especially given his explanation that he was documented and his valid North Carolina driver’s license.