On December 16, 2019, the ACLU of New Hampshire filed a lawsuit on behalf of an immigrant—Willy Fernando Godoy-Ramirez—who was illegally held by the Merrimack Police Department for more than an hour as a passenger in a car that had broken down on the side of the road. Instead of helping the distressed driver and Mr. Godoy-Ramirez, Merrimack Police illegally detained Mr. Godoy-Ramirez until Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrived. There was no legal reason for the Merrimack Police Department to ask for Mr. Godoy-Ramirez’s identification or to prolong his detention, as he was merely a passenger.
Merrimack Police violated the law by detaining someone solely because they think the person is undocumented. Courts nationwide have made it clear that these tactics are unlawful. This type of behavior creates an environment where immigrants—including victims of domestic violence—are afraid to call for help and report crimes to local police.
Mr. Godoy-Ramirez is currently seeking asylum because a criminal narco-trafficking and kidnapping organization in Guatemala threatened him, abused him, and murdered his father. After this encounter with Merrimack Police and ICE, Mr. Godoy-Ramirez spent 65 days in custody before being released with the assistance of the ACLU of New Hampshire.
This is the third federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU of New Hampshire against local police for unlawfully holding immigrants for ICE. In August 2019, the ACLU of New Hampshire settled a lawsuit against the Town of Northwood for $12,500 after that Town’s police department arrested a man on the suspicion that he was in the United States unlawfully (though he was in the United States lawfully). In June 2019, the ACLU of New Hampshire settled a lawsuit against the Town of Exeter for $39,175 where the Town’s police department detained and held an immigrant for ICE after that immigrant had provided the department with translation services and assisted the department in a criminal investigation.
In March 2020, this case settled for $60,000.