UPDATE 9:31 p.m. clarifies the definition of a tort claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon said Sunday it planned to give notice of legal action against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on behalf of a Portland-area man who was questioned by ICE agents outside a local courthouse in 2017.
The agents mistook Isidro Andrade-Tafolla, a U.S. citizen and longtime Washington County road maintenance worker, for a criminal suspect and stopped to question him while he was leaving the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro.
ACLU spokesperson Sarah Armstrong said the organization will file a tort claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a law that allows specific types of lawsuits against a federal government entity on behalf of individuals who were harmed by federal agents acting within the scope of their employment.
A coalition of immigrant rights advocates, including the ACLU of Oregon, Innovation Law Lab, Adelante Mujeres and the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, plan to gather outside the Washington County Courthouse on Monday to announce the legal action and push for the Oregon courts to prohibit immigration arrests at or near state courthouses.
Andrade-Tafolla told The Oregonian/OregonLive at the time of his encounter that the agents never identified themselves despite being required to do so, repeatedly asked for his name and showed him a photo of the suspect, whose only similarity to Andrade-Tafolla was that they were both Latino.
After another ICE agent wearing a badge approached, the agents realized they had the wrong man and left. But the fallout from the encounter was swift – ICE was accused of racially profiling Andrade-Tafolla, and two U.S. representatives from Oregon demanded a federal investigation and asked the agency to apologize for the agents’ actions.
Andrade-Tafolla told The Oregonian/OregonLive that he had to go to therapy to deal with stress from the encounter. He was born in Mexico and became a U.S. citizen in 1996, and at the time of the stop had worked for Washington County for more than 20 years.
ICE Acting Field Office Director Elizabeth Godfrey of Portland denied allegations of racial profiling in a letter in October 2018, writing that the officers identified themselves as ICE agents and never tried to detain Andrade-Tafolla.
Reached by email on Sunday evening, ICE spokesperson Tanya Roman said ICE does not comment on pending litigation.
“However, the agency’s lack of comment should not be construed as agreement with or stipulation to any of the allegations,” Roman said in a statement.
The ACLU and other groups petitioned Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters to issue a rule prohibiting immigration arrests near courthouses in December 2018. Similar actions have been taken by state courts in New York and a federal court in Massachusetts.
The ACLU says allowing immigration agents to arrest people in or near courthouses can discourage immigrants from conducting official business there, like filing restraining orders or appearing as witnesses in criminal or civil cases.
The organization sued the U.S. government in February 2018, demanding that ICE disclose the number of people arrested or questioned by immigration agents at or near Oregon courthouses.
Armstrong said that although she did not have exact numbers, the ACLU of Oregon has so far documented immigration enforcement activity in state courthouses in 16 Oregon counties.