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Legal Latino Says He Was Wrongfully Detained

By Joscelyn Moes
Published On: Aug 24 2011 11:33:05 AM CDT
Updated On: Dec 04 2010 08:55:46 AM CST
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

The Allentown man who says he was wrongfully detained by immigration officials is speaking out.

"I'm still shocked every time I think about it. It's like how could this happen," said Allentown resident Ernesto Galarza.

36-year-old Ernesto Galarza was born in New Jersey, but two years ago he was locked up in Lehigh County Prison, because he says, authorities thought he was an illegal immigrant. "These people just took it into their hands to decide where I was from, without asking me," said Galarza.

The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit on his behalf against the city of Allentown, Lehigh County, and federal officials.

"Mistakes like this cannot be allowed. This county does not allow detention based on race," said ACLU spokesperson Valerie Burch.

Galarza says on November 20, 2008 police mistakenly picked him up during a drug sweep.

He was transferred to Lehigh County Prison.

Galarza says he posted bail the next day.

"When I'm walking out I see the door opening, that put a smile on my face, but then it starts closing again. I'm like what, what happened," said Galarza.

Galarza was told he was being detained, but he wasn't told why until three days later when he met with a counselor.

"I also told the counselor in my wallet you guys got my driver's license, my Social Security card with my name on it," said Galarza.

When he met with ICE that same day, that's when he says, officials realized their mistake and let him go.

Galarza says he's still stunned by what happened.

"I don't want nobody else to be in my shoes especially when you're born in the United States," said Galarza.

Meantime, ICE declined to comment about the case.

Allentown officials say they're currently reviewing the lawsuit.