LOS ANGELES (AP) — Immigrant advocates sued the federal government Wednesday alleging immigration agents are filing paperwork to keep arrestees in custody before investigating whether they’re in the country illegally.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and other advocates alleges that Immigration and Customs Enforcement places so-called detainers on those in custody before thoroughly checking their immigration status — in some cases, affecting American citizens.

The detainers are good for 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays, and let agents keep immigrants in custody once they are released in their criminal cases.

“They can’t arrest someone and deprive them of their liberty without actually having probable cause to believe they are deportable,” said Jennie Pasquarella, a staff attorney at the ACLU.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment on the lawsuit. Officials said the government takes seriously claims that American citizens were improperly detained and has a hotline people can call if they feel they shouldn’t be subject to an immigration hold.

The lawsuit seeks class action status and aims to get the government to rescind any existing holds and reissue them only if probable cause is established. Immigration agents filed more than 125,000 detainers in Southern California between October 2009 and February 2013, according to the lawsuit.

One of them was for Gerardo Gonzalez Jr., 23, who was subject to an immigration detainer after he was arrested on a drug charge even though he was born in Pacoima, the lawsuit said.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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