December 17, 2012, New York – Today, attorneys announced the settlement of a home raids case against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Seven men and women and one child brought the case in 2008 against more than thirty individual ICE officers for a series of predawn raids of their homes undertaken without consent or a warrant. They are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Civil Rights and Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Seton Hall University Law School, and Lowenstein Sandler PC.
Said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy, who began the litigation while at Seton Hall Law School, “Sleeping while Latino is not a crime. Agents cannot lie or force their way into people’s homes in the middle of the night, point guns at children and use force, all without a warrant or consent. This settlement provides accountability for discriminatory policing by immigration officials and shows that ICE is subject to the same restrictions as every other law enforcement agency.”
According to the complaint, in almost every raid armed ICE agents entered the home by force or deceit, rounded up everyone from their bedrooms, and used force, threats and intimidation, all in an effort to apprehend immigrants for deportation.
One of the agents was yelling at legal permanent resident Ana Galindo, insisting that she tell him where the nonexistent “illegals” were hiding in her house, when her nine-year-old son ran in from his bedroom to see who was screaming at his mother. The agent drew his gun and pointed it at the boy’s chest. Ana spread her arms to shield him.
“Other than when my mother and father died,” she said, “this is the worst thing I’ve ever lived through. They could have killed my only child.” Ana’s husband, Walter Chavez, added, “This settlement shows that when the government acts like this in America, we should not be quiet about it. We should speak up to stop them from doing this to other people.”
The case, Argueta v. ICE
, charged that the individual ICE agents violated the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from nonconsensual, warrantless entry into their homes and from shocking and abusive governmental conduct once agents were inside the home.
In 2006, ICE officials in Washington created a policy called “Operation Return to Sender,” under which seven-member Fugitive Operations Teams (FOTs) were ordered to increase their quota of arrests of so-called alien fugitives with outstanding deportation orders by 800 percent over the course of one year. The FOTs were permitted to count toward that quota so-called “collaterals”— aliens the FOTs happened to encounter as part of their raids. According to activists and attorneys, the increase in warrantless intrusions into immigrants’ homes followed directly from the policy. The raids became so notorious that one of the first acts of the new Obama administration was to remove the quotas.
The lawsuit sought to attribute liability to the high-level policy makers who devised Operation Return to Sender for failure to anticipate the consequences of their arrest quota and for their failure to modify the policy once reports of widespread abuses became known to them through the media and congressional and local political leaders. The high-level officials named in the lawsuit were dismissed on appeal.
However, beginning in 2011, the government instituted a number of policy changes prompted, in part, by this and a series of similar lawsuits.
Said Co-Counsel Catherine Weiss of Lowenstein Sandler PC, “The bravery of our clients in standing up to ICE has been rewarded, not only by compensation, but by new federal guidelines that encourage prosecutorial discretion to avoid the detention of those who pose no threat. ICE has also established a new complaint system for those who claim to have been mistreated and created a new form to advise detained immigrants of their rights. The steps taken so far are small, but together they may help to prevent the recurrence of the indignities that gave rise to this lawsuit."
Under the settlement, the eight plaintiffs will receive a total of $295,000 in compensation.
The plaintiffs are represented by Baher Azmy, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Barbara Moses of the Civil Rights and Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Seton Hall University Law School, and Catherine Weiss, Chair of the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest and a Member of Lowenstein Sandler PC.