April 4, 2013, New York – Twenty-two Latino victims of unlawful warrantless home raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) obtained a settlement today requiring new national policies for ICE agents conducting warrantless home operations and $1 million in damages and fees. In addition, eight men and women who were arrested during the raids have received either deferred action or termination of their immigration cases.
"Immigrants across the country can stand up and cheer for what has been accomplished by this settlement. No longer will ICE agents have free rein to invade the homes of immigrants, especially Latino immigrants, and be as abusive as they want without any worry that they might be reprimanded," said Juan Cartagena, President of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, who, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Winston & Strawn, represented the plaintiffs. "The message today is loud and clear. ICE agents have to follow the law."
ICE's warrantless home raid practices have typically involved a dozen armed ICE agents surrounding a home in the pre-dawn hours, pounding on the doors, shining flashlights through windows, and demanding or forcing entry. Once a door was opened, the agents would push their way in, enter private bedrooms without consent, and drag or order terrified, just-awakened residents – often only partially dressed in nightclothes – into central areas. Agents claimed these practices constituted "consent to enter."
Said Ghita Schwarz, a senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, "Sleeping while Latino is not a suspicious activity that justifies ICE's forcing its way into homes and terrorizing families at gunpoint. Our brave clients have shown ICE agents that they are subject to the same constitutional restrictions as any other law enforcement officer: they need judicial warrants or valid consent to enter a home."
Said Aldo Badini, a partner at Winston & Strawn, which had a trial team that devoted significant time and resources to representing the plaintiffs pro bono in the months before the case settled, "This historic agreement imposes policy changes that apply to ICE agents throughout the nation. ICE's policies and practices violated the Constitution and this agreement demonstrates that they are not above the law." The policy changes require ICE agents to seek consent to enter or search a private residence in a language understood by the resident whenever feasible; they must have Spanish-speaking officers available to seek such consent when the target is from a Spanish-speaking country; they must seek consent to enter the outside areas of homes where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a backyard; and they must not conduct protective sweeps through the homes without an articulable suspicion of danger.
The plaintiffs in the case, Adriana Aguilar et al. v. ICE
, are 22 New York men, women and children -- citizens, lawful permanent residents and others -- who in 2006 and 2007 awoke in the pre-dawn hours to the shouts of as many as a dozen law enforcement officers pounding on their doors demanding entry.
Said Adriana Leon (Aguilar), "My family will never forget that night. My son, who was just four years old, was crying in fear of gunmen in his home at four in the morning. We asked them to show a warrant or any other authority they had for being inside our home. They ignored us."
Seventeen-year-old Beatriz Velasquez was just 12 years old when agents surrounded her home, pounded on the doors and windows, and burst in after falsely telling her that "someone was dying upstairs." She said, "That was the scariest day of my life. My little sister and I were terrified. They wouldn't explain to my mother what was going on, and they stormed through the house like an army." Although ICE had deported the purported target of the raid on Beatriz's home two years before, ICE surrounded and raided the Long Island home anyway in September, 2007. That series of raids resulted in the Nassau County Police Department withdrawing from participation in the raids and publicly denouncing ICE for its use of racial profiling and its flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Purportedly seeking specific targets, ICE did little to no background research to determine whether targets actually occupied the homes, even raiding the home of a family of Latino citizens twice in an effort to find a man unknown to the family, according to attorneys.
"They just pushed past me when I opened the door to their pounding, and I fell against the stairs.," said Christopher Jimenez, who was 17 when ICE agents forced their way into his family home for the second time in 13 months. "They had done the same thing a year before, and we had told them we didn't know the man they were looking for. They didn't care."
In 2006, ICE officials in Washington created a policy called "Operation Return to Sender," under teams of agents 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 teams were permitted to count toward that quota so-called "collaterals"— aliens ICE happened to encounter during raids. According to activists and attorneys, the increase in warrantless intrusions into immigrants' homes followed directly from the policy.
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The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.