Immigrants sue feds over 2007 raids

No caption. Photo by YDN.

Ten New Haven residents intend to file a lawsuit today against federal immigration agents and officials, accusing them of violating constitutional rights during the raids in New Haven on June 6, 2007.

The 10 residents, who will be represented by Yale Law School students, claim that the raids were unconstitutional because federal agents lacked search warrants and arrested people solely on the basis of race and ethnicity. The residents are expected to sue not only the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who participated in the raid on the ground but also their supervisors, whose decisions the plaintiffs say led to the infringements of civil rights.

This is the first time lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of the New Haven raids in the federal judicial branch. Previous lawsuits have been filed in federal immigration court, the entity within the executive branch that deals with deportation.

The Yale lawyers say the raids were mounted in retaliation of the Board of Aldermen’s approval two days earlier of the Elm City Resident Card, an ID card provided to residents regardless of immigration status. ICE officials have said the raids were routine enforcement in full accordance with the law.

On June 6, 2007, ICE agents raided eight apartments and homes, detaining 29 New Haven residents — five of whom were the intended targets of the raids.

“ICE agents broke into my home without permission while I was still sleeping, pulled the covers from my bed, and arrested me for no reason,” said Jose Solano-Yangua, a plaintiff in the case, in a press release. “I was terrified and humiliated. We are bringing this suit, because we refuse to let our families and community live in fear.”

Since 2007, a team of lawyers and students led by Law School professor Michael Wishnie ’87 LAW ’93 has been working to prove that the individual arrests were illegal. They have argued that the searches and seizures violated the immigrants’ Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, which protect against unreasonable searches and seizures and guarantee due process of law.

One of the detainees has been deported, five volunteered to leave, and 17 cases are still pending.

Until now, the lawyers have been litigating the individual cases. This new lawsuit seeks to hold individual ICE officials accountable for the alleged constitutional violations.

In a press release, Lindsay Nash LAW ’10, one of the Yale law students representing the plaintiffs, blamed senior ICE officials for the raids because they pressured regional ICE offices to make “arrest quotas.” In 2006, the director of ICE’s Detention and Removal Office, John Torres, increased the agency’s goal for immigration arrests to 1,000 per regional enforcement team, up from 125, according to internal ICE memos obtained by the Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law through a Freedom of Information request. That same year, Torres permitted arrests of immigrants without criminal records or fugitive status to count toward ICE’s goal, according to the ICE documents.

In February, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha told the News that the goal increase was in accordance with the agency’s mission.

“The number of arrests is a goal, not a quota, and we do prioritize,” he said at the time. “But if, in the course of our work, we encounter other illegal individuals, we have to enforce the law.”

Norma Franceschi, a Fair Haven proprietor and community leader, praised the suit for providing the federal court an opportunity to reform immigration law.

Father James Manship of St. Rose of Lima Church said that the neighborhood supports the plaintiffs in the case.

“Our community will not be intimidated or silenced,” Manship said in the press release. “We will stand with the plaintiffs in this lawsuit in order to seek justice.”

Ana Munoz LAW ’10, one of the Yale law students working on the lawsuit, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

New Haven is home to an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 undocumented immigrants, most of whom live in Fair Haven.

Ilana Seager contributed reporting.

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