The federal government is paying $350,000 to 11 New Haven men who claimed their constitutional rights were violated during immgiration raids in 2007 as part of a settlement announced Wednesday.
The plaintiffs were among approximately 30 people arrested during the raids, which took place in the Fair Haven neighborhood in June 2007. The lawsuit, originally filed in October 2009, describes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents forcefully entering four households without consent or search warrants, sometimes with guns drawn. At the time, the plaintiffs and critics of ICE’s actions — including Mayor John DeStefano Jr. — charged that the raids were in retaliation for the city’s controversial decision in the spring of 2007 to offer city identification cards to all city residents, regardless of immigration status.
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The settlement, which attorneys for the plaintiffs said clears their clients of deportation proceedings against them, appears to be the largest ever paid by the United States government in a lawsuit over residential immigration raids. It is also the first to include both fiscal compensation and a cessation of deportation proceedings, Mark Pedulla LAW ’12, who participated in a legal team representing the plaintiffs, told the Associated Press.
Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for ICE, denied that the settlement represents an admission of liability or fault on the part of U.S. immigration officials. Still, DeStefano, who has been an outspoken supporter of immigrants’ rights in New Haven, hailed the decision as a human rights victory.
“Today’s settlement is a victory of law, but the real case yet to be tried is a matter of the character and temperament of this nation as it relates to immigration, and how we as a nation, a state and a people view our legacy as a nation of immigrants,” DeStefano said in a press release following the announcement of the settlement.
‘TERRIFIED AND HUMILIATED’
The Elm City has long maintained policies geared toward accommodating its large immigrant population, earning a national reputation as a sanctuary city for undocumented residents. In December 2006, under an executive order from DeStefano, the police department alerted residents that it would not check the immigration status of anyone who called 911 or came to the police as a witness — the first order of its kind in Connecticut.
In 2007, the Board of Aldermen approved a plan under which the city began issuing identification cards for residents that allow holders to borrow library books, pay parking meters and open bank accounts. The cards — popular within the Elm City but criticized nationally as overly friendly to illegal immigrants — stemmed from a desire to protect New Haven’s estimated 10,000 to 15,000 undocumented residents, who had been easy targets for robberies due to their inability to deposit money.
Less than two days after the Board passed the Elm City Resident Card plan, ICE agents raided Fair Haven, home to the majority of the city’s undocumented residents, and detained 29 individuals that the agency claimed were in the country illegally. Kica Matos, who at the time was New Haven’s administrator of community services, said immediately following the raids she thought they were conducted in direct response to the board’s passage of the plan.
“I can’t help but think there’s a connection — why else would they be in New Haven at this time?” Matos said in a press conference the morning of the raids on June 6, 2007, according to the New Haven Independent.
But ICE officials denied that the resident card plan’s passage and the raids were connected, calling the agency’s actions “routine.”
In October 2009, 10 of the residents who were detained in the raid filed a lawsuit against immigration officials and the agents who conducted the raid, claiming that the raids were unconstitutional because federal agents lacked search warrants and arrested people solely on the basis of race and ethnicity.
The lawsuit described the fright many residents said they felt during the raid as agents arrested residents in front of “terrified” children. According to the complaint, agents woke the plaintiffs and, in one case, would not allow Eduardo Diaz-Bernal to put on pants, shouting at him “not to move.”
“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, one of the plaintiffs in the case, in a press release after the filing of the suit. “I was terrified and humiliated.”
A HAVEN FOR IMMIGRANTS
While DeStefano characterized Tuesday’s settlement as a step toward the “values and aspirations on which our country was founded,” others found the outcome “surprising.”
Former Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield, who was president of the Board of Aldermen during the 2007 raids, said he found the outcome of the settlement odd given that, to his understanding, the plaintiffs were in fact illegal immigrants.
“The tactics ICE used to grab these people were out of bounds,” Goldfield said, “but it strikes me as odd that people who were in the country illegally are getting paid by the federal government and proceedings to deport them are dropped.”
Goldfield added that he had expected some form of penalty would be imposed on ICE for immigration agents’ conduct during the raids, but that deportation proceedings would continue largely unhindered.
Others, including Alderman Ernie Santiago, who represents Fair Haven’s Ward 15, said the settlement is appropriate as an affirmation of immigrants’ rights.
“Everybody has rights in this country,” Santiago said. “It doesn’t matter if you are legal or illegal — you have rights.”
Tuesday’s settlement comes on the heels of renewed tensions between New Haven and federal immigration authorities.
In December 2011, DeStefano and several aldermen held a press conference calling on the state to reject Secure Communities, a federal immigration program that would require local police to check the immigration status of any person they interact with, even if he or she is stopped for a traffic violation. City officials said the program would destroy the police department’s relationship with New Haven’s immigrant community and deliver a blow to the city’s effort under new Police Chief Dean Esserman to shift to a community policing strategy.
“Secure Communities would destroy an essential element of trust that New Haven and the police department have worked hard over the past five years to build,” DeStefano said at the press conference. He added that “virtually none” of the city’s crime is committed by its immigrant population, removing the need for the program altogether.
Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 said one of the priorities of the board’s human services committee, of which she is a member, will be to pass a resolution against the implementation of Secure Communities in New Haven, which is scheduled to take place in 2013.
Two days after announcing his intention to fight the program, DeStefano made national headlines by urging state legislators to pass a law allowing illegal immigrants to vote in municipal elections.
“We are a nation of immigrants, New Haven is a city of immigrants, and that’s not something we are going to run from,” City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said Tuesday.
The 11 plaintiffs in the case against ICE will discuss the settlement at a press conference today at the Wilson Branch Library on Washington Avenue.