Lawyers for 16 illegal immigrants arrested as part of last summer’s raids in Fair Haven hailed a court decision Monday that will allow the immigrants to testify about the alleged unconstitutionality of federal agents’ methods in obtaining evidence during the raids.
The immigrants’ lawyers, locked in an ongoing battle over whether that evidence is admisseable in a deportation suit against the arrested immigrants, have been seeking to suppress information gathered as part of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in June 2007, alleging that their clients’ 4th Amendment and due process rights were violated by ICE officers, namely by warantless entry. Last spring, federal immigration Judge Michael Straus heard oral arguments at the Hartford immigration court on whether the immigrants should be permitted to testify about the alleged violations — testimony that could help determine whether the ICE’s information can be used in prosecutors’ case against the immigrants.
The ruling, delivered yesterday by Straus, found that the threshold to proceed to an evidentiary hearing was met, explained a lawyer for the immigrants in the proceedings.
“The government was trying to argue that people don’t have civil rights in the immigration context, that they don’t have these protections,” said Jane Lewis LAW ’10, who is one of the law students representing the immigrants. “Judge Straus rejected these arguments. He basically said it’s worth at least having a full hearing on this matter.”
The decision immediately follows the release of e-mails sent between the United States Attorney’s Office in Connecticut and the ICE. Junta for Progressive Action, a local legal nonprofit, obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request and released them publicly last week. There is no conclusive evidence in the e-mails to suggest that the decision to move the immigration raid from May 2, 2007, to June 6 was made to coincide with the Board of Aldermen’s vote on the Elm City Resident Card in the first week of June. But they do show that the same officials involved in planning the ICE raids also engaged in prolonged e-mail discussions starting in March 2007 about “what, if anything, need[ed] to be done” about the ID card program. Many immigration lawyers who have closely followed the FOIA case’s development said the e-mails only further their suspicions that the timing of the raids was not a mere coincidence.
Since last spring, ICE officials have denied the raid was anything but properly executed. Yesterday, Michael Gilhooly, northeast regional communications director for ICE, wrote in an e-mail to the News that “ICE has no comment on matters pending before an immigration judge.”
In a statement released last June Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff wrote, “[A] warrant is not necessary when arresting someone who is in the country illegally.”
Lewis said that, even as they prepare for the upcoming hearings, team members are satisfied with yesterday’s ruling.
“Regardless of what Judge Straus ultimately rules, this was a great victory,” Lewis said. “No matter what happens, hopefully ICE will think carefully before they engage in an operation like this again, before they violate people’s rights, in New Haven and around the rest of the country.”
Because there are 16 immigrants involved in the proceedings, the testimony about the violations will likely span several non-consecutive days, Lewis said. The testimony will begin Oct. 20, followed up by another day of testimony on Oct. 27, she said.