In the latest development of the Fair Haven immigration raids of 2007, the federal Immigration Board of Appeals in Hartford yesterday shifted the burden of proof onto the federal government, forcing it to show that the raids were constitutional.
The federal agents who participated in the controversial raid — in which 32 immigrants were detained on a variety of charges — must now testify in court to defend their actions. For Yale Law School students who have been working on the case, the court’s decision was a small, but significant, victory.
On the morning of June 6, 2007, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided several Fair Haven households and detained 32 immigrants. The raids came 36 hours after New Haven announced a plan to provide Elm City Resident ID cards — designed as a method to increase public security — to all citizens regardless of immigration status.
At the time, some city officials saw a direct connection between the ID cards and the raids. Kica Matos, New Haven community services administrator and architect of the ID cards, said in an e-mail Monday she was ashamed of the raids.
“Their actions were clearly unconstitutional,” she said. “We hope the testimony these officers will be required to give under oath will bring this further to light.”
Since 2007, a team of lawyers from the Yale Law School has been working to prove that the raids were illegal. They have argued that the searches and seizures were unconstitutional violations of the immigrants’ Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, making the evidence gathered during the raids inadmissible.
The Monday ruling agreed that those claims were significant enough to warrant the agents’ testimony.
Jane Lewis LAW ’10, who is working on the defense team, said she saw this as a sign of the strength of their case. Before the Hartford court’s most recent ruling, the detained immigrants would have had to prove that the agents’ actions were illegal — not the other way around.
“Immigration officers are rarely, if ever, called to testify in court,” she said.
Also working for the defense, Stella Burch LAW ’09 said she thought the ruling had significance for the whole immigrant community.
“It’s a victory not just on behalf of all our clients, but on behalf of other similarly situated individuals,” she said.
Matos also thinks the ruling will have wider repercussions.
“I do believe that immigrant residents will be heartened to hear about the news, with the hope that justice will eventually prevail,” she said.
Although Judge Michael Straus of the Immigration Court of Appeals did side with the defense, he did so for only six of the detained immigrants. For the rest, the judge found that there was insufficient evidence of constitutional violations to allow testimony.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” Matos said.
The defense plans to appeal the cases that Judge Straus ruled against at a later date.