The former head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is among the high-ranking federal officials named as defendants in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday morning by 10 of the 29 immigrants who were arrested during the New Haven immigration raids on June 6, 2007.
In a 64-page complaint, three Yale Law School faculty members and four law students representing the immigrants allege that local, state and federal ICE officials violated the Fourth, Fifth and 10th Amendments by planning and executing the raids. The lawsuit names about 30 ICE officials and agents as defendants in total, from former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for ICE Julie Myers to the about two dozen ICE agents who participated in the raids. The lawsuit seeks a jury trial, compensation from ICE officials for court expenses and damages, and an acknowledgment from the court that the raids were illegal.
“Without cause or reasonable suspicion, ICE agents interrogated and arrested residents based on their skin color and physical appearance,” the complaint says. “In some cases, agents arrested people in front of their families and young children.”
Out of the 29 detained, only five immigrants were the intended targets of the raid. The lawsuit describes agents forcefully entering four households without consent or search warrants, sometimes with guns drawn. According to the complaint, agents woke plaintiffs from their sleep and, in one case, would not allow Eduardo Diaz-Bernal to put on pants, shouting at him “not to move.”
The lawsuit said the agents left Edilberto Cedeño-Trujillo’s daughter “terrified.”
Plaintiff Washington Colala-Peñarreta said in the complaint that when he returned home to pick up a forgotten item, ICE agents were standing around his house. He said the agents asked him if he lived in the house and requested to see identification. When he said his identification was in his house, he claimed that the agents handcuffed him, forcibly brought him to his locked front door and, with guns drawn, told him to open it. Colala-Peñarreta said he did so out of fear the agents might harm him if he did not obey.
In the lawsuit, the lawyers claim that ICE officials conducted the raids in retaliation for the aldermanic approval two days earlier of the Elm City Resident Card program, which provides ID cards to residents regardless of immigration status. One of the defendants — Walter Wilkowski, the agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New Haven — expressed concern that New Haven was becoming a “sanctuary city,” according to an e-mail from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut referenced in the complaint.
In response to the lawsuit, City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said she thinks the timing of the raids two days after the passage of the ID card program was not coincidental.
“It appears as more than just a coincidence that these things happened in the time frame that they did,” she said.
ICE spokeswoman Paula Grenier declined to comment. ICE officials have said in the past that the raids were in full accordance with the law. A spokesman for ICE, Richard Rocha, told the News in February that efforts to aggressively increase the number of arrests were following the agency’s mission.
“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 who supported immigrants during the raids, said Wednesday that the plaintiffs lost a substantial amount of money or lost their jobs because of their detention.
Franceschi added that community members made substantial efforts to pay the bonds necessary to free the plaintiffs from jail. Father Jim Manship, the priest of St. Rose of Lima Church in Fair Haven, counted $25,000 in small bills and coins, took it to the bank to get a cashier’s check and then drove to Hartford to post the bail of a detained immigrant with a criminal background.
One of the detainees has been deported, five volunteered to leave and 17 cases are still pending.