Connecticut Lawsuit Alleges Retaliation in ICE Raid

The American Association for Justice reports that residents of New Haven, Connecticut, with the assistance of the Legal Services Office of Yale University, have filed a lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, charging that ICE agents violated their civil rights in a June 2007 raid in which 29 people were arrested and detained.

According to the complaint, about 20 ICE agents swept through the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Fair Haven, without search warrants or probable cause, and arrested people “based on their skin color and physical appearance.” Fair Haven residents caught up in the early-morning raid were detained without legal counsel and without being informed of their rights, they allege. Some were locked up for weeks.

Plaintiff José Solan-Yangua said in a statement that he was “terrified and humiliated” during the raid. “We are bringing this suit because we refuse to let our families and community live in fear,” he said.

The raids were conducted under an ICE program known as the National Fugitive Operations Program, which was designed to find dangerous fugitives who do not have legal immigration status. According to the lawsuit, agents have strict quotas for arrest numbers, and when the agents in Connecticut failed to meet these quotas, senior ICE officials “amended the program to permit individual teams to count arrests of nondangerous, noncriminal nonfugitives—in other words, bystanders—toward their annual quotas.”

In addition to violations of the residents’ Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, the suit alleges that the ICE agents violated the Tenth Amendment because the raid was retaliatory and represented federal interference in a local government’s right to self-regulate. Shortly before the raid, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. had approved a program called the Elm City Resident Card, the first municipal resident card in the country, which federal authorities viewed as a threat to their authority, the lawsuit claims.

The card—which functions as an identification card, library card, debit card, access card for city parks and pools, and a way to pay parking meters—is issued to all residents of New Haven, regardless of their immigration status.

According to the lawsuit, ICE responded by raiding the Fair Haven community two days after the card was approved by the city’s Board of Aldermen. DeStefano told the New York Times that he had no doubt the raid was a response to the card program.

The case is Diaz-Bernal v. Dept. of Homeland Sec., No. 3:09-CV-01734 (D.Conn. filed Oct. 28, 2009).

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