Connecticut Post, October 28, 2009
By John Christoffersen
NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Ten New Haven residents filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing federal agents of violating their rights during an immigration raid they say was in retaliation for a city program that provided ID cards to foreigners in the country illegally—the first of its kind in the nation.
The sweeps in New Haven on June 6, 2007, came two days after the city approved issuing identification cards to all of its residents, regardless of immigration status. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have denied that the early morning raids were retaliatory, saying planning began the year before.
“The New Haven raids were not a product of routine immigration enforcement,” the lawsuit states. “Hartford ICE agents deliberately chose to conduct raids in New Haven in retaliation for the city’s efforts to improve public safety for all its residents by integrating immigrants and Latinos into civic life.”
Spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney’s office and ICE declined comment, citing the pending lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, cites e-mails between federal officials that the residents say show hostility to the ID card program and an intent to stop it.
One e-mail from the U.S. Attorney’s Office on March 28, 2007 disclosed that an ICE official “had been talking to his headquarters about the fact that New Haven is becoming a sanctuary city.” On May 11, the ICE official held a conference call with several prosecutors to discuss how to address the “headaches in New Haven,” according to the lawsuit.
The comments took on a racially charged tone after a city committee approved the ID card program, the lawsuit alleges. “Yale is loading up the Amistad with illegal immigrants and sailing them to freedom, while (ICE counsel) openly weeps in Hartford,” an ICE attorney wrote, referring to the slave ship that was commandeered by African captives who eventually won their freedom.
An ICE official then drafted a letter to the city expressing concerns with the program and discouraging the mayor from implementing it, according to the lawsuit. ICE officials and the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to disguise their collaboration to make it look like the letter was coming from prosecutors instead of ICE, the lawsuit alleges. The defendants then planned their first and only raid of the year, including only 33 New Haven-area addresses in their target list when there were 5,500 outstanding warrants for fugitives, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit contends ICE’s retaliatory intent became clear after the raid when a spokesman declared, “There is truly no safe haven for fugitive aliens.”
The lawsuit alleges ICE agents broke into homes without search warrants or consent and arrested residents based on their race or ethnicity. When the girlfriend of one of those arrested asked where they were going during the raid, one of the agents laughed and taunted that they were going to a concert by Juan Gabriel, a famous Mexican singer, according to the lawsuit.
“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,” Jose Solano-Yangua, a plaintiff, said in a statement. “I was terrified and humiliated.”
In June, a federal judge ruled that agents violated the constitutional rights of four immigrants in the raids. Immigration Judge Michael Straus said the ICE agents went into the immigrants’ homes without warrants, probable cause or their consent, and he put a stop to deportation proceedings against the four defendants, whose names were not released.
Immigration officials have denied claims that the 32 arrests that morning were improper, and they said the people who were arrested had been ordered by judges to leave the country. They said in court documents that they were allowed into the homes during the sweep. Witnesses have alleged in court documents that parents were arrested in front of their frightened children, agents refused to identify themselves and told people in the homes to shut up.
Yale Law School students are representing the immigrants. Of the 32 arrested, none are still in custody, according to the Yale students. Of the 19 that Yale represents, 4 agreed to leave the country, 10 are still fighting their cases and five won motions to suppress evidence, according to the students.
The lawsuit, which names former and current ICE officials as defendants, seeks damages and a judgment that the officials violated the Constitution.