Feds Settle Suit Over Raiding Latino Homes

     MANHATTAN (CN) - The U.S. government can pay $1 million to settle claims over pre-dawn warrantless home raids by immigration agents, a federal judge ruled.
     Nearly two dozen Latinos had filed the complaint in 2007, alleging widespread Fourth Amendment violations and seeking damages and injunctive relief.
     Lead plaintiff Adriana Aguilar, a U.S. citizen, claimed that she had been the victim of one such raid while sleeping at in the East Hampton, N.Y., home she shared with her parents, siblings and children, all of whom are also U.S. citizens.
     She said agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pounded on the doors before they were allowed entry, then swept through home and terrorized her children.
     The other plaintiffs allegedly experienced similar confrontations in 2006 and 2007 at their homes in Westchester and Long Island.
     U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest signed a stipulation and order of dismissal and settlement on Friday. About a year ago, she refused to issue an injunction.
     The $1 million settlement will provide each plaintiff with $36,000, according to the order. Remaining funds will go to the plaintiffs' counsel as attorneys' fees.
     Aguilar and the other plaintiffs had been represented by Foster Maer with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, which was once short for Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. Winston & Strawn and the Center for Constitutional Rights had also represented the plaintiffs.
     Another provision of the settlement terminates or defers the pending immigration proceedings against eight men and women who were arrested during the raids.
     ICE must also adopt policy changes for agents conducting warrantless home operations, according to the settlement.
     They must now "seek consent to enter or search a private residence in a language understood by the resident whenever feasible; they must have Spanish-speaking officers available to seek such consent when the target is from a Spanish-speaking country; they must seek consent to enter the outside areas of homes where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a backyard; and they must not conduct protective sweeps through the homes without an articulable suspicion of danger," according to a statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).
     Aguilar said her family will never forget the raid of their home.
     "My son, who was just four years old, was crying in fear of gunmen in his home at four in the morning," she said in the CCR statement. "We asked them to show a warrant or any other authority they had for being inside our home. They ignored us."
     Another plaintiff, Beatriz Velasquez, said she was just 12 years old when agents surrounded her home in September 2007, pounded on the doors and windows, and burst in after falsely telling her that "someone was dying upstairs."
     "That was the scariest day of my life," Velasquez said through CCR. "My little sister and I were terrified. They wouldn't explain to my mother what was going on, and they stormed through the house like an army."
     The statement notes that the raids caused the Nassau County Police Department to withdraw from participation and publicly denounce ICE for its use of racial profiling and its flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment.
     "In 2006, ICE officials in Washington created a policy called 'Operation Return to Sender,' under [which] teams of agents were ordered to increase their quota of arrests of so-called alien fugitives with outstanding deportation orders by 800 percent over the course of one year," the statement continues. "The teams were permitted to count toward that quota so-called 'collaterals' - aliens ICE happened to encounter during raids. According to activists and attorneys, the increase in warrantless intrusions into immigrants' homes followed directly from the policy."