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SPLC sues federal government over unconstitutional ICE raids

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency entered the homes of immigrant families without warrants, consent or probable cause – in violation of the Fourth Amendment – solely to detain and deport families, mostly women and children, according to a lawsuit filed by the SPLC.

The complaint details the ways in which ICE agents violated the civil rights of Atlanta families by entering into homes under false pretenses. The lawsuit focuses on ICE raids in Georgia that took place in January 2016. Since taking office, the Trump Administration has increased ICE enforcement efforts, reporting a 42 percent increase in arrests (111,000 people) between Jan. 20, 2017 and Sept. 30 of this year, according to newly released data.

“ICE agents preyed upon vulnerable families using fear and lies to improperly enter homes – without cause – and detain people who were legally present in the U.S.,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at the SPLC. “The safety of home and the freedom from unlawful searches and seizures are among America’s most fundamental values, and law enforcement officials at all levels are legally required to protect these constitutional rights. The anything-goes method of the ICE agents in these raids obliterated due process, tore families apart, and did nothing to enhance national security.”

In one instance, ICE agents impersonated police officers searching for a criminal suspect, and threatened a family member with arrest for obstruction of a fictitious criminal investigation for denying them entry into his home. In two other raids, ICE agents falsely claimed they were local police officers searching for a criminal suspect in the home. They showed the residents a photo of an African-American man whom they claimed was the suspect in a criminal investigation, in order to gain entry into the home. After gaining entry, the officers informed the occupants that they were, in fact, ICE agents, and seized residents who were legally present in the U.S. for detention and deportation. Their claim that they were searching for an African-American criminal was a ruse.

The SPLC filed the lawsuit in conjunction with Barnwell Whaley Patterson & Helms (the Barnwell Whaley law firm).

“The America we dream of is a safe country with opportunity for all, not a place where law enforcement agents rip law-abiding mothers and children out of bed in the darkness,” said Carlos Rene Morales, a plaintiff in the case. “We are thankful that when our rights are violated, we can go to the courts to vindicate them. We don't want this to happen to anyone else.”

The SPLC urges ICE to immediately halt the use of these unconstitutional and deceptive practices, and is seeking damages for subjects of the raids under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for claims that include false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In its initial response to the raids, the SPLC released a comprehensive report featuring stories from women swept up in the ICE raids that began on Jan. 2, 2016. The report found that the federal government has engaged in a needlessly aggressive strategy against immigrants in raids that targeted women and children from Central America.

Upon taking office, President Donald Trump signaled to ICE that its agents have free rein to aggressively arrest, detain, and deport undocumented immigrants. Since then, news reports of raids similar to the ones challenged in this lawsuit have become more frequent.

The SPLC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request within days of the 2016 raids, seeking information about the warrants. After the SPLC did not receive the complete records, it filed a complaint, arguing that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE had failed to release adequate records, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. A federal court ordered DHS and ICE to comply with the FOIA request by Feb. 16, 2018.

To hear stories from the women and children swept up in the ICE raids, see the SPLC’s report, Families in Fear.

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