WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal court in Tennessee has cleared the way for a collective federal civil rights action brought on behalf of over 100 Latino workers against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents involved in the planning and execution of a racially-motivated workplace raid at a Tennessee meat processing plant, on April 5, 2018. Earlier this week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee granted class certification in Isabel Zelaya, et al. v. Robert Hammer, et al, a lawsuit alleging ICE and IRS agents violated workers’ civil rights.
The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), along with their co-counsel, sought class certification on behalf of approximately 100 Latino workers who were unlawfully targeted for arrest on the basis of their race and ethnicity on April 5, 2018, in what was the largest workplace immigration raid in nearly a decade. Agents from ICE, the IRS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and the Morristown Police Department carried out the raid. The federal lawsuit alleges claims of conspiracy to violate workers’ equal protection rights, excessive force, and false arrest.
The court, in granting the workers’ motion for class certification, ruled that Plaintiffs satisfied all class action requirements, and that the class action is likely the only way over one-hundred Latino workers impacted during the raid could bring these claims. The court found the Plaintiffs submitted evidence suggesting that each class member was allegedly harmed through the execution of a single plan orchestrated by the IRS and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Additionally, the court found that “in the run-up to the Raid, case agents frequently discussed arresting Hispanic workers and conflated Hispanic ethnicity with illegal status,” noting that ‘“the initial plan for the Raid indicated that ‘Hispanics’ will be processed through HSI/ERO procedures,” and that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) ‘anticipate[d] working late into the evening processing the Hispanics the day of the warrant.’”
The court also noted that the evidence to date showed that “No white workers were arrested on the day of the Raid,” but that the “individuals arrested that day and transported to the Armory were uniformly Hispanic,” and that agents “detained the Latino employees — even those who asserted they had valid work authorizations — and transported them to the Morristown Armory on vans.”
The ruling means that over 100 Latino class members may now proceed collectively to prosecute this civil rights case against ICE and IRS agents as the case enters the summary judgment phase this fall.
The following statements are provided by:
Michelle Lapointe, senior staff attorney, National Immigration Law Center
“This raid was conducted in an unnecessarily violent, humiliating and demeaning manner toward Latino workers. Plaintiffs seek justice on behalf of all Latino workers detained during the raid. We are pleased the court will allow the case to proceed as a class action, and look forward to proving our claims in court.”
Meredith Stewart, senior supervising attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center
“As class counsel, we look forward to defending the constitutional rights of each class member whom the federal agents unlawfully targeted for enforcement during the Raid. The Constitution protects all people from law enforcement overreach, and the class members look forward to vindicating those rights in Court. This week’s ruling is a significant step in our fight for justice for our clients and their families.”
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Zelaya et al. v. Miles et al. was filed on Feb. 21, 2019. Plaintiffs are represented by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), pro bono attorneys Eben P. Colby, Jeremy A. Berman, Arthur R. Bookout and the law firms of Sherrard, Roe, Voigt & Harbison and Sperling & Slater. On April 5, 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Morristown Police Department, executed the largest workplace immigration raid in nearly a decade, detaining approximately 100 Latino workers at an east Tennessee meat processing plant, violating their civil rights.