Last week the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York published a disturbing study that documents ICE’s home raid operations. Constitution on ICE: A Report on Immigration Home Raid Operations found that over the last several years, ICE has increasingly conducted home raids, meaning that they gone to private homes to arrest people rather than doing it in public settings. The report finds a pattern of constitutional violations occurring during home raids including agents kicking in doors and forcing their way into private residences during pre-dawn hours without warrants or other legal authority. ICE agents also seize non-target residents, or “collaterals” from their homes, even if there is no legal authority to take that individual into custody. According to the report, these arrests are based on racial or ethnic profiling. Finally, the authors also found that ICE was illegally searching homes.

The stories speak for themselves…

March 2009, in Arizona, Jimmy Slaughter, himself a DHS officer, filed suit against ICE for raiding his home: “I was at home with my wife when the door bell rang. I opened the door and noticed approximately 7 uniformed ICE agents with vests and guns standing at my door . . . I opened the door to look at the paperwork and five agents entered my house . . . . The agents then told my wife to stand in the center of ‘OUR’ living room. Not once did anyone say they had a warrant.”

September 2008, in Texas, “The 68-year-old woman told Action 4 News that she heard a knock at her door Tuesday morning. But before she had a chance to get up she said U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were inside her home . . . When she asked them why they came into her home they allegedly responded, ‘Show us your papers.’ Savage complied by showing them documentation proving that she’s been a United States citizen for 40 years.”

December 2007, in Massachusetts, “eight to 10 ICE agents, with guns drawn, broke through the door of the three-family apartment building at 21 Jefferson St. about 5 a.m. Friday. ‘They came through and shined flashlights in people’s faces. They went into each room, they told everyone to lie down on the floor, they say not to move,’ he said. ‘They checked everyone’s papers. They took everybody.’” Evidence of ICE’s illegal search included “shards of the broken door frame they say ICE agents kicked through. A safe in one room lay open, its papers strewn all about. The men also showed the reporter another bedroom door they said ICE agents had kicked open.”

August 2007, in Hudson County, NJ, at 6:30am, ICE agents did not identify themselves while banging on the door. When a tenant opened the door to see who was outside, the ICE agents forced their way inside illegally, and illegally interrogated people in their home. One resident was forcibly stopped from calling her attorney.

June 2007, in Morris County, NJ, at 6:45am, ICE agents took out their guns, banged on a door, and forced their way in once the tenant opened the door to find out who was there. ICE agents illegally entered and searched the home. An ICE agent yelled at one of the residents who tried to call her lawyer. The ICE agent used abusive language
– yelling “F*** you” and “You are a piece of s***.”

The report contains five pages of such stories.

Many of the home raids are conducted by Fugitive Operations Teams (FOTs). A 2009 report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) examined the FOTs, which were created to locate and detain fugitive immigrants who pose a threat to the nation or the community or who have a violent criminal history. MPI found that while the number of immigrants apprehended by FOTs has increased, they have netted fewer violent criminals and arrested greater numbers of undocumented immigrants with no criminal history. Specifically, MPI found that 73% of the individuals apprehended by FOTs had no criminal convictions.

“Constitution on ICE” confirms what MPI found, and presents case studies from Newark, NJ and Nassau and Suffolk County, NY. The researchers found that the number of “collateral” arrests far outnumbered the target arrests, arrest reports articulated no bases for the initial seizure, and Latinos are significantly overrepresented in collateral arrests.

The researchers also found that the ICE home raids had a negative impact on the local police departments and their ability to do community policing. ICE frequently requests local police support for home raid operations. Usually it just means having a marked local police car parked outside of the home so that when ICE pounds on the door and yells “police,” the residents will see a local police car outside and are more likely to open the door. Not surprisingly, the report states: “The fear of some local police leaders is that, to the extent local police are perceived as working with immigration agents, particularly when ICE agents are illegally entering homes, immigrant residents will be less likely to cooperate with police on criminal matters.”

Jaya Vasandani, co-author of the report stated, “If the government were engaged in these types of systematic and widespread constitutional violations toward any other group in society, there would be a national outcry. Because these abuses have targeted the most vulnerable segments of our population they have gone largely unnoticed.”

The majority of the abuses described in the report took place under the last Administration. On January 30, 2009 DHS Secretary Napolitano ordered an internal review of the FOT program. As a result, several changes have already been made so that the FOT focus is on intelligence gathering, identifying and targeting high priority targets, rather than on sheer numbers. This is a welcome change. But more changes are necessary for the actions of the FOTs to be in line with our laws and Constitutional values.