Monday, August 3, 2009

Immigration raids and the Fourth Amendment don't mix so well

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents made headlines last summer when one of their teams raided, without a warrant, a home in Yuma, Arizona, unconnected to illegal immigrants and owned by an agent with a sister agency. Now, a report penned by experts in law and law enforcement says that ICE regularly ignores constitutional guarantees when conducting its raids.

The raid on the Slaughter home may have raised eyebrows across the country, but such conduct has become all too common in parts of the United States. In the Southwest, drivers have become accustomed to roadblocks along the highways manned by Border Patrol. Even some police officers, such as those in Arizona represented by the Mesa Police Association, have grown weary of the endless targeting of illegal immigrants, and have pushed back against proposals to turn every encounter between cop and pedestrian into an immigration status check.

In fact, Mesa's Chief of Police George Gascon is one of the authors of Constitution on Ice: A Report on Immigration Home Raid Operations, a report from the Benjamin Cardozo Law School's Immigration Justice Clinic. According to that report:

Through two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, the authors of this report obtained significant samples of ICE arrest records from home raid operations in New York and New Jersey. Analysis of these records, together with other publicly available documents, reveals an established pattern of misconduct by ICE agents in the New York and New Jersey Field Offices. Further, the evidence suggests that such pattern may be a widespread national phenomenon reaching beyond these local offices. The pattern of misconduct involves:

• ICE agents illegally entering homes without legal authority – for example, physically pushing or breaking their way into private residences.

• ICE agents illegally seizing non-target individuals during home raid operations – for example, seizing innocent people in their bedrooms without any basis.

• ICE agents illegally searching homes without legal authority – for example, breaking down locked doors inside homes.

• ICE agents illegally seizing individuals based solely on racial or ethnic appearance or on limited English proficiency.

That sounds an awful lot like what the Slaughters went through. According to Jimmy Slaughter's affidavit, attached to his complaint against the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Supervisor Neil Baker and the seven agents who raided his home:

On July 24th 2008 at approximately 1730 hrs I was at home with my wife when the doorbell rang," Slaughter wrote in an affidavit included in the eight-page lawsuit. "I opened the door and noticed approximately 7 uniformed Ice agents with vests and guns standing at my door. I could only see 3 unmarked cars in front of my home.

I said what's up fellas? Not having a clue as to what was happening. The lead agent stated that, 'We have received information that Guadalupe Uolla is residing at the residence.' I opened the screen door to look at the paperwork and five agents entered my house.

My wife asked me what was happening, thinking this was a joke. The agents then told my wife to stand in the center of our living room; we were in the middle of folding laundry during my day off. Not once did anyone say they had a warrant.

Note that Slaughter was able to end the raid by demonstrating his own Border Patrol credentials. His status also allowed him access to Baker, who supervised the raiders and who he chewed out over the phone. But even with his privileged status and access, Slaughter still ended up seeking redress through the courts.

Most encounters with ICE don't end so "well." Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that immigration agents have sometimes illegally seized and deported citizens during the course of their raids.

ICE teams have apparently made a habit of visiting homes under the authority only of administrative warrants issued by their own agency. These administrative documents don't meet the standards set by the Fourth Amendment's guarantee that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." The Cardozo report details:

According to ICE’s own Detention and Deportation Officer’s Field Manual, "Warrants of Deportation and Removal are administrative rather than criminal, and do not grant the authority to breach doors. Thus informed consent must be obtained from the occupant of the residence prior to entering.”

As the well-documented Slaughter raid illustrates, that's a provision they regularly ignore.

How often do ICE agents barge into homes without legal authority? That seems to vary from place to place. The Cardozo report looked closely at raids in New York and New Jersey, and found that informed consent was not first obtained 24% of the time in the Garden State -- and a whopping 86% of the time on Long Island. The situation has been bad enough that in New York, Nassau County police pulled out of one 2007 operation with ICE because of “serious allegations of misconduct and malfeasance.”

The Fourth Amendment was added to the Constitution over 200 years ago by people who had suffered, in their lifetime, government agents who forced their way into private homes and businesses at will. It seems that whatever protection that amendment may once have provided is pretty well gone.

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