A civil rights defense group has filed a lawsuit against ICE on behalf of three Central American families who were among 121 women and children illegally detained during raids in early January 2016. The claim includes allegations of false imprisonment and emotional distress. The raids were carried simultaneously across the southern states of Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.
The majority of those detained had come into the country illegally through South Texas, where they were processed by immigration agents and allowed to stay with various conditions, such as regular check-ins and wearing monitoring anklets. Reportedly, all were in compliance. Most of the families detained were subsequently deported, but a few were incarcerated in prison-like facilities.
On January 7, 2016, the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center), a regional civil rights advocacy group filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn whether the raids were carried out legally. Without a response, the SPLC had to file a lawsuit to “prompt [the federal government] to do what they were supposed to do in the appropriate time frame,” SPLC Deputy Legal Director Lisa Graybill said in an interview with El Hispanic News. The court recently ordered ICE to release internal documents that explained how and why ICE pursued immigrant families with permission to be in the country. Lawyers from Atlanta, GA, firm Alston & Bird LLP are also assisting in the case.
Ms. Graybill, a passionate champion of civil rights, described how officers carrying out the raid deceptively exploited fear and demonstrated prejudice by claiming to be police in search of a criminal while brandishing the photo of an African-American man. They also claimed to be checking the monitoring equipment or pushed their way into people’s homes, ignoring requests to see a warrant or the complaints of other residents, and silencing or intimidating them.
“I was threatened, humiliated, and injured when these officers invaded my home that January morning,” said Rene Morales, a complainant whose sister was detained in the raids. “Now, we live in fear that any law enforcement officer could come bang down our door and rip apart our family again.”
“If our nation’s largest law enforcement agency is permitted to conduct warrantless raids by tricking some of the most vulnerable people in our society, none of us are safe in our homes,” Added Ms. Graybill. “Tactics like these needlessly traumatize our communities. Militaristic raids must stop immediately if we are ever to have a humane immigration system.”
According to the San Antonio Express News, a former high-ranking immigration official had stated in December, 2015 that agents were “planning to round up Central American families who have been ordered deported by judges,” which did not apply to this group. The raids sent shockwaves of fear of similar actions in many immigrant communities.
When asked what she would advise immigrants who may find themselves in a similar situation, Lisa Graybill has an immediate answer: “Don’t sign! Don’t sign any documents!”
She adds to request an attorney, pointing out that many organizations provide pro-bono and low cost assistance if necessary. Although based and focused on the southern region, she was readily familiar with and complimentary of some Northwest immigrant advocacy groups, such as Seattle’s NW Immigrant Rights Project and Portland’s Immigrant Law Group.
It was requesting counsel, after all, that made the biggest difference between the families who were deported and those now taking on the government.