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 user 2008-07-01 at 11:09:21 am Views: 42
  • #20132

    Citizens sue after detentions, immigration raids
    ANGELES — Nitin Dhopade, the chief financial officer for Micro
    Solutions Enterprises, was headed toward the accounting department on
    the afternoon of Feb. 7 to deliver checks he had just signed. Suddenly,
    he says, he encountered armed men and women wearing bulletproof vests
    and uniforms branded with “ICE,” which stands for U.S. Immigration and
    Customs Enforcement.Dhopade, 47, says he and 30 other administrative
    workers for the Van Nuys, Calif., company, which recycles used toner
    and ink cartridges, were marched down a stairwell lined by officers.
    The workers were ordered against a wall and told not to touch anything
    or use their cellphones. “There was no way you could leave. You were
    definitely detained,” he says. “None of us were in handcuffs, but there
    was no way you could say ‘I’m leaving.’ “That marked the beginning of a
    surprise raid that would result in the arrests of 138 suspected illegal
    immigrants, about one-fifth of MSE’s workforce. Also swept up in the
    same raid were more than 100 U.S. citizens and legal residents,
    including Dhopade, a naturalized U.S. citizen from India. They say they
    were illegally detained at the factory for an hour when ICE agents
    blocked the doors and interrogated them, forbidding them to leave or go
    to the bathroom without an escort.Whether their brief detention was a
    mere inconvenience or a flagrant violation of their constitutional
    rights is the subject of a growing debate that seems likely to be
    resolved in federal court. Immigration officials, charged with
    enforcing the law against the estimated 12 million undocumented
    foreigners in the USA, are mounting more raids at slaughterhouses,
    restaurants and factories.

    Increasingly, U.S. citizens and legal
    residents who work alongside illegal immigrants are being detained and
    interrogated, too. And some, such as Dhopade, are filing claims or
    lawsuits against the government. Dhopade says he was a victim of racial
    profiling by ICE. An ICE agent questioned him about his immigration
    status and his ability to speak English “because of my skin color,” he
    says. “None of the white folks in the office … that I know of were
    asked for proof of citizenship. To be asked for proof of citizenship,
    in this country, it’s an insult. This is the United States of America.
    This country does not require that.”In other immigration raids,
    citizens and legal, permanent residents have been taken to jail. Jesus
    Garcia, a former Texas poultry worker, was handcuffed and spent more
    than 30 hours in ICE custody this year, part of that time in jail. Two
    co-workers, both citizens, also were arrested. No charges were filed
    against them.In April, the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional
    Law, a public interest law firm here, filed claims for damages on
    behalf of 114 MSE employees, all citizens or legal permanent residents,
    also called green-card holders. The claims allege that they were
    subjected to “false imprisonment” and “detention without justification”
    and seek $5,000 each in damages from the federal government.The
    lawsuits and claims against the government are part of a strategy by
    immigration lawyers to halt or change workplace raids. Peter Schey,
    president and executive director of the center, acknowledges that
    “we’re hoping the prospect of thousands of U.S. citizens over time
    filing claims for damages against the United States government might
    cause (ICE) to reconsider how these raids are conducted.”"You cannot in
    this country engage in group detentions of large numbers of people
    because you think a smaller number within the larger group has done
    something wrong,” Schey says. At the Van Nuys plant, ICE “created a
    powerful atmosphere of fear and intimidation. People felt like they had
    been taken hostage.”

    The rationale for the raids
    Julie Myers,
    the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for ICE, says
    federal law, Supreme Court decisions and search warrants give ICE the
    authority to enter workplaces to question “all the people inside,”
    including citizens. She declines to discuss the MSE case, citing the
    ongoing investigation. But she says ICE agents work fast to separate
    legal workers from suspected illegal ones.”When we go in, a lot of
    people are pretending to be U.S. citizens, and then there are some
    people who are,” she says. “Our goal is to make sure we work as quickly
    and efficiently as we can so that U.S. citizens and legal permanent
    residents are free to go.”The stepped-up enforcement protects U.S.
    workers, she says. “We’re trying to create a culture of compliance … so
    that businesses would start to have incentives to hire only people who
    are legally entitled to work here.”Workplace arrests by ICE in 2007
    were 10 times what they were in 2002. Last year, the agency charged 863
    people with criminal violations, such as identity theft, and 4,077 for
    allegedly being in the country illegally. In 2002, ICE made 25 criminal
    and 485 immigration-related arrests. Workers arrested on criminal
    charges face jail time; those accused of being in the country illegally
    are subject to deportation.

    So far this year, ICE has made 850
    criminal arrests and detained 2,900 people on immigration
    violations.ICE has three primary targets, Myers says: workers who steal
    the identities of U.S. citizens, such as those who use someone else’s
    Social Security number to gain employment; work sites such as airports
    and naval bases, which could be particularly vulnerable to terrorist
    threats; and what Myers calls “egregious employers” — those who
    knowingly hire illegal workers.Barbara Coe, chairwoman of the
    California Coalition for Immigration Reform, says raids “are providing
    the incentive for at least some of these illegal aliens to get out of
    here before they are deported. I don’t think there are enough raids.
    There should be more.” She says she’s sorry legal residents are
    sometimes questioned during raids but believes ICE needs time to
    determine who is here legally.So does Mark Krikorian of the Center for
    Immigration Studies in Washington. “It’s not the end of the world,” he
    says of citizens who are detained. “These people were briefly
    inconvenienced. Too bad.”

    ‘My heart was racing’
    Shippy, nine months pregnant the day of the MSE raid, says it was more
    than an inconvenience.She had planned to take off that afternoon for
    parent-teacher conferences and a doctor’s appointment. But Shippy, 30,
    needed to train a receptionist to fill in for her while she was on
    maternity leave, so she took her two children to the office with her.
    The raid occurred as she settled Cassidy, 7, and Ricky, 9, into the
    mailroom for lunch.As she left the mailroom, Shippy found the lobby
    filled with ICE agents, and she, the children and co-workers were
    herded in there. When Shippy tried to respond to an e-mail, she says,
    one ICE agent said, “Stop typing.”"My rights were violated,” Shippy
    says. “I am a citizen of this United States. I was born here. I’m not
    who they’re looking for. I wasn’t allowed to leave. … I couldn’t go
    anywhere and couldn’t do anything. Neither could my children.”Although
    she was upset, she tried to calm her kids, she says. She needed to use
    the restroom, but held off because she didn’t want an agent to
    accompany her.”I didn’t want to scare the heck out of my kids,” she
    says. “I was trying to be cool and calm for my children. My heart was
    racing.”At one point, agents started escorting handcuffed workers —
    suspected illegal immigrants — from the factory floor out the front
    door. Her children asked why the workers were handcuffed, what they had
    done wrong and what would happen to them, she says.”That was when I
    started getting angry,” she says. “My kids should not have had to watch
    these things. They saw people being led out in handcuffs. These are
    people who are recognizable to my children.”Shippy, who gave birth to a
    boy on Feb. 19, returned to work June 9 and says she still feels
    justified in filing a claim.”I’m not some money-hungry person,” she
    says. “This is something I’m pretty passionate about. It shouldn’t have
    happened the way it did.”

    Debate over the law
    As long as ICE
    has a warrant to enter a workplace, Myers says, agents can conduct what
    she calls a “survey” to determine the legal status of “anyone within
    the premises.”She cites a 1984 Supreme Court ruling that said factory
    surveys during immigration raids don’t amount to an unconstitutional
    detention or seizure of those being questioned, even U.S. citizens.In
    its ruling, however, the Supreme Court emphasized that the employees in
    the factory were not prevented from moving around, continuing to work
    or leaving. The current raids are different from those the Supreme
    Court approved, Schey says.ICE can question workers as long as the
    interaction is voluntary, “but what they’re doing (now) is not that,”
    he says, because workers think they have no choice except to answer
    questions — which may incriminate those here illegally.Many workers
    caught in raids don’t know they’re not obligated to respond, regardless
    of their immigration status, says Kevin Johnson, dean of the University
    of California-Davis, law school. ICE “can ask people questions. That
    doesn’t mean people have to respond,” he says.Schey suspects ICE is
    using search warrants as a pretext to enter workplaces and then arrest
    as many people as it can to get publicity. “It’s in effect a group
    detention,” he says, “not supported by probable cause, … not supported
    by any law.”Michael Wishnie, a professor at Yale Law School, argues
    that ICE cannot legally detain or arrest anyone without reasonable
    suspicion that a specific person broke the law. People should not be
    detained simply because “they work in the same factory as the person”
    for whom ICE has warrant, he says.Kris Kobach, who teaches law at the
    University of Missouri-Kansas City, counters that police sometimes have
    to detain a large group to find the lawbreakers among them. He cites,
    as an example, police looking for two drug dealers in a house where 10
    people live. In such a drug raid, “police will reasonably close the
    doors to the house and detain everybody,” he says.

    The factory’s owners
    fines or charges have been levied against MSE or its managers.Brothers
    Avi and Yoel Wazana, immigrants from Israel, started the company in
    1994. Last year, net revenue was $95 million. At MSE’s headquarters, a
    225,000-square-foot building in Van Nuys, workers clean, disassemble,
    reassemble and test old printer cartridges. Before the raid, MSE
    employed about 700 people here.Myers declined to say what prompted the
    raid. However, ICE began auditing the company in May 2007, focusing on
    “I-9 forms,” which employers use to document employees’ legal status.
    As part of the I-9 process, employers must inspect at least two
    documents that show identity and legal status, including U.S.
    passports, Social Security cards or green cards.MSE was “in compliance
    with I-9 requirements,” says Schey, who also represents the company.
    “If some of the documents workers presented were fraudulent,” MSE has
    “no way of determining that.”The next month, the company voluntarily
    began using a government database to verify the status of new hires, he
    says. Then the company didn’t hear from the government for months,
    Schey says.”They expected a letter,” he says. “Instead, on Feb. 7, ICE
    comes in like gangbusters.”About 100 ICE agents raided the factory
    between 3:30 and 4 p.m., says Nora Preciado, an attorney with the
    National Immigration Law Center. Armed with a federal search warrant,
    they arrested 130 workers from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and other
    countries on suspicion of being in the country illegally. ICE also had
    arrest warrants for eight others, who were picked up at their homes or
    the factory. These eight, identified by ICE during the earlier check of
    documents, face criminal charges for making false claims of U.S.
    citizenship or presenting false documents.

    Five people arrested
    in the raids have been deported, ICE says. The others remain, some in
    detention, some not, while fighting their deportation orders in
    court.Avi Wazana did not comment on the cases against his former
    employees or the methods MSE used to check their immigration status. In
    an e-mail after the raid, however, he told some of his customers that
    “MSE … has rejected hundreds (possibly more) of applicants … due to
    improper documentation.”The ACLU and other legal aid groups sued ICE,
    saying the detained MSE workers should have been allowed access to
    attorneys when they reported for interviews after the raid. U.S.
    District Court Judge George Wu agreed, and ordered ICE to stop
    interviewing workers. ICE has since allowed lawyers to be present at
    any interview with MSE workers.One of the workers interviewed without
    an attorney present was Maria, a 39-year-old Pacoima resident who
    worked at MSE for eight years. She asked that her last name not to be
    used, on the advice of her attorney. “I felt like I had to answer”
    questions from ICE, she says. “I didn’t know about my rights.”Maria was
    a supervisor in charge of eight line workers. She says she entered the
    USA illegally 15 years ago from Mexico so she could give her children a
    better education. One of her three children, a 14-year-old girl, is a
    U.S. citizen.Maria says she’ll fight to remain in the USA because she
    doesn’t want to be separated from her family, especially her daughter.
    The girl’s father, Maria’s longtime partner, is a U.S. citizen and will
    care for their daughter if Maria is deported.”She’s not going to
    leave,” Maria says of the girl, an eighth-grader. “This is her country.”

    Jailed ‘over a mistake’
    raids foster discrimination, says Domingo Garcia, attorney for the
    League of United Latin American Citizens. “There’s a lot of racial
    profiling. … If you look like a Hispanic, you’re detained or
    arrested.”He says he plans to file a class-action, civil rights lawsuit
    on behalf of legal workers detained in raids, including Jesus Garcia,
    27, a green-card holder from Mount Pleasant, Texas. Domingo Garcia says
    he will ask the court to prohibit ICE from conducting raids until it
    changes its policies to prevent racial profiling.ICE agents went to
    Jesus Garcia’s home on April 16 in conjunction with a raid on a nearby
    Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant, where he worked marinating
    chicken meat. Garcia, from Mexico, has been a legal permanent resident
    for a year and a half. When about 10 ICE agents and local sheriff’s
    deputies knocked on his door, they told him he was using the wrong
    Social Security number, says his wife, Olivia Garcia, a U.S.
    citizen.Though Garcia showed the agents his green card, they handcuffed
    him and jailed him. He was released a day and a half later after agents
    told him he wasn’t the person they wanted, he says. He had spent the
    night in jail. “He said it was pretty bad,” Olivia says. “People were
    crying and screaming.”Jesus Garcia, who has since left Pilgrim’s Pride
    for another job, says the mishap cost him three days of work. “I worked
    hard to get my residency,” he says. “And to take me to jail just over a