Settlement Reached In Conn. Immigration Raid Case

fromWNPR

The federal government will pay $350,000 as part of a landmark settlement with 11 men caught up in an immigration raid in New Haven, Conn., in 2007. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided homes in a predominantly Latino neighborhood without warrants or consent. The settlement puts government entities on notice that they must follow the law.

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Eleven Connecticut residents have reached a landmark settlement in a civil rights lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. As Diane Orson of member station WNPR reports, the agreement includes one of the largest monetary settlements ever paid by the U.S. over ICE raids.

DIANE ORSON, BYLINE: Early morning June 6, 2007, ICE agents swept into New Haven. They entered homes in a predominantly Latino neighborhood of Fair Haven without warrants or consent, interrupting people in showers, couples asleep in their beds and, in some cases, arresting people in front of their young children.

Amilcar Soto Velasquez says he was awakened by knocking at his door.

AMILCAR SOTO VELASQUEZ: (Through translator) They told us to leave our bedrooms immediately. I was very nervous.

ORSON: Soto Velasquez was one of 29 people arrested that day. Eleven of the men filed a civil rights lawsuit against top ICE officials. They alleged that they were arrested based on their skin color and physical appearance.

Trudy Rebert is a Yale law student intern who worked on the case. She says, in bringing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs have shown that ICE agents are not immune from liability.

TRUDY REBERT: They, too, are required to follow the Constitution and respect people's rights and that communities can fight back to defend themselves when they stick together in solidarity.

ORSON: To settle the claims, the federal government will pay $350,000 and offer the plaintiffs a choice of immigration relief or termination of deportation proceedings. The men's immigration status is not public, but four have used the settlement to avoid deportation.

ICE officials would not respond to questions about the settlement. But reading from a statement, spokesman Ross Feinstein said it's not an admission of guilt on the part of the U.S. government.

ROSS FEINSTEIN: The government is settling in order to avoid the additional time and expense of further litigation.

ORSON: This is one of the largest settlements related to ICE operations in its history and the first to include both compensation and immigration relief.

Doris Meissner was commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Clinton administration. She's now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Meissner calls the settlement dramatic and says it puts everybody on notice.

DORIS MEISSNER: It puts people who work for government agencies and law enforcement on notice that they absolutely must follow correct procedures, and it also tells communities that are affected that they have rights and that they are able to get, in this country and in this system, redress if their rights are violated.

ORSON: But she points out that the New Haven raids took place back in 2007. She says some of the techniques used in ICE raids have probably changed.

For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven.

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