Feds Allegedly Profiled Hispanic Day Laborers

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Immigrant advocates have released a video they say shows federal agents racially profiling Hispanic day laborers at a convenience store in Maryland. They say 24 Hispanics were arrested while white and African-Americans pass by unquestioned. Three of those targeted have filed claims for damages.


Federal immigration officials are being accused of racial profiling of Latinos. Advocates for day laborers in Maryland said today that they have proof, and they released a video tape. Immigration officials deny the charge and say they've already done their own investigation. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: The group CASA of Maryland released the security tapes of a 7-Eleven store in Baltimore from January 23, 2007. Early that morning, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, had staged raids on a series of homes of illegal immigrants who had already been ordered deported. They'd arrested nine people. But as an internal ICE report says, that was lower than had been anticipated.

So at mid-morning, the report says agents were, quote, "ordered back out into the field to make more arrests." Justin Cox, an attorney with CASA of Maryland, says the videotape shows that first, just one unmarked vehicle pulled into the parking lot of the convenience store, which was an informal day labor site.

Mr. JUSTIN COX (Lawyer, CASA of Maryland): This first ICE vehicle pulled up right next to the men who were waiting on the corner. And they had their windows rolled down and they began saying that they were looking for about 10 guys to do some sheet rock and drywall work.

LUDDEN: Soon, the video shows two more ICE vehicles arrive and agents begin rounding up the day laborers, all Latino men, and order them to sit on the curb. In all, 24 were arrested. Attorney Cox says in sworn affidavits, ICE agents said they were simply targeting day laborers, not any particular ethnicity.

Mr. COX: The problem with that is on the video, you can actually see an African-American day laborer approach the first vehicle of ICE agents. And then once they start rounding everyone up, he's still hanging out on the corner. They don't bother him at all.

LUDDEN: Even when the black man approaches another car for work, Cox says he is ignored, just as he says other black and white store customers are ignored. Yet, Cox says agents entered the store to arrest three Latino men inside. It's not clear on the video, but he says agents also crossed the street to arrest several Latino men at a bus stop and ordered two Latino men out of a car to be questioned.

Mr. COX: These men had done nothing. They were simply sitting in a private vehicle in this parking lot and they were detained for simply being Latino men in a parking lot.

Ms. KELLY NANTEL (Spokeswoman, Immigration and Customs Enforcement): I couldn't speak to the specific allegations.

LUDDEN: Kelly Nantel is a spokeswoman with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ms. NANTEL: I can tell you that there was a very lengthy investigation into those allegations. And based on the testimony that the investigators had, they determined that those allegations were not substantiated.

LUDDEN: Much of ICE's report made public so far has been redacted. But Nantel says that before the arrests, some of the day laborers in the parking lot actually admitted to ICE agents that they were in the country illegally while others had no documentation to prove legal status.

Ms. NANTEL: That's part of what our agents and officers are trying to do, is to determine alienage. And so they utilize their training and their experience to make those decisions.

LUDDEN: This is hardly the first such allegation of racial profiling. Numerous other suits have been directed at local law enforcement agencies who've been deputized to carry out immigration enforcement. Lucas Guttentag of the ACLU says such cases can be difficult to prove, but he's not satisfied with internal agency reports.

Mr. LUCAS GUTTENTAG (National Director, Immigrants' Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union): These are serious charges that need to be pursued by the Department of Justice not only in individual cases, but more broadly in terms of the policies and practices and incentives that were put in place by the Bush administration.

LUDDEN: Three of those detained at the Baltimore convenience store have filed wrongful arrest claims asking for damages. CASA of Maryland is also asking for the immigration agency to make public all of its report on the incident. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

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