NEWARK, N.J. , May 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Two lawful permanent residents and their U.S.-citizen son, age 9, joined a statewide lawsuit challenging the federal government's practice of unlawfully raiding immigrants' homes, after federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") agents forced their way into the family's home last month. Once inside the home, the agents terrified the son by pointing a gun at him and threatening to take him from his family, according to court papers filed today on the family's behalf by the Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice and Lowenstein Sandler PC.
Plaintiffs, Walter Chavez , Anna Galindo and their son -- identified in court papers by his initials W.C. -- join a suit filed last month in federal district court on behalf of 10 other victims of home raids that occurred across the state of New Jersey between August 2006 and January 2008 . All plaintiffs claim violations of their constitutional privacy and due process rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The plaintiffs in the amended lawsuit allege that the unlawful dragnet raids are carried out as part of an ongoing pattern and practice by ICE agents.
Chavez and Galindo are legal residents who came to the United States from Guatemala in 1980 and who now live in Paterson, New Jersey . According to the amended complaint, one morning last month Chavez was accosted by federal agents in front of his home, then physically shoved up to his own front door and ordered to open it. The agents demanded to see his wife, who ran out of the bath in a state of semi-undress; they later realized they had the wrong person.
According to the amended complaint, when the boy entered the room, several agents opened their jackets to display their guns, then put their hands on their guns. One agent drew his weapon and pointed it at W.C. and his mother, causing the boy to fear the agents would kill him and his family. Even after the agents realized they were in the wrong house, the agents remained in the house questioning Chavez and Galindo and they made explicit threats to take the boy away from his parents. When the agents finally left the house one of the agents announced, "We're going to come back. And next time it will be worse." The amended complaint alleges that Galindo and her son experienced severe trauma as a result of the raid. They are unable to sleep and fear the agents' return. Chavez and Galindo have found their son crying and shaking in the night, and he becomes afraid every time the doorbell rings.
"When ICE agents are terrorizing lawful residents and young children, there can be no doubt that the dragnet home-raids practice is deeply flawed," said Bassina Farbenblum, an attorney at the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice. "These aren't isolated cases. What happened to the Chavez family and the other plaintiffs in our case is typical of the government's widespread home-raids practice, which continues to undermine the rule of law and instill fear throughout immigrant communities."
The Chavez home raid, and those challenged in the original complaint, all follow a similar pattern in which immigration agents force their way into homes by deception, intimidation, or physical force, in the early hours of the morning without a judicial warrant or the occupants' consent. Agents sweep through the house, round up all the residents for questioning, often display guns, and sometimes order children out of their beds. In some instances they shout obscenities, shove guns into residents' chests, and forbid residents from calling their lawyers. In many cases, the officers purport to be searching for a person who does not even live at the address raided. The amended complaint asserts that these practices are typical of ICE's "Operation Return to Sender" program.
Under this program, the amended complaint alleges, ICE agents have been ordered to meet dramatically increased immigrant arrest quotas using grossly outdated address information and without having been trained on lawful procedures. ICE claims that Operation Return to Sender was designed to arrest criminals and individuals with old deportation orders, people whom ICE calls "fugitives." Yet among 2,079 people arrested in New Jersey last year under this program, 87% had no criminal record, and as few as 1 in 3 were "fugitives" with outstanding deportation orders. The amended complaint alleges that responsibility for the raids practice and the associated constitutional violations reaches senior federal officials, including the head of ICE, Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security Julie Myers .
"The Chavez home raid presents yet another example of the inaccuracy and lack of training associated with the government's home raids practice," explained plaintiffs' attorney Scott Thompson , of Lowenstein Sandler . "The agents not only went after the wrong people, but refused to leave the family alone once they realized their mistake."
In addition to seeking compensation for their ordeal, Chavez, Galindo, and their son have asked the court for an order prohibiting ICE or its agents from making good on their threat to come back to their home -- a threat that still weighs heavily on the family, according to the amended complaint.
"As a result of government agents' abusive tactics, a 9-year-old U.S. citizen goes to bed every night in fear of his government," said plaintiffs' lawyer and Seton Hall Law Professor Baher Azmy . "This is something that should never happen in the United States of America ."
Previously, in January 2008 , the Center for Social Justice, represented by Lowenstein Sandler , and the community newspaper Brazilian Voice filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit challenging the government's withholding of raids-related documents: http://law.shu.edu/csj/iceraids.html.
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SOURCE Lowenstein Sandler PC