NEWARK , N.J., April 3, 2008 /PRNewswire/ -- Seton Hall Law School's Center for Social Justice and Lowenstein Sandler PC, filed suit today in federal court, alleging that federal law enforcement officials violated the ten victims' constitutional privacy and due process rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments by entering their homes without consent or a judicial warrant during pre-dawn "raids." The plaintiffs include two U.S. citizens, a permanent resident, and a lawful protection-status grantee.
The complaint is based on eight home raids across the state of New Jersey between August 2006 and January 2008 . The raids all follow a similar pattern, in which immigration agents forced their way into each plaintiff's home in the early hours of the morning without a judicial warrant or the occupants' consent. Most of the plaintiffs were awakened by loud pounding on their doors and answered the door, fearing an emergency. ICE agents subsequently either lied about their identity or purpose to gain entry, or simply shoved their way into the home. During each raid the agents swept through the house and, displaying guns, rounded up all the residents for questioning. In some cases they ordered children out of their beds, shouted obscenities, shoved guns into residents' chests, and forbade detained individuals from calling their lawyers. In at least half the raids, the officers purported to be searching for a person who did not even live at the address raided.
The complaint asserts that these practices are not isolated violations, but are examples of a clear modus operandi typical of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") program called "Operation Return to Sender." Under this program, the complaint alleges, ICE agents have been ordered to meet dramatically increased immigrant arrest quotas using grossly outdated address information and without having been trained on lawful procedures.
"This is the first lawsuit in the country to focus on the consistency of these abusive home raid practices across an entire state, and over a significant period of time," said Bassina Farbenblum, an attorney at the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice. "Our complaint shows that what happened to our plaintiffs in the middle of the night was not exceptional. It was part of a routine, widespread practice, condoned at the highest levels of government, that tramples the rights of citizens and non-citizens alike."
ICE claims that Operation Return to Sender was designed to arrest criminals and individuals with old deportation orders, people whom ICE calls "fugitives." But the statistics belie this explanation. Of the 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. These statistics demonstrate that the program has been used as a pretext for dragnet searches in which ICE makes thousands of what it euphemistically calls "collateral arrests" of people like the plaintiffs in today's suit.
The complaint alleges that responsibility for the pre-dawn raids and the associated constitutional violations reaches senior federal officials, including the head of ICE, Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security Julie Myers , who knew about the practice and allowed it to continue. The complaint also seeks to hold responsible local police officers who participated in one of the raids alongside ICE agents.
"None of the home raids in today's case involved valid warrants allowing the agents to enter, and none of the residents gave consent," noted plaintiffs' attorney Scott Thompson , of Lowenstein Sandler. "The Constitution is very clear about the circumstances under which law enforcement may enter a private home, and the entries in this case did not even come close."