This post originally appeared in Voices of New York, by way of El Diario La Prensa. Voices of New York curates journalism from community and ethnic publications and when necessary translates the work into English.
Twenty-two Latinos will receive compensation for damages from a settlement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a result of illegal raids the agency carried out on Long Island in 2006 and 2007.
The $1 million settlement also requires ICE to adopt new regulations nationally that will prevent their agents from entering private homes without a search warrant.
The lawsuit, known as Adriana Aguilar et al. v. ICE, was filed on behalf of 22 New Yorkers including men, women, children, citizens, permanent legal residents, and others. It was brought to court as a result of violent early morning raids conducted by immigration authorities; knocking doors and demanding entry to homes in front of frightened occupants.
The raids took place in Suffolk and Nassau Counties on Long Island, and also in the town of Mount Kisco in Westchester County.
“Immigrants across the country can stand up and cheer for what has been accomplished by this settlement,” said Juan Cartagena, president of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “No longer will ICE agents have free rein to invade the homes of immigrants, especially Latino immigrants, and be as abusive as they want without any worry that they might be reprimanded.”
Adriana Aguilar, a 35-year-old Ecuadorean woman whose current name is Adriana León, was the victim who headed the lawsuit. The case was represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the law firm Winston & Strawn and LatinoJustice.
León was “very content and proud of the settlement,” but she hasn't forgotten the horrifying ordeal that she went through with her young children at her home in Suffolk.
“My husband had left for work at 2 a.m. I only heard very loud yelling, everything was dark and the first thing that came to mind was an accident or that the house was on fire. I was very confused,” said León.
“All of a sudden one of these men appeared at the foot of my bed. He pulled the covers off me and told me to leave the room. I was with my 4-year-old child who stayed in the room and cried. They didn't say who they were or what they were doing in my house and they didn't show any search warrant.”
After that painful experience, León and her three children lived in constant fear despite all of them being American citizens.
“My son didn't want to sleep and he always remembers that moment. My daughters were afraid to go to school. We locked the doors tightly; we were scared they would return the same way they did before.”
Peggy de la Rosa, a Dominican woman who is also an American citizen, said her three children remain traumatized from the two times immigration agents raided her home, in 2006 and 2007.
Christopher Jiménez, who was 17 at the time, was the one who opened the door when he heard the ICE agents knocking.
“They pushed me and I fell on the stairs,” he said. “The worst thing was that they had already done the same thing a year before and we told them that we didn't know the man they were looking for. They didn't care.”
Ghita Schwarz, the lead counsel for the case and an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said she felt “proud of what our plaintiffs have achieved” and it has been proven that “ICE must follow the law like everyone else, and that all people – whether they are immigrants, citizens, or residents – have the same right to be safe in their own homes.”
Changes taking effect on April 4:
ICE agents will have to gain permission to enter and investigate a home, and must communicate with the residents in their native language whenever possible.
The teams that conduct raids must have Spanish-speaking agents who can ask for permission to enter when the residents are from a Spanish-speaking country.
At the same time, agents must obtain consent in order to enter other parts of a home, such as a backyard.
- ICE agents will not be able to carry out any type of precautionary inspection of a home without genuinely suspecting danger.
[El Diario-La Prensa also published an editorial titled A Victory for Latino Rights. The editorial calls the settlement “unprecedented” and one that sends “a loud and needed message: immigration agents cannot run roughshod over the rights of Latinos without consequences.”]