LatinoJustice: Targets of 'warrantless' ICE raids settle for $1M

Adriana Leon and her son, Carson Aguilar, 10, Adriana Leon and her son, Carson Aguilar, 10, stand in the bedroom of her East Hampton home where they were victims of warrantless raids by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents back in 2007. (April 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Latino residents of Long Island and Westchester County who claimed they were victims of "warrantless home raids" by immigration agents have settled a lawsuit for $1 million in damages and stricter controls over future enforcement, attorneys said Friday.

The settlement was reached on behalf of 22 people -- many of them from Nassau and Suffolk counties -- who had sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The class-action suit, filed by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a New York City civil rights advocacy group, accused the agency of constitutional rights violations in 2006 and 2007, when armed ICE agents raided immigrants' homes before dawn, pulling some from their beds.

Most of those targeted are legal residents or U.S. citizens, according to court documents.

East Hampton resident Adriana León, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Ecuador, said she was sleeping with her 4-year-old son in February 2007 when she was rousted by ICE agents who pulled off their blankets.

"It was very horrific," recalled León, 35. "I didn't know if they were policemen or criminals looking to rob us or kidnap us."

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León, who joined the suit, said she hopes the settlement stops immigration enforcement abuses and shows other Latinos that "if we unite, we can fight for our rights."

An ICE spokesman in Washington, D.C., declined to comment on the settlement Friday. The agency has been modifying its enforcement approach over the past two years, arguing it would focus on immigrants who have criminal records, committed repeated immigration violations or who pose a threat.

Advocates believe the case will affect enforcement beyond New York.

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"Immigrants across the country can stand up and cheer for what has been accomplished," Juan Cartagena, president of LatinoJustice, said in a statement.

The $1 million, minus about $200,000 in legal costs, will be split among the 22 complainants, said Foster Maer, senior litigation counsel for LatinoJustice. The deportations of eight men and women involved in the case were also suspended as part of the agreement.

The federal agency also agreed to follow new guidelines that will keep agents from trespassing on property without warrants; require them to be accompanied by interpreters; and put the onus on agents to justify entering a house without permission, Maer said.

Ghita Schwarz, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which helped negotiate the settlement, called it a case of "sleeping while Latino."

The disputed raids involved Latinos who lived in East Hampton, Riverhead, Westbury, Hempstead, Huntington Station and Mount Kisko.

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"It's not just that these agents came in without warrants and without consent; it's that they targeted Latinos," Schwarz said.

Ira Mehlman, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors tough enforcement, said the settlement may go too far.

"It sounds like they are going beyond the Fourth Amendment requirements" against unreasonable searches, he said, by "restricting even entering into a yard."

But housekeeper Nelly Amaya, who joined the suit, hailed the settlement. She said agents removed her from her East Hampton home in pajamas in February 2007.

"It's a victory for us," said Amaya, 36, an Ecuadorean native who was among those facing deportation. "But most of all, it's a step forward for many other undocumented people."

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