In what activists call a victory for Latinos, the U.S. government has resolved allegations relating to a series of warrantless home raids by immigration agents and must now follow new guidelines for conducing similar operations in the future.
The terms were part of a federal court settlement approved on Thursday in New York between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and nearly two dozen plaintiffs who joined in a class-action suit.
The suit that was closely watched by immigrant communities alleged ICE agents forced their way into eight homes of Latino families on New York's Long Island in 2006 and 2007 without legal justification.
The lead plaintiff, Adriana Aguilar, said agents pounded on doors in the middle of the night and came into her East Hampton home even though they were denied entry. She shared the home with her parents, siblings and children, who are all U.S. citizens.
"ICE is known for tactics like showing up unexpectedly and banging on doors, a common strategy that has been employed fairly routinely," said Camille Mackler, director of training and technical assistance at the New York Immigration Coalition. "But now with this change in federal policy, hopefully people's basic constitutional rights won't be violated."
Under revised guidelines for cases without warrants, ICE must establish a policy requiring that agents, when feasible, obtain permission to enter a home in a language residents can understand.
There are also new restrictions for when searches can be conducted on property surrounding a home.
The government, as part of the settlement, also agreed to pay $1 million and drop or put aside immigration proceedings in several cases related to the raids.
"Undocumented immigrants have less rights than U.S. citizens would but they do have basic constitutional protection that gives them the right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure," explained Mackler.
ICE declined to comment on the settlement.