Thursday, November 19, 2009

Immigrants use civil lawsuits to protest raids by federal agents

This excerpt is from the article "Putting Heat On ICE" published by Connecticut Law Tribune Monday, November 16, 2009
Copyright 2009, ALM Properties, Inc.

In May 2006, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency launched “Operation Return To Sender.” The goal: track down, arrest and deport undocumented immigrants, particularly felons, gang members and other dangerous types.

Since then, ICE agents have conducted scores of raids on homes and workplaces. Advocacy groups and lawyers say some agents have been overly zealous, and the advocates have regularly gone to court to try to void arrests and block deportations. But in what seems to be a small, but significant trend, some have also gone on the offensive, filing civil lawsuits against ICE and its agents.

The most recent example is in Connecticut, where a Yale School of Law legal clinic has filed suit on behalf of 10 undocumented immigrants whose homes were raided in June 2007. Immigration attorneys differ on whether the claim has much chance of success. But most agree that litigation is an interesting strategy that could buy time in America for the clients and give ICE officials reason to reconsider tactics.

Attorney Alex Meyerovich, of Bridgeport’s M.C. Law Group, called the lawsuit part of a “cat and mouse game” between federal agents and advocates for immigrants. Similar claims have been filed following sweeps on immigrant homes in New Jersey, New York, Georgia and Northern California in recent years.

“What Yale is trying to do is to intimidate ICE,” said Meyerovich. “To show there is a potential liability if they step over an invisible border. It doesn’t matter if [the lawsuit] succeeds or fails. It’s an important power struggle.”

Meyerovich has few kind words for ICE agents, calling some of them “vigilantes.” But he also would not endorse the civil rights lawsuit. “If illegal immigrants succeed in this lawsuit, the message might come out, if you come into the country illegally and get arrested, your rights were violated. I think it’s the wrong message.”

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