The town of Danbury and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have agreed to pay eight day laborers $650,000 in a civil rights case that charged they were arrested as the result of racial profiling.
The eight immigrants, according to depositions, were part of a group of 11 men who were picked up in 2006 by a Danbury police officer disguised as a contractor who picked them up with promises of work and then transferred them to the custody of ICE.
The immigrants, who ICE charges were here illegally, have been ordered deported, but those separate court rulings are now before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. In both the civil rights suit and the deportation cases, the eight have been represented by lawyers in training at the Yale Law School and more recently, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a Washington, D.C., firm, both on a pro bono basis.
Jenny Zhao, a student working on the case, said the settlement is the largest of its kind awarded to day laborers in a civil rights action.
The civil suit charged that both ICE and Danbury had no probable cause for the arrests; that the men were targeted for their race in violation of their due process and unreasonable search protections, and Danbury had no jurisdiction to enforce federal immigration law.
Chuck Jackson, spokesman for ICE’s Boston office, said the settlement represents a new approach to these cases. “Under this administration, ICE has focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes efforts first on those serious criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities,” Jackson said.
In their own depositions, Danbury police officers testified the men were picked up for an alleged traffic violation, such as “illegal use of the highway by a pedestrian” as they approached stopped vehicles seeking work, but they were never charged with any such infraction, police booking records show. The only charge was “illegal entry,” which is a federal issue.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, in his deposition, agreed an alleged traffic violation can’t be used as a pretext to inquire about someone’s legal status.
Boughton said in his deposition that the suit had cost Danbury about $500,000 with the town responsible for a $100,000 deductible. On Wednesday, he said the town’s insurer recommended settlement because taking it to trial would cost another $1.2 million.
Boughton is known nationally for his tough stance against illegal immigration.
The payment is split between Danbury, with the city paying $400,000 and ICE picking up $250,000, Boughton said. The pro bono attorneys costs since 2007 was $85,000 and will be subtracted from the amount going to the eight men.