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Conflicting Accounts of an ICE Raid in Md.

Video
On Jan. 23, 2007 officers of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 24 Latino men in the vicinity of a 7-Eleven in Baltimore, Md. The agency said the officers were seeking to detain men in an initial group that approached them and who, when asked, admitted to being in the country illegally. This clip shows the arrest of Ernesto Guillen--one of eight men who appear to have had no previous visible contact with the officers before they were detained.Video from 7-Eleven security cameras, Reported by N.C. Aizenman/The Washington Post, Edited by Anna Uhls/washingtonpost.com

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The lead vehicle, driven by Ervin, pulled into the parking lot first. Several officers told investigators that, as one put it, someone on the team suggested they "check the 7-Eleven parking lot for potential targets." Others, including Smith, who was also in the lead vehicle, said it was simply a convenient place to wait for the rest.

The store's security videos show that within three minutes of the lead car's arrival, the rest of the detention officers had arrived and corralled 20 of the men they would ultimately load onto the vans. Four more were later picked up on the street, out of sight of the cameras.

The video appears to show that at least three of the men detained were among a group that initially raced toward the lead vehicle and spoke with the officers, but at least eight had no visible contact with the officers before their detention.

In his declaration for the immigration court, Ervin said, "I believed that I had seen two individuals from the initial group that approached my vehicle get into the passenger seat of a brown pick-up truck." According to Ervin, he walked to the truck and asked the men if they were in the country illegally. When one said he was, Ervin said, he ordered both of them out.

But the video confirms that the two men ordered out of the pickup were not part of the group that approached Ervin's vehicle. One of the men, Jose del Transito, said in a phone interview from El Salvador that he and a friend had been offered a job and were waiting outside the store for their employer to emerge when the ICE vehicles arrived. The video shows del Transito and the other man entering the pickup with their employer, only to be ordered out by Ervin seconds later.

Similarly, deportation officer Kenneth B. Giove told both the immigration court and ICE investigators that as the roundup began, "I noticed two of the men, who had been in the group surrounding [Ervin's] vehicle, turn away and enter the [7-Eleven] store," in the words of his court declaration. Giove said he went in after them and "determined who was to be removed from the store by their clothing and the fact that they were hiding behind the coffee pot," according to the investigation summary.

The video, however, shows that only one man appears to have entered the store at that point. The other two men at the coffee counter were Ernesto Guillen and a second man of Latino appearance, who, like Guillen, appears to have had no interaction with agents. The video then shows Giove direct all three men outside.

In a recent interview, Guillen recalled his mounting desperation as he tried to explain to Giove that he needed to get to his son at the hospital. "My boy was so weak and he was so scared of all the injections. I needed to be there," he recalled.

Cox and Michelle Mendez, his co-counsel at CASA of Maryland, said the events call into question whether the officers overstepped their authority. Although law enforcement officers can question anyone who speaks to them voluntarily, Cox and Mendez said, they cannot legally detain someone without reasonable suspicion.

Nantel, the ICE spokeswoman, said: "These officers were reacting to a situation that was unfolding in front of them. . . . We have the luxury to go back in time and look at it in slow motion. They don't."

The CASA of Maryland lawyers argued that ICE's investigation summary contradicts the initial testimony of some of the officers that they sought to arrest only those who had freely admitted to them that they were in the country illegally.

For instance, Ervin told ICE investigators that when he asked some of the men in the original group about their status, the men only "looked down at the ground, or away and mumbled or said nothing." Several of the detainees also filed affidavits swearing they did not voluntarily admit to being illegal immigrants.

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After three fretful nights in jail, Guillen, who declined to discuss his immigration status on the advice of lawyers, was granted supervised humanitarian release by ICE. Lawyers said another man was released after 18 days because he proved he was in the country legally, while three others continue to fight their cases in immigration court. The other 19 were either deported or permitted to take "voluntary departure." Del Transito is one of them. However, he and two of the detainees still in the United States have filed claims seeking $500,000 each in damages from ICE. The agency has six months to reply.

Alderman and most of the officers involved in the 7-Eleven action are still employed by ICE. According to the investigation summary, Ervin told ICE investigators that although he did not believe the team had violated any laws, "he believed that the fugitive operations team was not appropriately used. . . . [Ervin] believed strongly in the Fugitive Operations mission, and felt from the start that the orders given to the team were outside their operational mandate."


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