When Law Flies Out the Door
Jimmy Slaughter and his wife, Sheila, were folding laundry last summer in their Yuma, Ariz., home when the knock came at the door.
Seven uniformed federal agents with bulletproof vests and guns stood outside.
"What's up, fellas?" Slaughter, a retired Marine, said he asked as he opened the screen door. Five of the armed agents walked in without asking permission, he said.
"My wife said, 'Is this "Candid Camera"?' and that kind of ticked off [one of the agents] a little bit, and he says, 'No ma'am, you need to step back.' " She was ordered to stand in the middle of the living room as the agents, from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, began searching the house for a Hispanic woman. They had no court warrant.
That was when Slaughter surprised them by announcing that he was an officer with an ICE sister agency, Customs and Border Protection. The agents, having had the wrong address, left, but the scare was such that Sheila spent several days in an intensive-care unit for hypertension. Now Jimmy Slaughter is suing.
It would be easy to dismiss the episode as isolated, but 100 seven-member teams of ICE agents across the country are regularly making similar house calls, usually in the pre-dawn hours, in SWAT-like raids with shotguns and automatic rifles, sometimes crawling through open windows. In place of search warrants issued by a judge, ICE agents carry administrative warrants issued by one of their own officials that require that they "knock and talk" to gain entry into a home, a policy often abused.
The residents are usually immigrants, often with limited English and little knowledge of their rights. These ICE teams are looking for fugitive unauthorized immigrants who have been ordered out of the country. Other ICE teams invade homes in search of immigrant gang members or sex offenders.
A new report from the Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law School in New York offers the first detailed insight into the home raids. Overseen by regular police officers and police professionals, the report, based on ICE records obtained through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, uncovers a pattern of ICE behavior that raises the question of what kind of nation we want to be.
Proponents of harsh immigration enforcement often forget that it is the Fourth Amendment, and not some liberal court, that specifically prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures" and demands that police get warrants based upon "probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Courts have ruled that the amendment applies to illegal immigrants, too, and for more reasons than fairness. How can you tell by looking if someone is undocumented? We might all end up like the Slaughters. The ubiquitous demand becomes: "Your papers, please."
In the brouhaha over racial profiling and Harvard professor Skip Gates, Latinos are included almost as an afterthought. But the profiling involved in the home raids is clearer and more insidious.
The Cardozo study examined 700 arrests between 2006 and 2008 on Long Island and in New Jersey and found that agents said they had not received informed consent to enter the homes in 86 percent of the Long Island cases and 24 percent of the New Jersey ones. Conflicting information in the New Jersey arrest records suggests that the reported consent there was often fabricated or misreported, the Cardozo study says.
Two-thirds of the arrests were happenstance -- they were mostly of Latinos whose only crime was a civil one of working here illegally. "The high percentage of collateral arrests is consistent with allegations that ICE agents are using home raids for purported targets as a pretext to enter homes" and arrest as many people as they can to meet quotas that in 2006 were increased eightfold to 1,000 a year per team, the report said.
Violations were so flagrant on Long Island that local police withdrew their support and accused ICE of being reckless and dangerous, and of undermining a relationship of trust with the Latino community that had been helping to reduce crime. Mounting evidence elsewhere suggests that the raids are out of control nationally.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has rightly discontinued the quotas, but she has not stopped the home raids. They are part of an enforcement strategy begun under President George W. Bush to convince doubters to support needed broader immigration reform. But the problem is with the tactics. Home arrests should be a last resort to go after genuinely criminal immigrants, and conducted only with judicial warrants.