A U.S. District Court Judge here has ruled that the Immigrantion and Naturalization Service conducted an "unreasonable and unlawful" search for illegal aliens at Blackie's House of Beef restaurant last March, even though 0 of the 15 aliens arrested were illegally in the country.
Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer said that the search warrant the INS obtained before the March 30 raid at the restaurant "authorized only a search for 'property'. The plain terms of the warrant did not authorize (INS) to enter and search (the restaurant) to find and arrest aliens employed there."
Blackie's is seeking $100,000 in damages from the INS in the case and Oberdorfer said he will schedule a hearing to determine how much, if anything, the restaurant should get.
The government had contended that the raid was legal because property, under federal search procedures, includes "tangible objects." But Oberdorfer said that to construe people as "tangible objects clashes with a fundamental written into our Constitution in the 1880s: no human being in the United States may be dealt with as property by government officials, or by anyone else."
Federal immigration investigators routinely use search warrants as a means to find illegal aliens living and working in the U.S., an INS spokesman said, adding that if the prohibition of the use of search warrants for finding illegal aliens "became widespread it certainly could" affect INS enforcement activities.
Oberdorfer said in his opinion signed Wednesday and made public yesterday, that valid arrest warrants must be used when looking for illegal aliens.
INS spokesman Verne Jervis said that search warrants are used by the agency rather than arrest warrants because "we might know one or two names (of illegal aliens), but certainly would not know the names of all" the people being sought in a raid.
Jervis said that the agency "will probably take a look at our procedures next week to see if we'll have to change them, but it's too soon to say at this point." He said the decision may be appealed.
Ulysses (Blackie) Auger, the president of the chain of restaurants here said that 200 people were dining at 6 p.m. when 11 INS agents raided his flagship restaurant at 22nd and M streets NW.
"People started running through the place like the Old West days," Auger said of the two-hour raid. "It disrupted the kitchen and the guests."
Auger said he does not know if there still are illegal aliens working at his restaurant. "It's not my position to delve into their personal lives," he said. Auger said that his firm asks prospective employes if they have a Social Security number, but not, if they have a "green card," the piece of paper that enables aliens to legally work in the U.S.
Mark Mancini, one of Auger's attorneys in the case, said that as far as he knew it was the first time anyone had contested INS search procedures, which he described as "sloopy."
"You use search warrants for things," he said. "You don't use it for people."
While pleased with Oberdorfer's ruling, Mancini said that the decision would not help the 10 illegal aliens arrested at Blackie's. He said they were deported within a week of the raid.