The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service may no longer enter restaurants and businesses in the District of Columbia to search for illegal aliens without naming or describing each alien sought, a U.S. judge here ruled yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer issued the ruling in striking down as unconstitutional a general search for illegal aliens last November at Blackie's House of Beef, 22nd and M streets NW. He said the restaurant had "substantial" constitutional rights at stake in protecting itself from illegal INS searches.
Although the ruling now only applies specifically to the District of Columbia, if adopted by other federal courts it would have a substantial impact nationwide on the way the INS seeks illegal aliens for deportation, according to lawyers involved in the case.
Oberdorfer said the INS warrant obtained in the Blackie's case "appears to grant the searching officers a 'roving commission' to search the primises, limited only by their subjective judgments about what persons in the United States without legal authority look like."
He said the INS, in conducting its raid around 11 a.m. last Nov. 17, "created commotion in Blackie's by entering with a squad-size force, interrogating suspects, seizing them and removing them from a restaurant in which plaintiff and its employes were preparing to serve lunch to patrons."
The combination of INS activities in the restaurant, Oberdorfer said, plus the threat to Blackie's business caused by the raid, violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.
Ulysses G. (Blackie) Auger, notified of the opinion last night, said it was "beautiful, just beautiful. What else can I say?" He said he understood that some of the 14 workers arrested in the raid had been deported, but some of them were still working for him, pending the outcome of the case. It was unclear whether those who had been deported can now return to this country.
The Nov. 17 raid appeared to be a crucial test of the INS's power to search for illegal aliens on private property. An INS spokesman said yesterday that, while the agency's lawyers had not read Oberdorfer's opinion, they probably would appeal it.
The raid -- in which 14 were arrested -- came one month after Oberdorfer had ruled that an earlier INS raid on Blackie's was illegal because of the type of warrant used.
After Oberdorfer's October ruling, INS went back to court and got another type of warrant for its Nov. 17 raid.
The application for that warrant said the agency believed the restaurant hired persons who "had foreign personal characteristics and attire that are native to Hispanics from Central and South America, including dark complexion and hair, foreign style haircuts and grooming, ill-fitted and inexpensive clothing and foreign-style, inexpensive shoes."
Although affidavits in support of the warrant mentioned six first names of possibly illegal aliens, the warrant itself bore no names nor any other identifying descriptions of aliens for whom the search was authorized.
After the Nov. 17 raid, Blackie's asked that the raid be ruled illegal and that the agency be forced to pay damages to the restaurant. Oberdorfer refused to order any monetary damages yesterday, however, because he said the agents acted in "good faith" when they sought the warrant.
INS had contended before Oberdorfer that once they had a reason to believe illegal aliens worked at Blackie's, they had the authority to get a search warrant. Then INS argued, once it got inside Blackie's with that warrant, the agents had a right to question and removed any person they determined to be a "deportable alien."
Oberdorfer said the INS is mistaken when it believes it can rely on its arrest powers "to justify a potentially violent 'roundup' of aliens discovered in a general search of Blackie's."
He also said the magistrate who approved the warrant did not adequately consider the effect the raid might have on patrons and legitimate employes of Blackie's.
Blackie's "has an obvious interest in protection of its income and its good will with its patrons. [The restaurant] has a constitutionally protected right in its business and in the safety and convenience of its patrons and employes," Oberdorfer added.
He said that in the future, the INS cannot enter Blackie's without precisely describing the persons for whom it is searching and without having a magistrate appraise the possible effect on other persons in the establishment when it is searched.
Although INS had no comment yesterday on the ruling, it had said that Oberdorfer's ruling in the previous Blackie's case "pretty well tied our hands." INS noted at the time that most of the hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens caught in this country are found at the places where they work.