Breaking and entering

By Michelle Chen Jul 23, 2009

The phenomenon of “llegal entry” has been in the news a lot lately—and when it comes to immigration, the problem seems to cut both ways. An investigation by researchers at Cardozo Law School found that in several Long Island and New Jersey communities, police have been less than hospitable—and often unconstitutional—in their zeal to root out undocumented residents:

• Despite the purported focus of ICE home raid operations, the report concludes that the large majority (approximately two-thirds) of people arrested during home raids are not dangerous targets but rather are mere civil immigration violators who are in the wrong place at the wrong time — people who have, for example, overstayed their visas.
• While ICE has publicly and repeatedly admitted that it does not obtain judicial warrants for its home raid operations, the report finds a pattern of ICE agents physically pushing and breaking their way into private homes in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
• Once inside, the study finds a pattern of ICE agents abandoning their purported focus on high priority targets and instead illegally seizing residents without legal authority – in an apparent effort to meet inflated arrest expectations.
• Finally, the data reveals that Latino residents are disproportionately likely to be arrested without any articulated basis during ICE home raid operations.  Indeed, approximately 90% of the collateral arrest records reviewed, where ICE officers did not note any basis for seizing and questioning the individual, were of Latino men and women – though Latinos represented only 66% of target arrests.

Overall, the researchers found, the police “failed to obtain lawful consent to enter homes in violation of the Constitution in a large percentage of cases.” The abuses are driven by more than overaggressive policing. In 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement ramped up its targets for immigration arrests, and also began allowing civil immigration violatons, rather than just supposed “criminal aliens,” to count toward their goals. In many cases, once ICE’s “Fugitive Operations Teams” have their sights set on a home, it’s open season on anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. A huge swath of arrests in the study were registered as “collaterals.” The researchers sketch out a harrowing scenario of a typical home invasion:

There is story after story of ICE agents, armed with only an administrative warrant, yelling and banging on doors and then forcing their way into homes in the pre-dawn hours by pushing their way in if residents unlock their doors, and otherwise climbing through windows or kicking in doors. Some residents report being awakened by the presence of armed ICE officers in their bedrooms who illegally gained entry through unlocked doors.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s run-in with cops at his own house has brought public scrutiny to the issue of police misconduct and profiling. For countless others living in the shadows of immigration law enforcement, the threat of being victimized in your own home is just the price of being “unlawfully present.” The report lays out several policy recommendations to tighten oversight of ICE home raids and restrain illegal tactics. But the Obama administration seems to be marching down the same path blazed by its predecessor in terrorizing immigrant communities. He recently moved to expand a key program enabling cooperation between the feds and local police to crack down on immigrants. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University reports that in April 2009—the same month the Obama administration vowed to reform immigration policy into “an orderly system”–there were 10,100 new prosecutions referred by Immigration and Customs, a 32 percent increase from a year ago. Until the federal government decisively reverses course on its raid tactics, the best immigrant families can do to protect themselves is lock their doors and hope. Image: Vivir Latino