Atlanta—A civil rights group sued the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency Wednesday, claiming its agents had harassed five U.S. citizens of Mexican descent during raids targeting illegal immigrants in southeast Georgia.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said the agents were engaging in a “Gestapo-like” campaign to drive Latinos out of the area. It claimed the agents entered houses without warrants, stopped cars on the street, terrified Latinos and vandalized their property.
The center, based in Montgomery, Ala., wants an injunction preventing ICE from conducting similar raids, as well as unspecified compensation for the plaintiffs.
ICE spokesman Marc Raimondi called the accusations “patently false.”
He said agents were looking only for immigrants who used fraudulent documents to work at a local poultry plant.
The complaint, filed in federal court, concerns a sweep in which more than 120 illegal immigrants were rounded up around Stillmore in rural southeastern Georgia.
The arrests started at the Crider Inc. poultry plant Sept. 1. Over the Labor Day weekend, agents converged on workers’ homes after getting the addresses of suspected illegal immigrants from Crider’s files.
Agents raided the Reidsville house where 14-year-old Marie Justeen Mancha was alone getting ready for school, the Texas-born teenager said. She said she had unlocked the door thinking her mother was returning home and found instead several agents in her house, one of whom had his hand on a holstered gun.
“It scares me,” Mancha said at a news conference. “I thought me being born in the U.S., they couldn’t do this.”
The center is seeking class-action status for the lawsuit to cover everyone of Hispanic origin or appearance who lives within the area covered by immigration agents headquartered in Atlanta.
The federal government has reported that Georgia had the fastest-growing illegal immigrant population in the country. The number more than doubled from an estimated 220,000 in 2000 to 470,000 last year. This year, state lawmakers passed some of the nation’s toughest measures targeting illegal immigrants.
Atlanta—A civil rights group sued the federal government Wednesday on behalf of five Latino U.S. citizens who say they were detained and harassed by agents carrying out raids targeting illegal immigrants in south Georgia.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used “Gestapo-like” tactics as they fanned across three Georgia counties in September, breaking into homes and stopping people in their cars “because they looked ‘Mexican.’”
The class-action suit seeks not only compensatory damages for the plaintiffs—who include a landlord whose property was damaged—but also a court order preventing the agency from conducting similar raids across the country.
“This was a widespread sweep, based largely on racial and ethnic profiling, in violation of the 4th and 5th Amendments to the United States Constitution,” Mary Bauer, attorney for the plaintiffs, said at a news conference here. Those amendments pertain to the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and the right to due process.
“Agents saw brown skin,” Bauer said, “and made a presumption of illegality.”
Marc Raimondi, an ICE spokesman, said the raids were conducted legally. “We don’t conduct random sweeps,” he said, noting that the agency had spent a month investigating the area and had compiled a targeted list of illegal immigrants who had worked at a poultry plant using fraudulent documents. “Race or ethnicity played no role,” he said.
Federal agents searching for undocumented immigrants who worked at the Crider Corp. poultry plant in Stillmore, Ga., arrested more than 125 people in September. No U.S. citizens were arrested, but the suit claims that agents “trampled on” the constitutional rights of “every person of Hispanic descent unfortunate enough to get in the way.”
Bauer said the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the suit—which lists Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, six ICE administrators and 30 unnamed ICE agents as defendants—to warn federal agents against conducting similar raids.
“If immigration is a problem, this isn’t the solution,” she said. “We want to send out a strong message that if they do this in other communities, they are going to be sued.”