NJ lawsuit challenges ICE home raids

On April 3, Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Social Justice and Lowenstein Sandler, PC, filed suit in Federal District Court in New Jersey, alleging that federal law enforcement officials violated the rights of people whose homes they entered during pre-dawn immigration raids. The 10 plaintiffs include two US citizens, a permanent resident, and a person who was lawfully present in the US under protected status. The plaintiffs charge that officials violated their constitutional privacy and due process rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments by entering their homes without consent or a judicial warrant during eight home raids across New Jersey between August 2006 and January 2008.

During these raids, the lawsuit states, most of the plaintiffs were awakened by loud pounding on their doors and answered the door, fearing an emergency. ICE agents subsequently either lied about their identity or purpose to gain entry, or simply shoved their way into the home. During each raid the agents swept through the house and, displaying guns, rounded up all the residents for questioning. In some cases they ordered children out of their beds, shouted obscenities, shoved guns into residents’ chests, and refused to allow them to call their lawyers. In the case of plaintiff Maria Argueta, a legal resident, agents lied to get into her home then refused to even to look at her immigration papers proving her status. Detained at 4:30 in the morning, she was held for 24 hours without food or water. In at least half the raids, the officers purported to be searching for a person who did not even live at the address raided.

“None of the home raids in today’s case involved valid warrants allowing the agents to enter, and none of the residents gave consent,” noted plaintiffs’ attorney Scott Thompson, of Lowenstein Sandler. “The Constitution is very clear about the circumstances under which law enforcement may enter a private home, and the entries in this case did not even come close.”

The complaint asserts that such violations are typical operating procedures for the ICE program called “Operation Return to Sender,” which purports to target people who have failed to comply with deportation orders. According to the complaint, ICE agents carrying out this program have been ordered to meet dramatically increased immigrant arrest quotas using outdated address information and without having been trained on lawful procedures. The complaint points out that of the 2,079 people arrested in New Jersey last year under this program, 87% had no criminal record, and as few as one in three had outstanding deportation orders. The suit charges that the program is used as a pretext for dragnet searches in which ICE makes thousands of what it calls “collateral arrests” of people who are not being sought but who are discovered at the raided homes and are found to be out of status.

The complaint names senior federal officials including ICE chief Julie Myers, saying they knew about the practice and allowed it to continue. The complaint also seeks to hold responsible local police officers who participated in one of the raids alongside ICE agents. The Center for Social Justice and the newspaper Brazilian Voice had filed a Freedom of Information Act suit in federal court on Jan. 28, challenging the government’s withholding of documents about the raids. Documents relating to these lawsuits are online at:


(Seton Hall Law School press release, April 3)

From Immigration News Briefs, April 11

See our last post on the politics of immigration.