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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Immigrant advocates dispute cause of police raid in South Nashville

By Brian Haas
October 29, 2010

Immigrant rights groups on Thursday accused federal officials of violating the rights of dozens of people in a massive South Nashville immigration raid last week.

Except police say it wasn't an immigration raid.

Members of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union accused Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents of violating people's civil rights on Oct. 20 during a raid at the Clairmont apartment complex.

Remziya Suleyman, policy coordinator for the immigration coalition, said the raid may have been retribution for complaints from residents about deplorable living conditions that included insects, vermin, mold, leaks and broken doors and windows.

"ICE came in — from the allegations that we heard — without consent, breaking into people's homes, breaking through windows and doors, dragging people out by gunpoint and in front of children," said Tricia Herzfeld, an attorney with the ACLU.

"This is not fair. We're a country of laws. Everyone has to follow them, including law enforcement."

But Metro police say the raid was not related to immigration issues.

Police say they were investigating suspected members of the MS-13 and SUR-13 gangs who were preying on undocumented workers.

Gang unit detectives and ICE agents watched four apartments for two weeks after requests from apartment managers.

They found two men who were wanted in connection with several robberies in the area, police spokesman Don Aaron said.

The Oct. 20 raid involved "knock and talks," Aaron said, meaning police knock on doors and try to spot fugitives as they talk to residents.

Aaron said police spotted at least three people they had identified as wanted gang members during the sweep.

In all, Aaron said, ICE made several arrests of wanted fugitives.

ICE officials Thursday said they were merely supporting the Metro Gang Unit but didn't address questions about the arrests.

"In this case, ICE's Fugitive Operations Team was assisting local law enforcement with field interviews of suspected street gang members and targeted ICE fugitives," said ICE spokesman Temple Black from the New Orleans field office.

The apartment's managers declined to comment, and their management company could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Several people detained

The ACLU and immigrant advocates had said that ICE detained a few dozen people in the raid, some of whom were denied access to attorneys.

"We are not aware of a single criminal charge that has resulted from this raid that terrorized all of these people," Herzfeld said. "There are between 20 and 40 people who are currently being held in immigration detention. Many of them have not been provided access to legal counsel."

Herzfeld said the ACLU was looking into possible litigation but that the groups were still investigating exactly what happened in the raid.