Blog Archive

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

ICE Tries to Deport Immigrants Suing the Agency

Federal judge intervenes
By Betsy Yagla
New Have Advocate
December 08, 2010 12:00pm

Despite a lawsuit claiming immigration agents violated his constitutional rights when they drew their weapons, barged into his home and handcuffed him before identifying themselves, Washington Colala was set to be deported earlier this week.

A federal judge intervened at the 11th hour. Now Colala and his attorneys have one week to convince the judge why Colala should be allowed to stay in the country long enough to see through his civil rights lawsuit.

“This is a very meaningful decision for [Colala], because it allows him to fight for his own rights and the rights of others in similar situations,” says Mark Pedulla, one of Colala’s student attorneys at Yale’s Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization.

It was early morning on June 6, 2007, and Colala was on his way to work. He realized he’d forgotten something and returned to his Fair Haven home.

That’s when he was approached by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents who asked for identification. It was inside, he told them. With guns drawn, the agents told him to let them inside.

“I obeyed and did what they told me to do,” he said in a recent interview, using a Yale student attorney as an interpreter. Inside, he handed over his ID and was promptly handcuffed. He estimates it was about half an hour after he was handcuffed that the agents identified themselves.

Colala called the arrest “humiliating.”

Colala is one of 32 swept up in a series of raids in 2007 that came days after New Haven aldermen approved a program to provide IDs to city residents regardless of immigration status. The raids were widely seen as retaliation for the program.

After the raid, ICE began deportation proceedings against the immigrants. With the help of Yale student attorneys, the immigrants continue to fight their deportations, raising legal claims of constitutional violations. (Some won their cases and ICE is appealing; others lost and are appealing.) Colala had a different attorney who raised different legal issues to fight his deportation. He lost the case and then lost on appeal too.

In November, ICE told Colala to buy a plane ticket and leave the country by Dec. 6.

The rush to deport him is raising eyebrows, because Colala is a key witness in a civil rights lawsuit filed by himself and 10 others alleging ICE violated their constitutional rights by not identifying themselves, by forcing their way into their homes and searching them without warrants.

The same lawsuit alleges ICE officials knew the agency had a pattern of conducting “warrantless home invasions, racial profiling, coercive questioning, arresting individuals without probable cause, detaining individuals without reasonable suspicion, and denying detainees access to counsel and telephones.”

“We are so puzzled by why ICE is trying to expedite this [deportation],” Yale Law student Rebecca Scholtz said just days before Colala was scheduled to leave the country. “It gives the impression that ICE is trying to avoid liability.”

An ICE spokesman did not return a call for comment.

Clearly, it’s to ICE’s advantage to deport Colala and people like him who’ve filed lawsuits against the agency, says Muneer Ahmad, a Yale Law professor and the supervisory attorney for the immigrants’ case.

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The Yale student attorneys will argue in front of Judge Stefan Underhill this week about why Colala should be allowed to stay through the duration of his lawsuit.

Colala isn’t the only immigrant in this situation.

Two national advocacy groups, the National Council of La Raza and Latino Justice, recently wrote letters to ICE director John Morton, demanding a change in policy.

Immigrants with valid civil rights claims pending against ICE are being deported from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida and California, the letters state.

“ICE’s policy of removing individuals whose rights have been violated — before they have had their day in court — also violates the fundamental principle of equal justice before the law, and has no place in a nation committed to democracy,” reads the letter from Latino Justice.

Both groups are asking that ICE adopt a policy to allow immigrants with civil rights complaints to remain in the country until their trial is completed.

From Ecuador it will be virtually impossible for Colala to participate in his lawsuit. The spotty telecommunications in the Pastaza province mean he won’t be able to speak frequently with his attorneys to assist in the case. He’ll also never get the chance to tell his story to a federal judge.