Photo of Benito

When 13-year-old Benito came home from school on October 20, 2010, he thought it would be like any other day.*  He dropped his bag off at home and ran out to play soccer with a cousin who also lived in his apartment complex. What he did not know was that on that day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department would storm his predominately Latino-occupied apartment complex, filling two large vans with as many suspected undocumented immigrants as they could find. They detained anyone they came across who fit their perception of what “undocumented immigrants” look like. 

As he approached the complex’s common area to join his cousin, an immigration agent blocked Benito’s path and began to question him about his immigration status.  “Who are you?  Where are you from? Where were you born?”  It was not until Benito said - in his southern accent - that he was from North Carolina that he was allowed to leave.  Benito was left shocked.  To date, the only justification provided for stopping Benito was that he was near an ongoing immigration raid — in other words, guilt by association. 

Benito was just one of the numerous adults and children unlawfully detained for questioning that night. For roommates Marvin and Isaias it also started out as any other night. After a long day of work, they changed their clothes and headed out with their other roommates to buy groceries for dinner.  As soon as they got in their car, they found themselves surrounded by four ICE agents, hands on their weapons. Although the agents had no idea who they were nor any reason to suspect them of any wrongdoing, they blocked the vehicle and handcuffed all four of them.  The only information the agents seem to have had was that these four individuals appeared to be Latino.

That night, 20 ICE agents and police officers fanned out through the property targeting anyone who looked, to them, Latino.  They barged into apartments without warrants or permission, broke down doors, pointed guns at those inside, and yelled racist profanities—“FUCKING WETBACKS!”  “MEXICAN SONS OF BITCHES!”—despite not knowing who they were targeting and detaining until after they had been cuffed and arrested. Ultimately, nearly two dozen people were arrested on civil immigration violations. No criminal charges were ever filed.  No contraband was discovered. But the agents had filled up their two vans.  

A raid like this would not occur in an affluent neighborhood. There would be national uproar if law enforcement stormed a predominately white apartment complex without warrants to see if by chance they might come across illegal activity.Even the most basic training received by law enforcement officers makes clear that this conduct is unlawful.

But when this happens to people of color, and immigrants in particular, some believe a lower standard should apply—that certain people are entitled to fewer or less robust rights.

That is not the case. Whatever your immigration status, you should not be arrested without proper justification. You should not have your home entered or searched without a warrant or other cause. You should not be treated differently because of your race or ethnicity.  You should not have a gun pointed at your head for no reason.

Imagine if law enforcement could escape liability for even the most egregious constitutional violations simply because it later turns out that the victim is undocumented.  Yet in court, ICE agents argued that although the agents had no information about these individuals before arresting them, some of our plaintiffs could not seek meaningful constitutional relief—no matter how serious the violation—because they allegedly did not have lawful status at the time of the raid. This was swiftly rejected by the court.

Today, we announced a historic settlement in which ICE and the Nashville Police Department agreed to pay a collective $310,000 to stop this case from going to a jury trial. Our clients brought this case to ensure that what happened to them would not happen to anyone else; to reinforce that they also have the most basic human rights to fair treatment by law enforcement; and to stop these unlawful practices once and for all. Although our clients were unfairly targeted and treated offensively and unjustly, ICE has now agreed to grant them the ability to stay in this country and continue to contribute as hardworking members of Nashville’s community for seven years. As for Benito, he is now a young man, and while this experience will stay with him, he has decided to make the ultimate commitment to this country by enlisting in the National Guard.

The raids have now stopped in Nashville. Let’s make sure they end everywhere else.    

* The following facts are presented as alleged by the plaintiffs in our case.  The settlement includes no admission of liability.   

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Saroj Gilbert

This type of abusive government action (along with many others such as unconstitutional asset forfeiture and the disenfranchisement of persons of color) makes me ashamed to be a U.S. citizen. I have so little respect for government at this point in my life (age 73, white, female) that I would have a hard time ruling in favor of the government in a jury trial because I would always wonder if they had acted honorably or not.

Anonymous

Your comment explains why I think this should have gone to jury.

Enrique L. Agu...

Calm down folks: You are all, both right and wrong. Certainly it was this pair of departments that that were wrong, but "ashamed to be a U.S. citizen?!" Intending no disrespect, but you may not have traveled enough. Police throughout Latin America are more likely to treat people far worse than in this case, if they perceive them to be in the country illegally. Never had that experience? That's cause you didn't look Nicaraguan in Costa Rica or Salvadoran in Honduras. That doesn't justify the the behavior of an agency in the U.S., but it was the local judiciary that caused the agency to settle. Good luck getting a problem with government addressed in most any other parts of the world. Lastly, a statement like "That statement could only come from a white person," is ridiculously racist! It reminds me of the Europeans and Americans that I hear boldly stating that they hate "Rednecks," because THOSE people are ALL racist!" I just shake my head in disbelief that they can't see the irony. From Costa Rica, thanks for hearing me out -- great article.

Anonymous

ACLU you're drunk. Please help everyone see we are not white, we are not black etc... we are all Humans so please so sober up and lets make this a we are all humans story and not drive a wedge between people of different exterior colors or different religions.

Anonymous

It wasn't the ACLU that drove the wedge, it was the cops and immigration officials who only saw them as objectionable and not as people.

Anonymous

I suggest you shut up and sit in a corner while the grownups work to solve the problems you're ignoring.

Anonymous

I love how your colorblind comment could only be written by a white person in this country.

Anonymous

Really? Way to be tone deaf and a jerk all at the same time with that comment. YOU'RE the drunk.

Anonymous

Denial fixes nothing. Put away the mop and broom. This one won't clean up.

Anonymous

The wedge is already there. This is just shining a light on it.

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