ACLU Presses Government for Information on Immigration Sweeps

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
August 23, 2004 12:00 am

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SEATTLE — The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington today filed a freedom of information request with the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeking information about recent immigration sweeps across the state. The ACLU also filed a request with the Washington Department of Corrections and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office for information about the involvement of their officers in the sweeps.

“Government agents are stopping people simply based on how they look, without evidence that the individuals have violated immigration laws. This is ethnic profiling, and it is not proper conduct by the government,” said Genevieve Aguilar, Field Director of the ACLU of Washington.

The ACLU action was prompted by numerous reports of heavy-handed dragnet sweeps conducted by joint patrols of immigration agents and local police. Government agents have accosted and interrogated individuals in public settings, such as English as a Second Language classes and supermarkets, and have even taken people from their homes.

The sweeps have created widespread fear in immigrant communities, especially Latino communities. As a result, families are afraid to go grocery shopping or send their children to daycare, and some are staying home from work. Reports of the sweeps have come from several cities, including Tacoma, Yakima, Marysville, and Lacey.

Although immigration officials claim they are targeting specific individuals for whom they have warrants, the questioning in fact has involved entire families, apartment complexes, and innocent bystanders. In Tacoma, for example, residents of an apartment complex reported that immigration officials and police showed up looking for a specific individual. When they learned he was not at home, they demanded ID from other people standing outside the building, then detained and hauled away several people in a van. In one instance, agents pounded on a family’s door for 15 minutes.

“We are alarmed by the heavy-handed tactics that the government is using and by the involvement of local police agencies. It is not the role of local police to enforce federal immigration laws. Doing so alienates immigrants from police and makes it harder for police to do their job of protecting the community from crime,” Aguilar said.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that immigration agents may not stop people simply because they look Hispanic or speak Spanish. The ACLU and other members of the recently formed “ICE Melt Campaign” are distributing materials to educate immigrant communities about their rights. Information about rights with immigration officials and the police is available on the ACLU of Washington web site at

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