Immigration Agencies are Facing Accusations of Rampant Racial Profiling

When immigration officers raided a rural Pennsylvania poultry transport company early last year, a lawyer for five undocumented men arrested saw plenty of evidence their rights had been violated.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers had no warrant to drive past the company’s “No Trespassing” signs and block the exits with their vans, or to demand documentation on the workers’ legal status. According to witnesses, the officers seemed to target workers solely based on their ethnicity: They lined up Latinos for questioning and asked white employees to lead them to more Latino workers.

In a ruling last month, a Philadelphia immigration judge, John Carle, found there was a strong argument that the ICE officers had “egregiously violated” the Constitution. He noted that the agency presented no evidence to counter allegations of racial profiling.

If the case had played out in criminal court, such a finding might well have resulted in the men going free.

In immigration courts, however, there’s a higher bar, both for proving officers violated defendants’ rights and for getting cases thrown out as a result. Even when immigrants manage to meet this standard, they can get deported anyway.

The system is backed up by decades-old court rulings that consider undocumented immigrants to be in continuous violation of the law, regardless of how they are arrested, and that give officers extra latitude to factor in their targets’ physical appearance when making immigration arrests.

“Even if you were to suppress the evidence because you didn’t have proper consent … that doesn’t matter,” said Claude Arnold, a former ICE special agent. “The fact remains that the person is here illegally.”

CE says its agents are forbidden from racial profiling, and are refreshed on training every six months.

But advocates for immigrants and some judges say that the logic governing immigration rulings only emboldens officers to trample over constitutional rights.

By Kavitha Surana for PACIFIC STANDARD
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