When Law Flies Out the Door

If you think the days of the Wild West are long gone, well then think again.  Gunslingers and armed men run around busting into homes and guess what its legal.  It’s called “knock and talk.” Check out this story from Arizona.

When Law Flies Out the Door

By Edward Schumacher-Matos

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Jimmy Slaughter and his wife, Sheila, were folding laundry last summer

in their Yuma, Ariz., home when the knock came at the door.

Seven uniformed federal agents with bulletproof vests and guns stood outside.

“What’s up, fellas?” Slaughter, a retired Marine, said he asked as he

opened the screen door. Five of the armed agents walked in without

asking permission, he said.

“My wife said, ‘Is this “Candid Camera”?’ and that kind of ticked off

[one of the agents] a little bit, and he says, ‘No ma’am, you need to

step back.’ ” She was ordered to stand in the middle of the living

room as the agents, from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, began

searching the house for a Hispanic woman. They had no court warrant.

That was when Slaughter surprised them by announcing that he was an

officer with an ICE sister agency, Customs and Border Protection. The

agents, having had the wrong address, left, but the scare was such

that Sheila spent several days in an intensive-care unit for

hypertension. Now Jimmy Slaughter is suing.

It would be easy to dismiss the episode as isolated, but 100

seven-member teams of ICE agents across the country are regularly

making similar house calls, usually in the pre-dawn hours, in

SWAT-like raids with shotguns and automatic rifles, sometimes crawling

through open windows. In place of search warrants issued by a judge,

ICE agents carry administrative warrants issued by one of their own

officials that require that they “knock and talk” to gain entry into a

home, a policy often abused.

The residents are usually immigrants, often with limited English and

little knowledge of their rights. These ICE teams are looking for

fugitive unauthorized immigrants who have been ordered out of the

country. Other ICE teams invade homes in search of immigrant gang

members or sex offenders.

A new report from the Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law School

in New York offers the first detailed insight into the home raids.

Overseen by regular police officers and police professionals, the

report, based on ICE records obtained through Freedom of Information

Act lawsuits, uncovers a pattern of ICE behavior that raises the

question of what kind of nation we want to be.

Proponents of harsh immigration enforcement often forget that it is

the Fourth Amendment, and not some liberal court, that specifically

prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” and demands that police

get warrants based upon “probable cause, supported by oath or

affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and

the persons or things to be seized.”

Courts have ruled that the amendment applies to illegal immigrants,

too, and for more reasons than fairness. How can you tell by looking

if someone is undocumented? We might all end up like the Slaughters.

The ubiquitous demand becomes: “Your papers, please.”

In the brouhaha over racial profiling and Harvard professor Skip

Gates, Latinos are included almost as an afterthought. But the

profiling involved in the home raids is clearer and more insidious.

The Cardozo study examined 700 arrests between 2006 and 2008 on Long

Island and in New Jersey and found that agents said they had not

received informed consent to enter the homes in 86 percent of the Long

Island cases and 24 percent of the New Jersey ones. Conflicting

information in the New Jersey arrest records suggests that the

reported consent there was often fabricated or misreported, the

Cardozo study says.

Two-thirds of the arrests were happenstance — they were mostly of

Latinos whose only crime was a civil one of working here illegally.

“The high percentage of collateral arrests is consistent with

allegations that ICE agents are using home raids for purported targets

as a pretext to enter homes” and arrest as many people as they can to

meet quotas that in 2006 were increased eightfold to 1,000 a year per

team, the report said.

Violations were so flagrant on Long Island that local police withdrew

their support and accused ICE of being reckless and dangerous, and of

undermining a relationship of trust with the Latino community that had

been helping to reduce crime. Mounting evidence elsewhere suggests

that the raids are out of control nationally.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has rightly discontinued

the quotas, but she has not stopped the home raids. They are part of

an enforcement strategy begun under President George W. Bush to

convince doubters to support needed broader immigration reform. But

the problem is with the tactics. Home arrests should be a last resort

to go after genuinely criminal immigrants, and conducted only with

judicial warrants.

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