Skip to main content

Raided, for sleeping while Latino

By Adriana Leon, Special to CNN
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Fri April 12, 2013
Demonstrators denounce the ICE raids. Adriana Leon's suit was settled last week and led to changes in ICE methods.
Demonstrators denounce the ICE raids. Adriana Leon's suit was settled last week and led to changes in ICE methods.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Class-action suit brought by Adriana Leon requires ICE to change policy on home raids
  • Agents had stormed into Latino homes in middle of night, pulling people out of bed
  • Leon: ICE agents terrified families and did not have permission or warrants
  • Leon: ICE must be held to the same legal standards as everyone else to avoid abuses

Editor's note: Adriana Leon (Aguilar) is the lead plaintiff in Aguilar v. ICE, a case brought by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Winston and Strawn LLP against the Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency for its armed raids into Latino homes.

(CNN) -- In the cold, predawn hours of February 20, 2007, shortly after 4 a.m., armed men stormed into the home I owned with my family and burst into my bedroom, shouting at me to show my hands.

My husband had left for work, and our 4-year-old son began to cry with fright. I stumbled out of bed in my nightclothes to the family living area, terrified and confused. Two armed men were coming upstairs from our basement, having searched it without permission, and others were demanding that we tell them the location of my ex-husband, with whom I had not lived for several years. As I had reported to the immigration service on my daughters' citizenship applications, I had been remarried for four years.

The men acted as if they had the right to be in our home, but we knew to ask questions: Who were they? Did they have a warrant? They refused to identify themselves or show a warrant, and they put their hands on their guns when we tried to move.

They interrogated my 12-year-old daughter and ordered my brother, a U.S. citizen since he was a teenager, to produce his papers. That's when I realized the men were U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. When they left, they threatened to return.

The same scene was happening all over New York: Armed agents surrounding homes, pounding on doors and windows, ordering residents to open the door and storming in, sometimes damaging doors and walls, sometimes pointing guns as they entered.

They refused to identify themselves or show a warrant, and they put their hands on their guns when we tried to move.
Adriana Leon

It didn't seem to matter to the agents whether they found the person they were looking for or if frightened people in the home could not produce papers. The agents arrested people even if they hadn't been a target. The ICE agents had no judicial warrants; instead, they claimed that the rudely awakened men, women and sometimes children in the homes had provided consent.

We decided to sue and discovered that ICE had embarked on a nationwide program of warrantless immigration sweeps with names such as "Return to Sender" and "Community Shield" to invade private homes in search of undocumented immigrants.

Last week, more than six years and many court battles later, our class-action suit Aguilar v ICE, which included 22 New York men, women and children, was settled in Federal District Court for a million dollars.

ICE has also been required to change national training and policy to conform with existing law to avoid further abuses from home raids. We are proud of this accomplishment, even though we know that home raid operations have continued in the Obama era, most notably in Tennessee and Alabama, where Latinos report ICE engaging in the very same unconstitutional behavior that traumatized my family.

During those raids in 2006 and 2007, thousands of terrified people, mostly Latino, were pulled out of bed. ICE claimed it was looking for people not suspected of a crime, but merely those in violation of civil immigration laws.

Although ICE was supposedly seeking fugitives -- people who may have evaded a deportation order -- most of the people they arrested had never had any encounter with the agency before. They were arrested because many ICE agents were operating under a quota policy that gave credit for arrests of any undocumented person, not just the target.

Citizens and lawful permanent residents like us were not immune; if ICE had an old address for someone they were looking for, that address was fair game.

In the home of three of the other people in our case, ICE knew it had already deported the person it were seeking. But agents invaded anyway, storming inside after a 12-year-old girl opened the door in her pajamas. ICE invaded the home of another family in our case twice in little more than a year, because when agents didn't find their target the first time, they didn't bother to record the mistake.

It seemed that being Latino, and nothing more, was enough to arouse suspicion. ICE declined to enter the homes of white residents who opened their doors in shock. Latino men and women were handcuffed before they were even asked about their status, and some agents even admitted to using the derogatory word "wet" to describe the Latinos they encountered.

I studied the U.S. Constitution in order to naturalize. I knew that the government is not supposed to enter your home without a warrant or handcuff you only because you are Latino. But that night in 2007, and in the months after, I lost a sense of hope in our government's ability to make its own agents obey the law.

The fact that ICE has agreed to some changes helps me regain that hope.

As the country debates immigration reform and enforcement, we owe it to ourselves to hold ICE's leaders and agents accountable and to make sure that they are subject to the same laws as everyone else.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of the writers.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT