Newt Gingrich speaks before the Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington.

Story highlights

Gingrich suggests package delivery companies track undocumented immigrants

Turns out FedEx worked with ICE in a sting operation

Guatemalans in sting operation are suing FedEx and ICE

CNN —  

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich got a good laugh from his audience of conservatives Friday when he ribbed the U.S. government for not using mail services, such as FedEx, to track down the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the nation.

He said the media didn’t need to fact check him because he was engaging in “hyperbole.”

Well, it turns out Gingrich’s suggestion wasn’t far from reality.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, two Guatemalans allege that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were guilty of unreasonable search and seizure, and racial profiling when they arrested Guatemalan nationals picking up a package at a FedEx facility in Florida.

The package contained a passport mailed to one of them by the Guatemalan government in the type of sting Gingrich was jokingly suggesting.

“It is a practical reality that we have the technology that enables us to track – between UPS and FedEx, we track 24 million packages a day – while they’re moving, and we allow you to find out where they are for free,” Gingrich told the Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington.

“That’s the world that works. Now here’s the world that fails: The federal government today cannot find 11 million illegal immigrants, even if they’re sitting still. Now, I have a simple proposal: We send a package to everyone who’s here illegally, and when it’s delivered, we pull it up on a computer, we know where they are.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Damaris Roxana Vasquez, a Guatemalan living in Jupiter, Florida, and her friend Gaspar Gonzalez, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant.

It alleges that when the two 21-year-olds drove to FedEx in January 2010, ICE officials arrested Gonzalez and then went to the car where Vasquez was waiting, held her at gunpoint and separated her from her then 2-year-old son, a U.S. citizen.

Gonzalez was deported; Vasquez, who was reunited with her child a few hours later, is fighting to remain in the United States.

The incident unfolded after FedEx employees inspected the package and alerted ICE officials that it contained a passport. At the time, a representative for ICE said the sting occurred because of concerns over document fraud.

The passport was returned to the Guatemalan government.

John De Leon, an attorney representing the two Guatemalans, said the lawsuit “challenges the interaction of private industry and the government in their attack on Latino immigrants in this country.”

De Leon said he didn’t think the matter should be considered funny by anyone, especially conservatives.

“There’s nothing amusing about the idea of government using corporate efficiency in order to violate people’s rights,” said De Leon, who has filed a suit against ICE and FedEx in U.S. District Court in Florida. “This is a rank operation against a Latino group of people. These passports were lawful passports. There was nothing illegal about them.”

He accused ICE of conducting warrantless searches of the packages.

“FedEx can do that, but the government cannot,” he said. “Much less FedEx acting as an agent of the government.”

De Leon added that ICE also violated international law by limiting the Guatemalan Consulate’s ability to get official documents to its nationals in the United States.

“This is a free country. There should be a wall between the police function and corporate entities. Corporations should not become police agents of the government,” he said.

FedEx Senior Communications Specialist Chris Stanley said the company “has a long history of cooperation with law enforcement. We do not comment on the specifics of that cooperation.”

He said he had no details of the case above and directed CNN to federal authorities. The Department of Homeland Security had no spokesperson available for comment.

Gingrich told the CPAC audience: “Let me say for my friends in the news media that was hyperbole, and we don’t need a fact check.”

Turns out it was closer to the truth than he thought.

CNN’s Tom Watkins contributed to this report.