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Civil Suit Filed Against ICE Racial Profiling Arrests


Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg
Legal Director, Immigrant Advocacy Program
703-720-5605 / 

On Wednesday, the Legal Aid Justice Center, together with the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP, filed a lawsuit on behalf of two men of Latino race and ethnicity against federal immigration agents over a practice known as collateral arrests that makes up an important part of the Trump Administration’s immigration enforcement practices.  To our knowledge, the case is the first in the nation challenging these practices since Trump was elected. 

According to the lawsuit, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents violated the constitutional rights of two men who are accused of being in the country illegally, but have been otherwise law-abiding, by detaining them without reasonable suspicion.

“ICE agents go out into the field looking for a person,” notes Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of LAJC’s Immigration Advocacy Program. “They don’t find them so they basically arrest some other person that they do find instead. They call it collateral arrests.  We call it racial profiling.”  

ICE Arrests in Annandale, Virginia

At 6:30 am on February 17th, 2017, four laborers climbed into a car to head to work when a black SUV suddenly pulled behind them, blocking them in.  Armed ICE agents hopped out of the SUV and surrounded the car, barking orders in English and frightening the workers. The ICE agents claimed to be looking for two brothers who were in their 20’s, all of the occupants of the car were in their 40’s or 50’s, and shared nothing in common with the brothers other than their Latino race. When the ICE agents quickly realized that the brothers were not in the car, instead of continuing to look for the brothers, they turned their efforts towards arresting the occupants of the car.

This arrest took place in Fairmont Gardens, one of the largest low-income apartment complexes in Annandale, Virginia, with an almost entirely Latino tenant population. In February and March of this year, ICE raided apartments in Fairmont Gardens on at least five occasions, far more than any other apartment complex of comparable size in the Washington, D.C. metro area. LAJC has a long history of working with tenants and day laborers in this apartment complex, representing them in matters such as wage theft, eviction defense, and consumer protection; for nearly a decade, we have held a twice-monthly community meeting and food-bank distribution at the complex. For this reason, residents of Fairmont Gardens knew that they could trust LAJC to defend them when ICE came knocking on their doors.

Since President Trump took office, the number of ICE arrests of individuals without any criminal record has more than doubled. Many of these take the form of what ICE calls collateral arrests, or arrests of people who were never on any target list or the subject of any investigation but rather had the bad luck to find themselves standing at the wrong place at the wrong time. (LAJC already represents 13 people who were the victims of such collateral arrests since January 20.) These collateral arrests often violate the constitution, especially Fourth Amendment prohibitions against illegal search and seizure and Fifth Amendment prohibitions against racial profiling arrests–exactly what LAJC contends happened in this case.

Contrary to the heated anti-immigration rhetoric of President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, these indiscriminate arrests do not make communities safer. Rather, they inflict collateral damage that make communities less safe by ripping families apart and engendering fear. Current ICE policy creates distrust between our immigrant communities and all government officials. It decreases the chance that someone in need of assistance will reach out for help, thereby putting the most vulnerable among us in even more danger and leaving them with fewer resources: for example, one county in Northern Virginia reports that their domestic violence hotline has seen a 30% decrease calls by speakers languages other than English. We hope that this lawsuit, and others like it, will help empower our immigrant communities and ensure that their constitutional rights are protected.

Read the Legal Complaint (pdf)


About Legal Aid Justice Center:
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out the inequities that keep people in poverty through litigation, policy advocacy, and community organizing. LAJC’s Immigration Advocacy Program supports low-income immigrants in their efforts to find justice and fair treatment. 


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