The ACLU of Tennessee filed a lawsuit this week in federal court on behalf of fifteen residents of an apartment complex in Nashville, TN who say they were targets of an unlawful immigration raid. The defendants allege that ICE agents and Metro Nashville police officers forced their way into their homes without warrants. When residents asked the officers to show a warrant, one agent reportedly said, "We don't need a warrant, we're ICE." Then, gesturing to his genitals, the officer reportedly said "the warrant is coming out of my balls."
The ACLU notes on its website that the Fourth Amendment strictly prohibits warrantless intrusions into private homes -- and it applies to both citizens and non-citizens. "In the absence of a judicially authorized warrant, there must be voluntary and knowing consent; ICE officers forcing themselves into someone's home does not constitute consent."
"Looking Latino and speaking Spanish is not enough to justify probable cause for questioning and arresting a person" Lindsay Kee, from the ACLU of Tennessee writes in a blog post.
On the night of October 20, 2010, Angel Escobar and Jorge Sarmiento were in bed in their small, two-bedroom apartment in the Clairmont complex in Nashville. The doors and windows were all shut and locked. Suddenly there was a loud banging at the door and voices shouting "Police!" and "Policia!" When no one answered, the agents tried to force the door open. Scared, Jesus hid in a closet. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents began hitting objects against the bedroom windows, trying to break in. Without a search warrant and without consent, the ICE agents eventually knocked in the front door and shattered a window, shouting racial slurs and storming into the bedrooms, holding guns to their heads. When asked if they had a warrant, one agent reportedly said, "We don't need a warrant, we're ICE," and, gesturing to his genitals, "the warrant is coming out of my balls."
The raids in Nashville aren't isolated incidents. Similar claims have been filed in recent years following raids on immigrant homes in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Georgia and Northern California.
In 2008, a lawsuit brought by lawyers at the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School in Newark found ICE agents systematically entered homes and made arrests without proper warrants during raids to round up "immigration fugitives" in New Jersey.
In both the Nashville and Newark cases, U.S. citizens were detained. In the Newark case, one plaintiff in the lawsuit, Maria Argueta -- who's been a legal immigrant since 2001 -- was detained and held for 36 hours, according to the New York Times. ICE agents entered her home by telling her they were police officers searching for a "wanted criminal."