A project of the Center for Community Change

Illegal search and seizures mount- must immigrants pay the price?

11 brave immigrants are coming forward in Tennessee to tell the government that illegal search and seizures without warrants and without due cause are not only illegal, but unjust. After police entered their homes without warrants demanding their immigration status and their “papers”- The courts have ruled that protection under the 14th amendment extends to everyone “citizen or stranger”.

Unfortunately as the legal case drags on these men could be held in jail for month if not years. For many Americans who have not experienced jail this seems like a small price to pay for the opportunity to sue- they forget, or unable to be witness to the fact that this jail time will leave their families with out needed sources of income, without their fathers, brothers and care takers and hurts the entire community that these men come from.

The article below focuses on the financial price the plaintiffs will pay, but ignores the larger social and emotional cost not only to them, but to their family and neighborhood.

Lawyers say immigration lawsuit could be costly for defendants

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE — A group of immigrants from Mexico suing the Maury County Sheriff’s Department and federal government may have a legitimate case that could cost the defendants hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and legal fees, Midstate attorneys say.

The suit was filed on July 5 in U.S. District Court by 11 immigrants after about 19 immigrants were arrested two days earlier while deputies and agents searched for a rape suspect in a trailer park.

According to the suit, those arrested were stopped without cause. In some cases, authorities entered the immigrants’ homes without warrants and without being invited in. All were asked for ‘‘papers’’ and detained when they could not produce proof of legal residency, the suit states.

Because authorities allegedly didn’t have warrants in some cases, the immigrants claim their rights under the U.S. Constitution were violated.

‘‘Constitutional rights are your baseline: They’re your bare minimum rights,’’ said Nashville immigration lawyer Philip Perez, who is not affiliated with the lawsuit. ‘‘States cannot reduce constitutionally granted rights.’’

Such rights have previously been upheld for illegal immigrants. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas could not withhold state school funds from children who were not in the country legally.

In its ruling of Plyler v. Doe, the high court held that the children were protected under the law by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and that the protection ‘‘extends to anyone, citizen or stranger.’’

Under federal law, immigration officers cannot enter a house unless they have a warrant or the permission of someone in the house.

Federal immigration spokesman Temple Black said he could not comment on pending litigation, but he said the deputies and agents could enter a house if they had reason to believe the suspect was inside.

But Williamson County attorney John D. Schwalb said that would not have applied in this instance because the officers did not witness the man enter the home.

‘‘If that’s the situation, you knock on the door and you place officers at the back doors’’ while awaiting a warrant, said Schwalb, who is also not involved in the case. ‘‘Somebody better have seen someone enter one of the other trailers.’’

The lawsuit seeks that the defendants be enjoined from further stops, searches and seizures like the one earlier this month; it asks that the plaintiffs not be given over to federal immigration custody and their removal not be pursued; and it requests damages of $100 per plaintiff per day for each day they spend in jail.

Lawyers say battling such cases in federal court has been known to take years. If the immigrants remain in jail just through the end of 2007, and the judge agrees to award the requested damages, each immigrant would receive approximately $18,000.

However, that amount could rise as the plaintiffs’ lawyers square off with Maury County and the federal government over payment of legal fees.

‘‘Most of the time they make plaintiff attorneys work hard for the fees,’’ said Elliott Ozment, who filed the lawsuit. ‘‘I anticipate that if this drags on, that could be an issue.’’

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