Brazilian Newspaper Sues US Government Over “Return to Sender” Home Raids

Brazilian weekly newspaper Brazilian Voice New Jersey-based Brazilian newspaper Brazilian Voice and the Seton Hall Law School's Center for Social Justice (CSJ) filed suit, this Monday, January 28, in US federal court under the Freedom of Information Act (the FOIA) to compel the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release documents regarding its practice of executing pre-dawn, warrantless raids of immigrants' homes throughout the state of New Jersey.

In January 2006, so-called Fugitive Operations Teams were each ordered by DHS's Office of Detention and Removals Operations to meet a quota to find and arrest 1,000 individuals per year who had outstanding deportation orders.

Since the quota was instituted, there has been an escalating pattern of pre-dawn raids of immigrant homes in at least 15 New Jersey towns where the state's four Fugitive Operations Teams have implemented the quota and DHS's "Operation Return to Sender."

In these raids, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents enter immigrant homes in the early hours of the morning, without search warrants, using intimidation and-on occasion-force, to gather and question everyone in the home. The ICE agents then arrest persons who cannot immediately prove legal residence.

According to ICE statistics, of the 2,079 "fugitive" arrests that ICE made in New Jersey last year, 87% of those arrested had no criminal record. Individuals subjected to the home raids include children and adults who are U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents.

"Many victims of the raids believe they were duped or coerced into opening their door to ICE agents, and still have no idea why their family was targeted. Often the individuals arrested in a raid have lived in the U.S. for years, raised U.S.-citizen children, worked hard, paid taxes and established community ties," said Bassina Farbenblum, a CSJ attorney.

Scott Thompson, a lawyer at Lowenstein Sandler who is representing the CSJ, noted that "because the ICE agents apparently don't get search warrants and no official records are available, there is currently no way to know whether they had any legitimate basis or lawful authority to enter a particular home."

Today's lawsuit seeks to learn more about these ICE enforcement tactics by obtaining documentation of official policies and other records available to the public under the FOIA.

On December 14, 2007, the CSJ and the Brazilian Voice, a regional Portuguese-language newspaper, filed a FOIA request seeking both records relating to the execution of more than 40 suspected raids, and to the policies and procedures that govern this ongoing practice.

The raids detailed in the request occurred in Trenton, Freehold, Hightstown, Ewing, Princeton, West Windsor, Union City, Bridgeton, Paterson, Edison, Metuchen, Woodbridge, Penn's Grove, Clifton, Atlantic City, Vineland, Englewood, Morristown, Lakewood, Emerson, Hillsdale, Bloomfield, Passaic, Irvington, Livingston, New Brunswick, New Egypt and Newark.

In its only communication thus far regarding the FOIA submission, the DHS rejected a request for "expedited processing." According to DHS, the raids are not an issue of particular public interest because "a preliminary search of the Internet does not indicate that there is substantial current news interest concerning this topic," and no other individuals have recently sought information on ICE operations.

Seton Hall University School of Law, New Jersey's only private law school, and a leading law school in the New York metropolitan area, is dedicated to preparing students for the practice of law through excellence in scholarship and teaching with a strong focus on clinical education.

The Center for Social Justice, a core of Seton Hall Law School's Catholic mission, provides clinical education and volunteer opportunities to students and engages in various forms of advocacy, scholarship and direct legal services in an effort to secure equality, civil rights and legal protection for individuals and communities in need.

Founded in 1988, the Brazilian Voice is the largest circulated publication serving Brazilians living on the East coast of the U.S. Published weekly in Portuguese, the Brazilian Voice reaches residents via more than 1,000 distribution points in the states of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Delaware. The Brazilian Voice is headquartered in Newark, NJ.

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