The ACLU filed a formal complaint yesterday claiming U.S. citizens and legal residents were wrongly targeted for a raid in April by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents because they spoke Spanish. ICE agents raided a bus of 42 people, some of whom were citizens or legal residents, headed from Denver to Omaha for an Amway product distributors convention.
ICE officials told the Associated Press that 36 of the 42 bus passengers were in the country illegally and defended its agents’ actions. (Amway declined to comment on whether the alleged undocumented immigrants were Amway product distributors.)
The bus was reportedly targeted after a Spanish-speaking ICE agent heard some of the passengers speaking in Spanish about their long trip — causing her to suspect the bus was smuggling illegal immigrants.
The ACLU contends the raid took place because of racial stereotyping because the passengers were speaking Spanish.
“This is a case of racial profiling and ethnic stereotyping at its very worst,” Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director, said in a press release. “An ICE agent targeted our clients for speaking Spanish in an Omaha fast-food restaurant. Speaking Spanish is not a crime, nor does it provide any basis for immigration officers to start demanding papers or otherwise launch any investigation.”
After ICE officials boarded the bus, they directed it to drive to a local ICE facility, where passengers were searched, questioned and processed. The ACLU filed the complaint on behalf of two citizens, Arquimides Bautista and Rosalba Artimas, who said they were fingerprinted and forced to pose for mug shots before they were released.
Update: ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok sent the following statement on the situation:
In April 2010, two officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), based on their 29 years combined immigration-enforcement experience, suspected that the bus in question may be used for smuggling illegal aliens. Their initial inquiries immediately identified two illegal aliens. After further investigation and questioning, the ICE agents identified that 36 of the 42 passengers on the bus were in the United States illegally. Both ICE agents happen to be Hispanic themselves, and native Spanish speakers. No racial profiling was involved in detaining the bus or its passengers.
Ultimately, 17 of the 36 were immediately released on their own recognizance on humanitarian grounds after they were issued notices to appear before a federal immigration judge. The remaining 19 passengers were detained and bonded out of ICE custody.
Of the 36 illegal alien passengers on the bus, one had been previously deported; it’s a felony to re-enter the United States after being deported. In addition, one was a fugitive who already had already been ordered deported by a federal immigration judge; and three others had previous criminal convictions.
ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes efforts first on those dangerous criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities, not sweeps or raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately. ICE agents cannot turn a blind eye to immigration enforcement issues that they observe, especially when they may involve a case of human smuggling.
Since this case is pending litigation, no further information can be discussed at this time.