Eleven men who claimed immigration agents violated their rights in 2007 raids on their New Haven neighborhood have won a $350,000 settlement from the U.S. government, which also agreed to halt deportation proceedings against the plaintiffs, their attorneys said Tuesday.
The raids on the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Fair Haven came a day after the city became the first to offer identification cards to illegal immigrants, and critics including the mayor have contended the federal sweep was retaliation for the ID program _ a charge denied by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The settlement appears to be the largest ever paid by the United States in a lawsuit over residential immigration raids, and the first to include compensation as well as immigration relief, according to Mark Pedulla, a Yale law student who was involved in representing the plaintiffs.
"They hope to be able to offer an example of what can happen when you stand up for your rights," Pedulla said.
Ross Feinstein, an ICE spokesman, said the settlement is not intended as an admission of liability on the part of the U.S. government.
"The government is settling in order to avoid the additional time and expense of further litigation," Feinstein said.
The plaintiffs were among roughly 30 people arrested on the raid in the early morning hours of June 6, 2007.
The men argued the agents drew their weapons, forced them out of bed and frightened young children in some of the homes. They claimed the federal agency was retaliating against New Haven, which has a reputation as a "sanctuary city" for its embrace of illegal immigrants, and that they were targeted solely because of their Latino appearance.
"I remember everything that happened to me that morning as if it were yesterday," plaintiff Edinson Yangua Calva said. "There are things I haven't been able to get over, it is something that stays with you forever."
In June 2009, a federal judge ruled that agents violated the constitutional rights of four immigrants in the raids. Immigration Judge Michael Straus said the ICE agents went into the immigrants' homes without warrants, probable cause or their consent, and he put a stop to deportation proceedings against the four defendants, whose names were not released.
Five of the plaintiffs were still facing deportation proceedings, but those will be halted as part of the settlement agreement, Pedulla said.
The sweeps in New Haven came after the city approved issuing identification cards to all of its residents, regardless of immigration status. ICE officials have denied that the raids were retaliatory, saying planning began the year before.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., a Democrat who introduced the ID card program, said the settlement highlights faulty immigration policies.
"Today's settlement is bigger than a lawsuit. It is about who we are as a nation," he said. "Today's settlement is a victory of law, but the real case yet to be tried is a matter of the character and temperament of this nation as it relates to immigration, and how we as a nation, a state, and a people view our legacy as a nation of immigrants."
DeStefano tightened his embrace of newcomers in December by announcing a proposal to extend voting rights to illegal immigrants and other noncitizens. He also has prohibited police from asking people about their immigration status and spoken out against a federal immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, which uses fingerprints collected in local jails to identify illegal immigrants who have been arrested.