A victory for Latino rights

An unprecedented settlement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent a loud and needed message: immigration agents cannot run roughshod over the rights of Latinos without consequences.

As of a result of the settlement reached yesterday, ICE must cough up $1 million to 22 Latino victims of warrantless raids. But what is far-reaching is that ICE must change its policies.

Among the court-ordered requirements: ICE agents must seek consent to enter or search a private residence. When the target is from a Spanish-speaking country, the agency must have Spanish-speaking officers available to seek that permission. They cannot conduct sweeps through a home without a real —not imagined or assumed— suspicion of danger.

The raids that triggered this case were part of a wave of terror in Long Island, and throughout the nation, in 2006 and 2007. These included illegal invasions of homes, where dozens of armed agents acting like cowboys in the Wild West were forcing their way in without warrants — a flagrant violation of the Constitution. Victims included young children as well as citizens and undocumented and legal permanent residents.

We applaud this decision and expect that the requirements will be enforced by ICE and monitored by civil rights advocates.

The settlement comes as an immigration reform bill takes shape. While border security and the levels of immigration have dominated the conversation around an overhaul, the violations of due process have also been a problem. The gains that were made today—protections in line with our Constitutional and democratic values— must not be undermined in any legislation.

There is another lesson here, and that is the importance of sustaining the work of civil rights organizations. LatinoJustice PRLDEF was at the forefront of this case. The organization, which recently marked its 40th anniversary and who Justice Sonia Sotomayor once served on the board of, went beyond complaining and took action that paid off with concrete results.

It’s a model that other leaders and groups should follow. The role of LatinoJustice should also serve as a reminder that our community still needs the organizations our pioneros founded – too many of which have become weak, vulnerable or quiet.