A federal appeals court decided Thursday that immigration agents violated the law when they raided a Van Nuys factory in 2008 and interrogated and arrested 130 workers without reasonable suspicion that they were in the United States without authorization.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling in the case of a Mexican immigrant who was ordered removed after the raid, said the right to detain someone while executing a search warrant does not extend to a preconceived plan to conduct a raid aimed at arresting a large number of people.
The decision revoked the deportation of Gregorio Perez Cruz, who entered the country as a child and worked at the factory. Cruz’s lawyers said the ruling also was likely to invalidate deportations in other cases.
The raid stemmed from a 2006 tip to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that Micro Solutions Enterprises, a manufacturer of printer cartridges, employed 200 to 300 immigrants who were in the country illegally.
Nearly two years later, agents obtained a search warrant to seize employment records at the factory.
Documents later obtained by civil rights lawyers revealed that agents “intended from the outset to turn the execution of these warrants into quite a different operation than a search for employment records,” the 9th Circuit said.
An internal memorandum showed that agents planned to make as many as 200 arrests and had lined up two buses and five vans to take the workers to a detention facility.
About 100 armed and uniformed agents entered the factory, blocked the exits and told workers they could not leave or use their cellphones. The agents frisked Cruz and other workers and handcuffed and questioned them.
Cruz, during the questioning, told an agent he did not have authorization to be in the country.
An immigration judge later decided that agents had violated a government regulation by initially detaining Cruz and failing to advise him of his rights. The Board of Immigration Appeals ruled in favor of the government, and Cruz appealed to the 9th Circuit.
The court agreed that the arrest violated an immigration enforcement regulation and the Constitution.
Agents cannot detain and interrogate people “without individualized suspicion” — a reasonable belief backed by evidence that the workers entered the country without permission, the court said.
“Perez Cruz has presented substantial, uncontroverted evidence that the search authorized by the warrant was far from the ICE agents’ central concern,” Judge Marsha S. Berzon, a Clinton appointee, wrote for the panel.
The law “does not justify using the execution of a search warrant for documents to ‘target’ for detention, interrogation, and arrest busloads of people who could not otherwise be detained,” she wrote.
Berzon was joined by 9th Circuit Judge Michelle T. Friedland, an Obama appointee, and District Judge Daniel R. Dominguez, a Clinton appointee based in Puerto Rico.
Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and one of Cruz’s lawyers, said the decision sent “a powerful message.”
“Everyone has the right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures,” he said.
Noemi Ramirez, who also represented Cruz, said the court’s ruling clearly barred “pre-planned mass detentions, interrogations, and arrests that violate a person’s 4th Amendment right.”