Settlement sets new guidelines for arrests by federal immigration officials

The settlement was reached in a lawsuit stemming from the detention of 156 Chicago-area immigrants by federal agents in May 2018. The plaintiffs were immigrant and advocacy groups.

SHARE Settlement sets new guidelines for arrests by federal immigration officials
An August 2020 protest outside the Chicago office of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, 101 W. Ida B. Wells Dr.

A 2020 protest outside the Chicago office of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, 101 W. Ida B. Wells Dr.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

When Margarito Castañon Nava was pulled over in May 2018, he initially thought the officers were Chicago Police Department detectives.

It wasn’t until he was detained and taken to a parking lot near U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Chicago office that he was told the officers were federal agents and that he was now in the custody of immigration officials.

“They didn’t tell us they had an order of arrest for me or my companion,” he said in Spanish during a recorded statement.

Thanks to a federal lawsuit brought by Castañon Nava, Chicago advocacy groups and other immigrants, the federal agency must enact a nationwide policy for arrests and traffic stops that often were called “collateral arrests.” A settlement in the case, reached Feb. 8 in U.S. District Court in Chicago, will remain in place for three years.

The lawsuit stems from “Operation Keep Safe,” an ICE effort in May 2018. Over the course of six days, the agency detained 156 immigrants in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.

Chicago-based advocacy organizations joined a group of individuals detained during the operation in filing the lawsuit; the plaintiffs argued the federal agency had racially profiled some drivers and stopped them without warrants, according to court records.

Out of 156 immigrants arrested that week, 125 were natives of Mexico, according to an ICE news release about the operation. Another 19 immigrants were from Central and South American countries.

ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under the change, according to court records, in order to pull someone over without a warrant, ICE agents must have probable cause to believe that person is in violation of U.S. immigration laws and is likely to escape before ICE can obtain an arrest warrant.

Agents also must identify themselves as federal immigration officials when pulling someone over, and must make clear to drivers they aren’t being stopped for a traffic violation, according to court records.

ICE will also have to document and detail the specifics of an arrest or traffic stop made without a warrant. Documents detailing those types of arrests within the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois will be turned over to attorneys who represented the immigration advocacy groups in the lawsuit, said Fred Tsao, the senior policy counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

The federal court’s Northern District includes Cook County and 17 other northern Illinois counties.

Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, is shown during a virtual news conference on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, to detail how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will have additional requirements for conducting arrests without a warrant or during traffic stops. The new requirements come after a settlement was reached in a federal lawsuit brought by Chicago area immigrants and advocacy groups.

Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, is shown during a virtual news conference on Friday to details how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will have additional requirements for conducting arrests without a warrant or during traffic stops. The new requirements come after a settlement was reached in a federal lawsuit brought by Chicago area immigrants and advocacy groups.

Screenshot

Immigrants detained by ICE without a warrant or through a traffic stop in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky and Kansas may be able to seek legal remedy because of the settlement, according to a news release.

Tsao said he hopes the settlement will curb the number of arrests ICE makes through traffic stops or without warrants now that the agency will have to provide documentation for each instance.

“This case arose four years ago when ICE agents — under the previous administration — were undertaking all these sweeps in various cities across the country,” Tsao said. “So what we do not want to see is a repeat that kind of approach to immigration enforcement.”

Castañon Nava along with the other immigrants named in the lawsuit will be able to remain in the U.S. and legally work under deferred action because of the settlement, Tsao said.

In his recorded statement, Castañon Nava said the lawsuit was important because it sent a message to ICE about their tactics and also to other immigrants like himself.

“So that people are not afraid to go out to the streets and know that we are not alone,” he said.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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