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Lawsuit alleges racial profiling by U.S. Border Patrol, et al.

Dec. 10, 2009: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE) and the law firm of
Murray and Murray, Co. L.P.A have filed a class action complaint in U.S. District Court, Northern District (Western Division, Toledo) against the U.S. Border Patrol and several local law enforcement agencies in northwest Ohio. 

The suit alleges that the U.S. Border Patrol and agencies restrain and interrogate Latinos about their immigration status based solely on their “Latino” appearance and that this profiling violates the 4th Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures and the 5th Amendment’s guarantee of due process and equal protection of the law.

ABLE and the law firm of Murray and Murray of Sandusky, Ohio, are representing both individual plaintiffs and organizational plaintiffs Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC) and the Immigrant Worker Project (IWP) and their members who have been stopped and detained by law enforcement without probable cause. 

“We have had an overwhelming number of complaints from Hispanic people from northwest Ohio who have been stopped, restrained, interrogated, and sometimes arrested for no apparent reason.  The incidents have resulted in no criminal arrests or traffic citations but have included requests for proof of immigration documentation,” says ABLE attorney Mark Heller

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, asks that the case proceed as a class action and that all activities related to racial profiling be prohibited.

“Targeting of Hispanics has happened to our clients while pumping gas, walking down the street, in retail establishments, and while picking up children from school.  In one incident, a client was pulled over because the light over his license plate was dim,” says Heller.  “When he presented his valid Ohio Driver’s License, the officer demanded proof of immigration status from him and his five passengers, all of whom were lawful permanent residents.”  

In particular, the lawsuit alleges that the illegal and unconstitutional actions of the U.S. Border Patrol agents stationed at or working out of the Sandusky Station, Detroit Sector, of the U.S. Border Patrol, are engaged in a pattern or practice of restraining, interrogating, and arresting persons regarding their immigration status based on their “Latino” appearance. 

In addition, local law enforcement authorities in Ohio, including Attica, Norwalk, and Plymouth police departments, are alleged to have profiled and stopped, restrained, and interrogated individual Plaintiffs and class members regarding their immigration status.

“We are asking the U.S. District Court to issue a judgment declaring that the Defendants’ policies, practices, and acts have violated and continue to violate the constitutional rights of members of our community,” adds Heller.

“Any time law enforcement officials create an environment of fear, it becomes a community issue.  Children are pulled from schools, people stop going to work, and crimes against Latinos go unresolved because people are afraid of law enforcement,” says Baldemar Velásquez, president of FLOC.

“The practice of profiling is never successful when based on appearance,” Velásquez adds. “If the objective of the profiling is to enforce immigration laws, violating the rights of documented or undocumented people sweeps everyone into the mix, resulting in even more confusion and fear, causing everyone to shut down and hide, creating havoc with workers and employers.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the U.S. Border Patrol station in Sandusky has conducted seminars, meetings, and other methods of communication with local law enforcement in northwest Ohio, urging them to restrain and interrogate persons of “Latino” appearance regarding their immigration status. 

“In some cases, the U.S. Border Patrol has offered to come and restrain and interrogate persons that the local law enforcement agencies have already seized, violating the 14th Amendment’s guarantee for due process and equal protection of the law,” Heller says.  “There really is no legitimate defense to what they are doing,” he adds.

Editor’s Note: The case is captioned Roberto Muñiz, et al. vs. Randy L. Gallegos, et al., and assigned to Judge Jack Zouhary. A copy of the complaint can be found at laprensa1.com

Click here to view the complaint (pdf)






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