Thursday, December 11, 2008

South Florida Community Demands Investigation Into ICE Misconduct

Community Demands Investigation Into ICE Misconduct

For Immediate release 12/10/08

Jonathan Fried, WeCount!: 305-281-9377
Cheryl Little, Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center: (305) 573-1106, ext. 1001

A November 19 ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Operation in Homestead was supposed to be a simple operation to crack down on a human smuggling and sex trafficking ring. But to the residents of Homestead, it was much more than that.

"They knocked the door to our room down. There were three agents who barged in to the room. They threw my husband to the floor and one of them stuck a gun to my head. He told me not to move. He said if I moved, the situation would be worse. They kicked my husband in the head. His head was swollen when they took him out of the room," said a woman after ICE agents stormed her home and took all its residents, although none of them had anything to do with the trafficking investigation. The woman said her four-year-old daughter, who witnessed the attack, is traumatized.

According to official ICE news release, 4 human trafficking suspects were arrested in the raid, while 9 victims of trafficking were rescued in the operation that took place in Miami Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties.

But in a press conference yesterday, several community groups called for an investigation of ICE abuses in the raids in Homestead, stating that at least half a dozen immigrants were beaten, and the large majority of persons detained had nothing to do with the trafficking investigation.

"We're here to discuss the human impact of the raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Homestead on November 19," said Jonathan Fried, executive director of WeCount!, a community based organization in Homestead.

"We applaud law enforcement actions against human trafficking. But we are disturbed that the large majority of persons detained in Homestead that day had nothing to do with any human trafficking investigation. We're even more disturbed at the abuse that occurred during the raids, especially the beatings of innocent immigrant victims."

In a complaint sent to R. Alexander Acosta, the US Attorney that helped ICE secure warrants for the raid from a Federal Judge, community members highlighted what they considered some of the most egregious examples of ICE misconduct including:

* Detaining over 70 people mostly unrelated to the trafficking investigation and misleading the public in their official release (ICE claimed it only detained 4 people).

* At least half a dozen persons detained were beaten by ICE agents; officials at the Broward Transitional Center, where some of them are being held, where so concerned that they called for an official inquiry into their injuries.

* Several accounts of ICE agents pointing guns to residents heads, even in front of children, using excessive force in executing search warrants, and using racial profiling to detain bystanders.

The community leaders at the press conference asked elected officials, community leaders, and concerned citizens to join them in pressing for a meaningful investigation into the allegations of misconduct. "The sum actions of these raids, meant to protect victims of trafficking, have victimized many in the Homestead community and created a climate of fear and mistrust," stated the complaint sent to the US Attorney's office, echoing the general feeling of the residents in attendance at the press conference.


News coverage:

Miami Herald, "Federal agents accused of roughing up immigrants during Homestead raid"

Sun-Sentinel, "Agents Accused of Abuse During Sex Slave Sting"

New York Times, "Tactics Used in US Raids Draw Claims of Brutality"

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