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US Citizens, Lawful Residents Sue Government for Illegal Detention in LA Immigration Raid

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In what’s believed to be a first, a group of US citizens and lawful residents have brought claims against the government for being illegally detained during an ICE raid earlier this year. If the claims are successful, this legal strategy could force the Department of Homeland Security to change its policy about workplace raids. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Los Angeles, California on this historic day, a day for — in the struggle for labor rights and the eight-hour work day, tens of thousands are expected to march across the country today, linking immigrants’ rights to May Day for the third year in a row. The major demands include legal status for undocumented migrant workers and an end to the raids and deportations that have torn families apart. One of the biggest rallies is expected to take place today here in Los Angeles.

As we continue our coverage of these issues, we turn to one of the most controversial immigration topics in this country: workplace raids carried out by armed US agents. If you were in Los Angeles in early February, you might have seen these reports on your local news.

    KTLA-5 NEWS ANCHOR: [ICE] raided a Van Nuys company today. The raid took place at a printer supply manufacturer called Micro Solutions Enterprises. Family and friends rushed over as soon as they heard what was going on.

    REPORTER: From News Copter 13, you can see a toddler who doesn’t quite understand why she can’t be with her mother.

AMY GOODMAN: On February 7th, hundreds of agents from the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, raided a Los Angeles company called Micro Solutions. During the raid, US agents arrested 138 immigrant workers. In addition, armed ICE agents detained 114 workers who were US citizens or lawful permanent residents.

The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law has just filed claims on behalf of these workers. It’s believed to be the first time a group of US citizens and lawful residents have brought claims against the government for being illegally detained during an ICE raid. If the claims are successful, this legal strategy could force the Department of Homeland Security to change its policy about workplace raids.

I’m joined here in Los Angeles by two guests. Christopher Scherer is a staff attorney with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law. Mike Whitehead also joins us. He’s a worker at Micro Solutions, illegally detained during the February 7th ICE raid. In New York, we’re joined by the journalist Roberto Lovato. He is a writer for New America Media and a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine. He blogs at ofamerica.wordpress.com.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now!

Well, Mike Whitehead, let’s begin with you. What happened on February 7th?

MIKE WHITEHEAD: February 7, we were brought in — a hundred-plus agents were come into the facility and had us detained for a number of hours. I personally was detained for about an hour of that time in a conference room, to begin with. We were hustled into the room and told that we couldn’t move, we couldn’t leave, we had to keep our hands visible, we couldn’t use our cell phones, which was sort of disturbing to me, because I didn’t know what we did wrong. You know, I’m a US citizen. We were shuffled around to another area of the facility and asked to be segregated later at a time that we were later cleared. But we were detained for approximately one hour, me personally.

AMY GOODMAN: And did you know who the armed men were?

MIKE WHITEHEAD: At the beginning, I didn’t, because I didn’t recognize “ICE” on the back of their jackets. I mean, there was a hundred-plus agents, armed, flak vests that said “ICE” on the back of them. I later figured it out. I mean, it was pretty obvious who they were.

AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Scherer, can you talk about the legality of this?

CHRISTOPHER SCHERER: Well, we don’t feel there was any legality to this. It’s a violation of Fourth Amendment rights of citizens of lawful permanent residents. ICE is coming in and detaining an entire factory worth of individuals and holding them under armed guard and allowing them to leave when they decide, when they think it’s appropriate.

AMY GOODMAN: How common is this?

CHRISTOPHER SCHERER: It’s happened all over the country. I mean, it’s happened here in Southern California at Micro Solutions. It happened in Texas, in Iowa, with the Swift raids, where they held literally thousands of American citizens while they were looking for undocumented workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Roberto Lovato, can you talk about this?

ROBERTO LOVATO: Yeah. First of all, I want to encourage everybody to get out on the streets today if they feel outraged about what happened to Mike and what’s happening to thousands of citizens and non-citizens in the United States. I really encourage you to go out there and support them and also to get a dose of hope, because that’s what May Day is about, a workers’ and immigrants’ hope.

What happened to Mike is, as I said, not unique. I have traveled the country interviewing citizens and non-citizens who are experiencing these kinds of raids and violence, state violence, with increasing frequency. And I really feel for Mike, because it’s proving a thesis I’ve had for a while now, which is that the immigration raids, the attacks, the increasing militarization of police forces, of the National Guard at the border, are all indicators of how immigrants are being used to normalize having people with guns in our midst. In other words, first it was the people in the yellow outfits detained after 9/11. Now it’s the Mexican and other immigrants. And as we see with the case of Mike, now it’s US citizens and workers who are being subjected to what in another context, in another country, would be called, say, “terrorismo de estado,” state terrorism.

Peoples — Mike, I’m sure, may have dreams about this. His body may shake because of being violated, as if — you know, having his rights and his person violated. And so, it’s an indicator of why we need to get out to protest and assert our rights, because, as I said, immigration is being used to militarize within the borders of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Mike Whitehead not only about you, but about all the other workers. Can you talk about the reaction when the agents came in? What time of day was it?

MIKE WHITEHEAD: It was about 3:45, close to 4:00. The reaction was that we thought we were under some sort of attack. We didn’t know what was going on. They never disclosed who they were and what they were there for.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what about the immigrants who worked there, whether documented or not?

MIKE WHITEHEAD: Oh, that we have close to 800 employees in our facility, so it was a mass detention. As far as who was undocumented, I have no idea who was undocumented in our facility. We follow our I-9s. I know that we are compliant and have been cooperating with ICE and Homeland Security.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me put this question to Roberto Lovato. The overall policy of immigration right now, and especially here in California and then going down to the border?

ROBERTO LOVATO: Well, you have a radical transformation of the political and demographic topography of the United States happening right now. It’s concentrated in the Southwest, and it’s because of the growth of Latino and other populations, but especially the Latino population. And you’re seeing it in the streets. It’s altering our political system. And you’re seeing it in our electoral process. And I think that instills a lot of fear in certain powers that be, because it’s no longer kind of the black-white politics and the era of the Southern strategy. We’re watching something take place that nobody really has an idea where it’s going or what’s going to happen. We do know, for — as, for example, as reported in the LA Times, that immigrant voters are going to radically transform not just the Southwestern United States, but the entire United States in the coming years. And this is inevitable, unless there’s some sort of massive tragedy, which I hope not and I would fight with every bone in my body, but — as would others.

But so, we have to look at — it’s just an issue of control. The border is not a fact. The border is an idea, OK? The border is violated every day by the primary criminals that are, in fact, transnational corporations that cause migration in the first place. And so, it’s no coincidence that we’re focusing on, for example, the undocumented worker and not on the employer that hires them, in the debate. They are breaking the law, if anybody’s breaking the law, as much as, if not more than, the undocumented worker. Yet the entire debate is focused on the human being and not the citizen that is the corporation, because to focus on them, we would have to, for example, apply the death penalty to corporations and take away their citizenship, as we do with prisoners. And that’s, I think, what’s at stake here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Christopher Scherer, staff attorney for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law. What about the responsibility of the employer versus the workers?

CHRISTOPHER SCHERER: Well, I mean, there’s no question that employers are under an obligation to comply with, you know, all the rules and regulations with regard to who they hire and hiring legal — at least checking the status of the people that they hire. But in this situation, all those things have been done. And, you know, if — the employer in the situation may be a subject of fraud, a victim in the situation, and it doesn’t change the fact that ICE is coming into these factories without color of warrant, without exigent circumstance that could justify the types of detentions that are taking place and holding citizens and permanent residents against their will.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the companies, Roberto Lovato, that benefit, that are profiting off of the increased militarization, particularly along the border?

ROBERTO LOVATO: Well, we’re watching the birth of what some people, like Deepa Fernandez and others, are calling the military-industrial-migration complex, a set of interests, economic, political, that are profiting politically and economically from this new, what I would call a war on immigrants. If, say, the drones at the border or the National Guard at the border or the fact that the ICE, the immigration agency, is in fact the most militarized arm of the federal government besides the Pentagon — a lot of people don’t know this — and so, if you look at that, those are indicators of a war, of an enemy. And so, we know from Iraq that the government acts not just out of what it says it’s going to do, but for other reasons. So why not apply that logic to what’s happening with immigration?

Because I think immigration is about controlling immigrant workers, putting fear in them, and I think it’s about electoral machinations that we’re seeing, especially by the Republicans, and also a lot of Democrats. But it’s also about the crisis of legitimacy in the state itself. I think there’s a crisis afoot. And when there’s a crisis, you want to bring in as many people with guns within. And so, there’s a lot of companies that are benefiting, like Blackwater, like — does this sound familiar? —- Halliburton is building immigrant prisons. All these electronic surveillance companies are getting multimillion—, multibillion-dollar contracts, in the case of Boeing, to surveil, jail and harass immigrants. And so, you know, this whole anti-immigrant moment is extremely profitable for the stock portfolios of a lot of companies.

AMY GOODMAN: Roberto Lovato, can you talk about the “Three Amigos Summit” that took place in New Orleans, or as it came to be known, President Bush meeting with the heads of state of Canada and Mexico?

ROBERTO LOVATO: Yeah. There was — this is the most recent in a series of meetings that have taken place between the heads of state of Canada, Mexico and the United States. And it’s interesting to look at what their agenda is. It’s primarily about free trade and security. OK, and that’s not a coincidence. It’s not that they just put this together. It’s the fact that in order to implement the free trade policies in Mexico that drive migration, that destroy workers’ rights and the environment and that cause, you know, crisis after crisis, and now to do that in the United States and in Canada, you’re not just going to need to implement new laws, you’re going to have to back up the — yourself up with military force, as you see in the case of the discussions that were had about Plan Mexico.

Plan Mexico is essentially a plan to militarize or what I would call “Colombianize” Mexico. I was in Michoacan last year, and it’s one of the most militarized parts of Mexico, with — a country with no history of a — modern history of a military, of a militarized society like the rest of Latin America. And so, the summits are about fomenting free trade and helping to create excuses for putting, again, more people with guns in our societies, whether it’s in Mexico in Michoacan in the countryside, where they’re knocking on people’s doors and capturing them and causing more people to migrate, or whether it’s in Canada or now here in the United States, where you see the raids.

You look at those images, Amy, that you had of, say, MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. If you took away the LAPD names on those, that would look just like Gaza, if you look at the weaponry, the way they’re dressed, etc. So these are visual, clear indicators of the fact that immigration is not just about immigrants. It’s as much about those of us that are citizens and instilling fear and normalizing the idea that it’s OK to have people with guns and uniforms in times of crisis and meltdown like we have now.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for joining us, Roberto Lovato, speaking to us from New York.

ROBERTO LOVATO: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Roberto Lovato writes for New America Media, a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine. And our guests here in studio in Los Angeles, as we continue on the road, Christopher Scherer, staff attorney for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and Mike Whitehead, one of the employees at Micro Solutions who was detained on February 7th during the ICE raid.

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