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Judge: Federal agents violated rights in work site raid

February 20, 2009 |  8:37 am

A judge has dismissed the case of an illegal immigrant facing deportation after ruling that federal agents violated his rights during a work site raid last year in Van Nuys.

Los Angeles Judge A. Ashley Tabaddor issued a written decision that immigration agents failed to follow their own regulations when they detained Gregorio Perez Cruz without reasonable suspicion that he was illegal.

The judge also determined that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents failed to advise Perez of his rights and interrogated him in an “intimidating and coercive environment” in which he was deprived of food and water for 18 hours and forced to sleep on a concrete floor.

Perez's attorney, Ahilan Arulanantham, said the 19-page decision could affect dozens of other ongoing immigration cases of workers arrested at Micro Solutions Enterprises.

“We’re very pleased that the rights of the Van Nuys workers were vindicated,” said Arulanantham, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “The decision sends a message to ICE that it cannot disregard the rights of the people that it targets.”

On Feb. 7, 2008, armed immigration agents entered Micro Solutions Enterprises, blocked the exits and ordered employees to stop working while the authorities executed federal arrest warrants for eight people and a search warrant as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Those eight were arrested on criminal charges, and 130 others were arrested on immigration violations.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the government plans to appeal the decision, which was issued Feb. 10 but not announced until today.

"ICE respectfully disagrees with the immigration judge's ruling," Kice said in a statement. "The ICE enforcement action involving the factory operated by Micro Solutions Enterprises was carried out in accordance with the terms of the related search warrant as well as with ICE policies and procedures."

Government regulations prevent agents from detaining people unless there is reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. They also require agents to advise detainees of their rights if they are being arrested without a warrant.

According to the decision, the agents violated both rules, which the judge said were designed to protect Perez’s right “to be free from an illegal detention, arrest and interrogation.”

Perez said that during the raid agents handcuffed him and asked him several questions, including where he was from and his date of birth. He said in court papers that had he known that the answers he gave could be used to deport him, he wouldn’t have given any responses. While he was in a detention center, Perez said he spent the night in a cold cell and had to drink out of the bathroom faucet because he was not given any food or water for many hours. The experience, he said, was humiliating.

“They didn’t respect our rights,” he said in an interview.

Perez, 23, said he was relieved that his deportation case was dropped and that he wouldn’t be forced to leave the country, even though he still is not eligible for a green card.

“I feel much better, but also sad because there are many workers who are in the same situation, in Van Nuys and in other states,” he said.

Over the past few years, the federal government has stepped up enforcement against employers that hire undocumented workers. Agents have conducted large-scale raids at work sites throughout the nation, arresting hundreds of undocumented workers.

-- Anna Gorman