LANGLEY PARK, Md. - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 24 Hispanics at a convenience store in Baltimore two years ago after their supervisor told them to "bring more bodies" because they were behind their annual quota of 1,000 arrests per team, according to an ICE report released Wednesday.
The immigration rights group CASA de Maryland, which has accused ICE of racial profiling in the 2007 raid, released the agency's internal investigation report and said it shows that the agents acted improperly.
The report contradicts some sworn declarations made by ICE agents involved in the sweep, prompting the agency's Acting Assistant Secretary John Torres to ask for an investigation into inconsistencies, ICE spokeswoman Ernestine Fobbs said Wednesday. Meanwhile, CASA officials have called on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to review the agency's enforcement policies.
"Government agents should not be in the business of judging people based on the color of their skin, clothing and employment, which is what seems to have occurred here," the Rev. Simon Bautista Betances, vice president of CASA's board of directors said Wednesday.
CASA officials have charged that ICE agents ignored blacks and whites at the 7-Eleven store as they rounded up all of the Hispanics, even crossing the street to detain Hispanics waiting at a bus stop.
Soon after the raid, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) asked for an investigation into whether the ICE officers racially profiled the people they arrested. ICE's internal probe found the allegations to be unsubstantiated, Fobbs said.
"I have confidence that the new Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will fairly address this and other immigration issues," Mikulski said in an e-mailed statement in response to Wednesday's report.
Of the 24 men arrested in the raid, one proved that he was in the country legally, 19 were deported or voluntarily returned to their native countries and four remain in immigration proceedings, said Justin Cox, an attorney with CASA representing some of the men.
The ICE agents involved in the raid are part of the agency's fugitive operations program, which tracks down violent criminals living in the country illegally. Agency records from the program show that beginning in 2004, the teams were assigned to arrest at least 125 fugitive immigrants. In 2006, each team's quota was increased to 1,000 fugitive arrests.
"Our current enforcement of the immigration policy based on quotas lead to the separation of families and civil rights violations," said Gustavo Torres, CASA's executive director. "The evidence speaks for itself."
The debate over the raid centers on whether the agents had probably cause to detain the men or whether agents targeted them simply because they were Hispanic.
In sworn declarations, some officers said they stopped at the 7-Eleven to take a break after several hours of arresting fugitive immigrants in neighboring counties. When the agents arrived, they said Hispanic day laborers surrounded their vehicles asking for work and, when questioned, admitted they were in the country unlawfully.
However, in the report, some officers later told ICE investigators that the men mumbled or said nothing when asked about their status. Some also said that their supervisor had instructed them to beef up their arrests, the report said.
Cox said some of the day laborers testified that agents did not ask them about their status and ignored non-Hispanics passing through the store.
"I think that this validates all the concerns that the immigrant rights community has been expressing for the past couple of years," Cox said.