SALT LAKE CITY — A family from Mexico living in Utah filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing federal agents of busting down their door with a battering ram, ransacking their apartment and telling them they watch “too much Univision” when they asked to see a warrant.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service following what the family called two “swat-style raids” to the family’s home in Heber City, Utah, in April 2017.
The grandmother, Alicia Amaya Carmona, 48, was arrested and set up for deportation. Eight other family members were in the home, including four small children who are U.S. citizens and Carmona’s four adult children who are allowed to be here under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The children, who were between the ages of 2 and 6, were left terrified of police after the agents busted through the door late at night on the second visits and pointed rifles at the children were who already crying after being woken up, the lawsuit alleges.
The ACLU said the case illustrates the heavy-handed approach to immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump. Carmona doesn’t have legal paperwork to be in the U.S., but doesn’t have any criminal record — a category of immigrants that the Obama administration generally left alone.
“This is a very important lawsuit because we’re standing up for a family who has been subjected to horrible practices,” said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah. “There needs to be accountability for this.”
ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said the agency doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits but said that should not be construed that it agrees with the allegations.
The U.S. Marshals Service also declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing pending litigation, said spokeswoman Lynzey Donahue.
Carmona’s arrest reflects the Trump administration’s commitment to cast a wider net and not solely focus on immigrants here illegally who also have criminal records.
About 65 percent of ICE’s arrests from October to December were criminals, compared to 82 percent during the final full three months of the Obama administration, the agency said this month.
Looked at another way, arrests of criminals jumped 14 percent to about 25,600 from 22,500, but arrests of non-criminals nearly tripled to 13,600 from 4,900.
Carmona and her family weren’t at a news conference in Salt Lake City to announce the lawsuit, but said in statements provided by the ACLU that they hope the lawsuit prevents other immigrant families from enduring the same fear and ridicule they experienced.
The family, which is originally from Mexico, said in the lawsuit that agents threatened to take the children to child protective services if the family didn’t cooperate and at one point left the children out in the cold.
One agents told the family they were wasting money paying for a lawyer for Carmona because they would never win against ICE with “Trump’s new law.”
When one of the adult sons asked to see a warrant, an agent said the family “watched too much Univision” and that he didn’t need a warrant, the lawsuit alleges.
The agents broke the front door, knocked closet doors off the hinges, rummaged through drawers and beds and took $3,000 that Carmona had been saving to pay an immigration lawyer, the lawsuit says.
The ACLU argues the search was unlawful and violated the family’s Fourth Amendment rights.
“These families and their young children are now understandably terrified by police. The children may never go up to a police officer, even if in danger and needing help,” said Brittney Nystrom, executive director of the ACLU of Utah. “This is not normal. This is not lawful. This is not right.”
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