Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Federal Judge Upholds Immigrants' Right to Remain Silent on Status

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren granted the government's motion to dismiss charges against Ortiz-Del Rio with prejudice, meaning the same charges cannot be filed again. Ortiz-Del Rio had been charged with falsely claiming U.S. citizenship. Ortiz-Del Rio happened to be in an apartment where another man was being arrested. The police took one look at Ortiz-Del Rio and, with no warrant or cause, arrested him, assuming he was "illegal." Another judge ruled in April that armed federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement lacked reasonable suspicion when they detained Ortiz-Del Rio in what amounted to custodial questioning after happening to find him in the apartment.

Immigration agents often arrest people other than those they target when they come across them, especially during raids on private residences. Once called by immigration officials "collateral," ICE officials often defended the controversial practice by saying that they were obligated to take action when they come across people -- other than their original "target" -- who could be in the country illegally.

That has prompted immigration advocacy groups across the country to advise immigrants to remain silent and not open their doors when immigration officials come knocking. The groups say that when ICE rounds up others in the course of pursuing their "targets," it is violating Fourth and Fifth amendment rights. Many groups have set up hotlines that they tell immigrants to call if ICE agents knock on their door.

Melgren noted that Ortiz-Del Rio was ordered out of a bedroom, asked to sit on the floor and repeatedly questioned about where he was born. Any responses Ortiz-Del Rio gave at the time -- in the absence of the Miranda warning about self-incrimination -- must be suppressed, Melgren ruled. He also said any subsequent statements the suspect made when taken to the ICE station for processing must also be suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree."

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