Migrant Justice sues ICE over detainment of member leaders

November 14, 2018
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Members of the advocacy group Migrant Justice stand before the federal court in Burlington, Vt., on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. They filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles alleging that ICE targeted and arrested members in retaliation for their activism. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — An advocacy group representing immigrant farmworkers in Vermont and four of its members sued the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday, accusing them of targeting and arresting its members in retaliation for their activism.

Members of Migrant Justice and their supporters marched through Burlington to the federal court carrying flags and posters and chanting. They held a rally and press conference outside the building as several members filed the lawsuit inside.

“To be clear, this suppression of core political speech violates fundamental bedrock constitutional law and we will not stand for it,” American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont lawyer Lia Enrst told the crowd.

One of the four plaintiffs, Zully Palacios Rodriguez, said she and a fellow Migrant Justice member were arrested by armed undercover agents as they were leaving the group’s office in Burlington in 2017. Before the arrest, she said ICE tried to enter her email account and used a confidential informant to spy on the group’s members and gather information about them.

“But I wasn’t doing anything bad. The only thing I was doing was raising my voice to defend my rights and human rights of my community,” she told the crowd through an interpreter. “So that’s why we’re here today to file a lawsuit against ICE, to stop this abuse of power and these targeted arrests because organizing is not a crime. Speaking out for your rights is not a crime, and migration is a human right.”

ICE said it could not comment on pending litigation. The Department of Homeland Security had no comment.

Among the accusations is that the state Motor Vehicle Department coordinated with ICE to assist with the arrests of people arriving at DMV offices for scheduled appointments.

Many DMV emails requested and obtained by the ACLU in 2017 showed that department investigators sent information to ICE on migrants they suspected gave false information on their applications for driver identification cards. Vermont’s driver card program was formed in 2013 to provide immigrants living in the country illegally a way to drive.

The DMV commissioner did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Update hourly