Lawsuit seeks records of federal worker raid

Immigration advocacy group claims constitutional violations

October 30, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

The state's largest immigration advocacy group filed suit yesterday against Anne Arundel County officials for failing to release documents related to a federal raid targeting alleged undocumented workers, though officials said they had just put those documents in the mail yesterday.

CASA de Maryland filed suit against the office of the Anne Arundel county executive and the county Police Department in Montgomery County Circuit Court alleging that the government agencies failed to comply with the Maryland Public Information Act. CASA is asking the court to order the county to disclose the records and make copies available and to pay its attorneys' fees.

The Silver Spring-based organization requested the documents Sept. 17 in its investigation of the June 30 raid of an Annapolis painting company and 15 homes where employees lived. The raid resulted in the detention of 46 people.

The lawsuit alleges "widespread allegations of grave constitutional rights' violations ... including entering homes without warrants ... detentively interrogating individuals without reasonable suspicion of unlawful immigrating status ... engaging in racial profiling ... and needlessly and maliciously destroying property."

John R. Leopold, the Anne Arundel county executive, issued an executive order a year ago that required any contractor working for Anne Arundel County to sign an affidavit stating that it doesn't hire illegal immigrants.

After the federal raid in June, in which 50 Anne Arundel police officers participated, Leopold held a news conference at the site praising the effort.

County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson said yesterday that the documents CASA had requested were mailed yesterday, explaining that because the county had coordinated with a federal agency in carrying out the raid, and the documents requested were related to a criminal investigation, they had to be examined carefully and in some cases parts redacted before being handed over to CASA.

"County Executive Leopold has always been very clear that Freedom of Information requests should always be handled promptly and within the time frame allowed by the statute," Hodgson said. "The lawsuit, though I haven't seen it, sounds frivolous at first blush."

Government agencies generally have 30 days to comply once a request is received, according to the statute. CASA said according to its certified-mail receipts, the requests were received by the Police Department on Sept. 19 and by the county executive's office Sept. 22.

Justin Cox, a civil rights specialist at CASA, said of the 46 people detained - 36 men and 10 women - most are still involved in immigration proceedings and are fighting removal based on "the egregious constitutional violations that have occurred."

"There are a lot of questions about how this was carried out," Cox said. "There were reports about agents breaking down doors. There were three houses that didn't have search warrants. There were 50 Anne Arundel police officers on the scene, and 75 [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents, and frankly we don't know who did what."

Cox said that CASA also sent information requests to ICE, the Annapolis and Baltimore police departments, and the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, all of which responded promptly.

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