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Landmark Settlement in New Haven Immigration Raid Case a Victory for YLS Worker & Immigrant Rights Clinic Students

The New York Times, Washington Post, New Haven Register, and NPR are among the many media outlets reporting the news today that eleven New Haven residents who claim immigration agents illegally raided their homes nearly five years ago have achieved a landmark settlement in their civil rights lawsuit against the government. The eleven, who were represented by students from Yale Law School’s Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC) and pro bono counsel from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton of New York, led by Jorge Tenreiro '06, will receive $350,000, and any of them with deportation proceedings ongoing at the time of the settlement will have those proceedings dismissed. The agreement appears to be the largest monetary settlement ever paid by the United States in a suit over residential immigration raids, and the first to include both compensation and immigration relief.

The eleven men alleged that in the early morning hours of June 6, 2007, approximately 20 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents together with other federal, state, and local officers spread out across the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Fair Haven, invaded homes without warrants or consent, and illegally seized and arrested them and others.

The lawsuit claimed the raids were in retaliation for New Haven’s new municipal ID program approved just two days earlier, which offered identification cards to all city residents regardless of immigration status. It alleged the men were targeted solely on the basis of their Latino appearance.

An ICE spokesman said the settlement was not an admission of liability or fault on the part of the U.S. government but was made “in order to avoid the additional time and expense of further litigation.”

But Cristobal Serrano-Mendez, one of the eleven plaintiffs, said he and his co-plaintiffs feel vindicated. “This settlement means a lot to me. Five years of pressure on the government has led to this agreement, and I think that the government knows it did something wrong.”

“This settlement demonstrates this community’s ability to fight together against an injustice and win significant concessions from the U.S. government,” said Jason Glick '12, one of the clinic students currently working on the case. 

Along with Glick, clinic students Laura Huizar '12, Mark Pedulla '12, Trudy Rebert '13, and Matt Vogel '12 are actively involved in the case. Over the past five years, a long list of others have worked on the civil rights action, removal defense cases, FOIA suits, and policy campaigns arising from the raids, including Emily Brown '14, Aadhithi Padmanabhan '14, Travis Silva '13, Cody Wofsy '13, Estella Cisneros '12, Dermot Lynch '12, Jenny Zhao '12, Alice Hwang '11, Valarie Kaur '11, Rebecca Scholtz '11, Anjali Dalal '10, Sara Edelstein '10, Jeff Kahn '10, Jane Lewis '10, Ana Muñoz '10, Lindsay Nash '10, Hunter Smith '10, Sameer Ahmed '09, Anand Balakrishnan '09, Prithika Balakrishnan '09, Bram Elias '09, Stella Burch Elias '09, Margot Mendelson '09, Anant Saraswat '09, Shayna Strom '09, Justin Cox '08, Nicole Hallett '08, Deborah Marcuse '08, Simon Moshenberg '08, and Michael Tan '08. Cover Fellows Chris Lasch, Hope Metcalf, and Jason Parkin have also played critical roles, as has Yale Law clinical professor Muneer Ahmad, who co-directs the clinic and who co-supervised this case.

“There is nothing more inspiring for a teacher than to watch determined and skillful students, partnered with committed local organizations, dedicate themselves to a group of traumatized but courageous clients, and then to achieve this sort of extraordinary outcome,” said Professor Mike Wishnie ’93, director of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization who co-directs the WIRAC clinic. “This collective work has benefited dozens of households in New Haven, and many more around the nation, as well as prompted important national policy changes. But when the government met our clients’ terms, it was time to settle, and we’re grateful to have been able to do so.”

The Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic is part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization (LSO) at Yale Law School, which represents a wide range of community groups, churches, labor unions, and individuals in litigation and other forms of advocacy. In 2011, WIRAC clinic students won a $650,000 settlement for a group of day laborers in Danbury who had challenged the legality of their arrest in an undercover sting operation involving Danbury police and Immigration and Customers Enforcement agents.