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NJ residents reach settlement on feds' home raids

Samantha Henry, Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Eight people will share nearly $300,000 after settling a case with federal immigration officials over what they claimed were warrantless raids of their homes.

The New Jersey residents brought the case in 2008 against more than 30 officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The case stemmed from a series of pre-dawn raids the plaintiffs, the majority of whom were legal immigrants, claimed had been conducted without warrants or their consent.

"Agents cannot lie or force their way into people's homes in the middle of the night, point guns at children and use force, all without a warrant or consent," said Baher Azmy, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs with Lowenstein Sandler PC and Seton Hall University's law school.

Resident Ana Galindo said ICE agents barged into her Paterson home, refused to accept her state driver's license as valid identification, interrogated her about where she was hiding "illegals" and pointed a gun at her 9-year-old son.

Galindo, a U.S. permanent resident, and her husband, Walter Chavez, will share in a $295,000 settlement to be divided among the plaintiffs.

"This settlement shows that when the government acts like this in America, we should not be quiet about it," Chavez said. "We should speak up to stop them from doing this to other people."

ICE officials did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.

Barbara Moses, the director of the Civil Rights and Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Seton Hall University Law School, said students at the law school worked on the case for years. She said the raids had been part of ICE's Operation Return to Sender, a program she said had been problematic because agents were given arrest quotas.

"When you have quotas and are allowed to count toward your quota folks who aren't on your target list, that's a recipe for overreaching," Moses said.

Moses added she believed the settlement, a similar suit settled in Connecticut and a pending suit in New York had contributed to changes in the way ICE conducts immigration raids.