Federal immigration agents can no longer make traffic stops and warrantless arrests

ICE arrest in California
In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, file photo, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents make an arrest during a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles. On Tuesday, to settle a 2018 lawsuit alleging that the agency racially profiled undocumented immigrants in Chicago, ICE agreed to issue a nationwide policy restricting its agents from enforcing local traffic laws and making warrantless arrests. Charles Reed / U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via the Associated Press
ICE arrest in California
In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, file photo, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents make an arrest during a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles. On Tuesday, to settle a 2018 lawsuit alleging that the agency racially profiled undocumented immigrants in Chicago, ICE agreed to issue a nationwide policy restricting its agents from enforcing local traffic laws and making warrantless arrests. Charles Reed / U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via the Associated Press

Federal immigration agents can no longer make traffic stops and warrantless arrests

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

Federal agents are no longer allowed to enforce local traffic laws nor arrest undocumented immigrants without a warrant, according to a settlement reached this week between the federal government and Chicago-based advocacy groups.

The settlement stems from a 2018 lawsuit filed on behalf of five undocumented immigrants detained without an arrest warrant. The lawsuit alleged that agents racially profiled undocumented immigrants driving in Latino neighborhoods or near construction sites in Chicago and the suburbs.

Under the terms of the agreement filed in federal court Tuesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has agreed to issue nationwide policy that will restrict its agents from detaining undocumented immigrants without a warrant during traffic stops.

ICE also agreed to train its agents nationwide on the new policy within the next six months and to produce monthly arrest reports to ensure it doesn’t violate the settlement. Those reports will be made available for undocumented immigrants arrested in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky and Kansas.

“This provides us a very powerful accountability tool to release people in the event of a wrongful, warrantless arrest,” said Mark Fleming, director of litigation for the National Immigrant Justice Center, who represented the plaintiffs. “We will now have a remedy. We can go into court to say the warrantless arrest was unlawful under the statute and you need to release this person.”

Fleming said agents who don’t follow the policy could face discipline, according to the terms of the settlement agreement.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) were also named as plaintiffs. Those groups and the undocumented immigrants were represented by the National Immigrant Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and Winston & Strawn LLP.

“This is only one step in holding ICE accountable,” said Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel at ICIRR. “Our work will continue by building power to achieve further significant, permanent wins against an agency that only exists to harm our communities.”

Advocates hailed the settlement as an important step in protecting the rights of immigrants.

“In May 2018, we witnessed what has come to be the norm for ICE: rampant and indiscriminate large-scale enforcement operations in our communities using deceiving vehicle stops and arresting people without a warrant,” said Xanat Sobrevilla, an organizer with OCAD, in a written statement.

Under the administration of former President Donald Trump, ICE focused its targeted enforcement and raids on sanctuary cities like Chicago. ICIRR and OCAD became the first line of defense for many immigrants caught in the enforcement actions Trump demanded.

Margarito Castañon Nava was arrested in one of those raids. The 46-year-old was driving to his Pilsen home after ending his Sunday workshift. He noticed that he was being followed by an unmarked car. He said the occupants of that vehicle asked him to pull over.

“I thought they were police,” Castañon Nava said in Spanish. “They didn’t identify themselves. The man came over and asked for my driver’s license.”

Castañon Nava was giving a co-worker a ride. Both were arrested. Castañon Nava said he was detained without explanation. When they arrived downtown, a federal agent told him he was going to be deported. He said he was taken to McHenry County Jail, where immigrants facing deportations are housed. He tried calling his wife multiple times but couldn’t get a hold of her until two days later. Castañon Nava said once his wife realized that he was detained and waiting to be deported to his native Guerrero, Mexico, she started looking for help.

Castañon Nava was released after a month and a half in county jail. He had never been in jail before.

“I’ve never had any problems with the police,” he said. “I only have parking tickets, but everyone has those.”

As part of the settlement, Castañon Nava was granted deferred action, which means his removal proceedings were closed administratively.

He said he’s grateful his wife was able to connect with the organizations who filed the lawsuit. But the experience was difficult.

“When I was released, I was really afraid to go anywhere,” he said.

That’s the reality of being undocumented, Castañon Nava said. There’s an uncertainty with which you have to learn to live. You can leave your house in the morning without knowing whether you’ll be able to come back, he said.

“It’s been difficult,” he said. “But then I realized, I haven’t done anything.”

María Inés Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.