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Immigration agents say they didn’t need warrants

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents didn’t need search warrants or arrest warrants when they made 49 arrests in Willmar last month because they entered each home with the residents’ consent, according to court documents.

The documents are part of a federal lawsuit filed by the Honduran consul and more than 30 immigrants who allege that immigration agents failed to obtain search warrants over the four-day sweep in Willmar and they failed to inform immigrants of their rights.

Court documents say that ICE officials used a method called "knock and talk" to get the residents’ consent.

"Our position was, and is, that all actions taken by our agents were in full accordance with the law," said Tim Counts, ICE spokesman. "That includes getting permission from the occupants of the homes before entering."

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Immigration advocates and analysts nationwide are watching the case, in part because large-scale sweeps of individual homes have been rare, said Muzaffar Chishti, a director at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan organization that analyzes immigration issues.

"No one argues that ICE shouldn’t enforce the law," Chishti said. "But there are restrictions on the way you enforce the law, based on the constitutional rights of individuals."

Anyone living in the United States, legally or not, is protected by the Fourth Amendment safeguarding against "unreasonable search and seizure," he said. Once inside a home, immigration agents do not have to tell people of their right to remain silent, but immigrants have the right to decline comment until they have an attorney, he said.

Of the 49 people arrested, 18 had criminal convictions, six had deportation orders and 25 were living here illegally but had no criminal history.

Some legal residents in Willmar say they didn’t give consent for ICE officials to enter.

Marlen Soriano said she was doing housework one day last month when she got a call from her 15-year-old nephew, asking her to come pick him up at his house. She did, and saw immigration agents there.

Soriano, a legal resident who has lived in the United States 20 years, went inside and found another nephew, her sister-in-law and three other people sitting on the couch in pajamas and wearing handcuffs. She said she asked the agents to show a search warrant or a deportation order. She said they told her they didn’t have to answer her questions.

Soriano said she took her nephew home and minutes later there was a knock at her door.

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Soriano said she opened the door and a group of immigration agents walked toward her, requiring her to back up. Some agents began searching her house, while others asked her for identification and information about who lived with her. Soriano said she was told to stay seated on the couch, with an agent on either side.

"I was treated like some kind of drug trafficker," she said. "They never said why they were entering."

ICE would not comment on the details of any case because of the pending court action.

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