Judge removes government and its representatives from immigration claim
By Amy Forliti
MINNEAPOLIS — A federal lawsuit from last year’s immigration raid in Willmar was whittled down Wednesday when a judge dismissed counts against the U.S. government and authorities acting in their government roles.
U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery cited jurisdictional reasons for her decision. She also dismissed 14 plaintiffs from the case and told the remaining plaintiffs to re-file their complaint to clearly describe how the rights of each person were violated.
Some defendants contend the lawsuit "lacks specificity to allow the named federal officers and ICE agents to prepare a defense on the merits," Montgomery wrote. "This court agrees."
More than 50 people, including U.S. citizens, illegal immigrants and children, were arrested in the raid last April. The plaintiffs claimed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and other authorities broke into homes and randomly stopped Hispanics.
The lawsuit made several allegations, including that plaintiffs were subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures, deprived of due process of law, and denied the right to attorneys.
Montgomery dismissed claims against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other officials on jurisdictional grounds. She also dismissed claims against the police chiefs in Willmar and Atwater and the Kandiyohi County Sheriff because their agencies participated at the direction of federal authorities.
However, Montgomery is still considering one count that was filed under a provision allowing plaintiffs to seek monetary damages if individual defendants clearly and intentionally violate plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, and cause harm.
The judge gave the remaining plaintiffs a week to file more detailed information on that count. Then she’ll rule on whether it should be dismissed or go to trial.
"These are uphill claims," said Virgil Wiebe, an associate professor of law at the University of St. Thomas and director of the Immigration Law Practice Group. "In these kinds of cases, it really comes down to what witnesses say."
An attorney for the plaintiffs did not return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday. Tim Counts, a spokesman for ICE, referred questions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which issued a news release summarizing the judge’s order.
The 14 plaintiffs dismissed from the case include two people who have been deported and 12 who are subject to deportation hearings. Montgomery wrote that the illegal immigrants must take their cases through immigration court first, not U.S. District Court.