Shortly before federal agents arrested 24 Latinos outside a Fells Point 7-Eleven in January 2007, the acting field office director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Baltimore told a deputy "to bring more bodies in," according to an internal ICE report.
The roundup at the 7-Eleven occurred after the official told that deputy "to go back out to make more arrests, as the quantity of arrests that were made that morning was unacceptable," said the report. It appears to contradict previous statements by ICE officials that the agents were taking a drink break Jan. 23, 2007, when they happened to be approached by Latino laborers who thought they were contractors in need of workers.
Immigrant advocates, who had obtained the report under a public records request, released it yesterday, saying it shows that a "broken" immigration system has unfairly targeted Latinos who were not guilty of any crimes.
An ICE spokeswoman said yesterday that John Torres, acting assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, "has referred the matter for further investigation." The spokeswoman, Ernestine Fobbs, said Torres wants a review into whether agents "provided inconsistent statements and accounts of the incident."
The agents felt pressure from supervisors to round up possible illegal immigrants to "produce statistics," the report said. The acting field office director, identified in press reports as John D. Alderman, "didn't really care where they had to go and whether the aliens were fugitive or not, he just wanted them to bring more bodies in." Fugitive aliens are those with deportation orders.
Where they went was the 7-Eleven on South Broadway, a place Baltimore police officers had told ICE agents was a gathering spot for Latino laborers, the report states. Among the men arrested was a janitor headed to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where his young son was being treated for cancer.
"The evidence supports that the 7-Eleven store was visited at the suggestion of one of the deportation officers" while agents were traveling to another "targeted location" in Baltimore, a pizzeria.
"The evidence revealed that the Fugitive Operations officers were ordered to seek additional arrests that day due to managerial pressure to produce statistics for Operation Return to Sender," it says.
The report describes what one ICE agent said sometime after providing his version of the raid to the chief lawyer in the Baltimore office. The agent "felt that while his declaration to the chief counsel was true, he may have highlighted certain elements of the event, while omitting others."
The agent's name is blacked out in the report, which goes on to say that an agent, presumably the same one, was asked about the raid soon afterward. His boss wanted to know "if they had stopped in the 7-Eleven store parking lot for a break and a soda."
The agent agreed, even though he later "stated that he felt this was a half truth." But at the time "he was tired and did not wish to debate the situation anymore, so he affirmatively replied" to his boss. That was the official explanation given to department leaders and the news media.
CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group, obtained the report Feb. 3 under a public records request. CASA and several other groups are requesting a meeting with Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security.
"We need just and humane immigration reform," said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, during a news conference at the group's Hyattsville office. "We need to stop the raids immediately."
The ICE report denies accusations by CASA that the agents violated the civil rights of the 24 men picked up in the raid, calling those allegations "unsubstantiated."
It also says that evidence "did not support the allegation" that the men were targeted based on race or ethnicity, as CASA contends based on witness accounts and video footage of the raid.
The report quotes a supervisory detention officer as saying "he believed that these men were Hispanic because he recognized the accents due to his years of training."
One agent decided whom to remove from the 7-Eleven "by their clothing and the fact that they were hiding behind the coffee pot," the report said.
"It's a perfect example of the crisis that our broken immigration system presents in which ICE acts with impunity," said Michelle Mendez, a lawyer who represents some of the men who were detained. Referring to agents, she said, "They had a vision in mind which was prompted by ICE policies."
Of the 24 men arrested, one proved his legal status, said another attorney, Justin Cox; four others have pending immigration cases.
The other 19 were either deported or left voluntarily, he said, though only "two or three" had deportation orders that made them "fugitives" to ICE.
Among the four with pending cases is Ernesto Guillen, a janitor who was on his way to Hopkins that day. His 6-year-old son Tomas was undergoing chemotherapy and continues to need treatment.
Guillen is out on supervised release, meaning he must check in with authorities regularly. "Essentially, as long as Mr. Guillen's son needs treatment, ICE will not proceed with his case," Cox said.
Yesterday's news conference came three weeks after CASA released 7-Eleven surveillance video that immigration advocates said shows the agents unfairly targeting Latinos during the raid.
For a video from the 7-Eleven, go to baltimoresun.com