A Utah family is standing up to new and harsh immigration enforcement tactics with help from the ACLU

Around noon, on April 10th, 2017, Alicia Amaya Carmona glanced through the windows at the Wing Pointe apartment complex in Heber City, Utah. What the 48-year-old grandmother saw terrified her.

A group of men in dark vests, carrying assault weapons and pistols, were running through the parking lot towards the apartment. She grabbed her grandchildren, whom she was watching, and ran to the master bedroom. Loud knocking ripped through the apartment. Suddenly the men burst into the apartment. “Come out with your hands up!” one shouted. 

The men pointed their assault weapons and pistols at Carmona and the children. First, Carmona was ordered out of the apartment and told she could not touch nor speak to her grandchildren. The four young children, all barefoot, were then ordered outside, too. The temperature was in the 40s.

CarlosThe heavily armed men, members of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals, finally let Carmona know why they were there. They were after Carmona’s husband, Abel Ramirez Sr., who had been indicted for illegal reentry six years before. Illegal reentry is not a violent crime, yet this group of federal officers armed for war burst into the apartment without showing a warrant.

Carmona told the men she didn’t know where her husband was. The men arrested her. They told her that they would put her grandchildren in state custody if her sons didn’t come home immediately. 

Her three sons Carlos, Eduardo, and Abel Ramirez rushed home to a frightening scene and Eduardo was promptly detained and handcuffed. All three young men have status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as does Carlos’s wife Berenice Resendiz Ramirez, the mother of three of the children. When she arrived home, she saw an agent holding her terrified two-year-old daughter, J.R., while claiming he couldn’t “control” her. When Berenice picked the crying child up, another agent ordered her to stay away from of her other young children and family members. 

Eduardo1Eventually, the agents released Eduardo, but they took Carmona into custody and drove away. As one agent told Carlos, they “had to take somebody.” When Carlos and Berenice entered their apartment, they found it ransacked. Blankets and clothing were strewn everywhere. Drawers were pulled out and broken closet doors hung off their hinges.

The terrifying afternoon was done. But this family’s nightmare was far from over. The next night even more officers from ICE and the U.S. Marshals returned to the family’s apartment. This time they came with a battering ram. Around 10 p.m., the apartment door burst open. The men entered the dark apartment, screaming at Berenice and her children with their weapons trained on them. Once again, they didn’t show a warrant, though they shouted they had one before breaking down the door. Eventually, Carlos, Eduardo, and Abel Jr. arrived. “We kept asking to see a warrant, but they refused to show us anything,” said Carlos. One of the agents told them that they couldn’t win “against ICE” with “Trump’s new law.” The agents left at midnight. Alicia would remain in detention for another month before she was released on bail.

Abel2What transpired those two days in April 2017 is a frightening look into President Trump’s new era of draconian enforcement of immigration laws, often in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In February of 2017, Press Secretary Sean Spicer referred to this as “taking the shackles off” ICE officers so they could conduct more sweeps and arrests. This family, especially the four young children, are now understandably terrified of police officers. The children may never approach law enforcement, even if requiring help.

We know that raids like the one this family experienced have led to both a jump in the number of immigration arrests of individuals with no criminal history as well as a sharp drop in the reporting of crimes from Latinos where communities fear the consequences of speaking up. Trump has unleashed ICE and other federal law enforcement agencies across America. Public safety is the first casualty.

But this time, ICE and the U.S. Marshals picked on the wrong family. In February the Ramirez family sued the agents involved in the raids for violating their Fourth Amendment rights and using excessive force. Their legal counsel is provided by the ACLU of Utah, the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, and Covington & Burling, LLP,

During the February 27th press conference announcing the lawsuit, ACLU of Utah Executive Director Brittney Nystrom explained why we took the case. “Immigration tactics and priorities might change over time and with new administrations,” she said. “But the Constitution’s protections from illegal searches and detentions remain the same. Actions by federal agents that violate constitutional rights—as we believe occurred in this situation—remind us how these rights are a vital check against raw power.”

Berenice has her own reasons for fighting back. “I want to show my children that we stand up to things like this when they happen,” she explained. “I am glad we have filed this lawsuit because I want to help make sure this doesn’t happen to other families, especially to other kids.”

The agencies and identified agents who participated in the two raids have been served with the complaint and the federal government is now deciding how to respond. ◄

Photos from top: Berenice Resendiz, Carlos Ramirez, Eduardo Ramirez, Abel Ramirez

The lawsuit filed as Ramirez v. Reddish claims agents violated the family’s Fourth Amendment rights, including:

  • ICE and U.S. Marshals agents entered family’s apartment twice without receiving permission or showing a warrant. 
  • An agent told a family member that they would put the children in state custody if she did not “cooperate.”
  • Despite knowing that several young children lived in the apartment, agents returned for a second raid late at night and broke down the door with a battering ram.
  • Agents ransacked family’s apartment during the raids, throwing clothing and bedding everywhere and breaking closet doors off the hinges.

This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2018 Spring Newsletter >>