ICE Raids L.A. Home for Drugs; Finding None, Agents Allegedly Beat Up Bonilla Family, Try to Deport Them
Mrs. Bonilla says she can no longer sleep at night.
In ICE's response, officials refuse to say whether drugs were found at the residence -- but do admit that all undocumented family members are now involved in deportation proceedings. Full statement, after the jump.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids are sudden, devastating -- yet over in a flash, and difficult to trace. A Twitter scare last month set Union Station a-scatter at the mere suggestion that feds were checking IDs. Still, in the hours after, no one could say what happened, or if ICE had really been there at all.
But a more personal raid on July 19 is getting a public airing -- and it looks to directly contradict ICE Director John Morton's recent promise that agents should use "prosecutorial discretion" in deciding who to target/deport.
An emotional press release from the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles today paints the troop of L.A. agents behind the raid as complete monsters:
On July 19, 2011, Mrs. Bonilla and her daughter-in-law were busy at the kitchen cooking, waiting for their husbands to return from work. It was not to be a typical day, however. In minutes, their lives, and that of seven other family members in the household, were literally turned upside down by 40 armed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) agents who invaded the house looking for drug traffickers and drugs.
At the end of the ordeal, Mrs. Bonilla and her family, including a two-year old and a 17-year old, had been kicked, beaten, scratched, yelled at, and terrorized by ICE agents who demanded she tell them all about the drugs. Although Mrs. Bonilla and other family members tried in vain to convince the agents they were making a big mistake, their objections were categorically ignored; instead, the family was threatened, handcuffed, and ordered to lay on the floor, face down, with guns pointed at their heads. Mrs. Bonilla suffered bruises and scratches during the arrest.
The Bonillas' home was turned upside down.
The family's ace immigration lawyer, Jessica Dominguez, insists her clients had no trace of drugs or traffickers within their home. She'll be representing them in court on Tuesday, versus "ICE officers who seek to deport them" after the unsuccessful raid.
We've contacted ICE for confirmation. But if what the Bonillas say is true, their home-invasion nightmare represents everything wrong with U.S. immigration policy: Anyone who law enforcement finds the least bit suspicious, for reasons unspecified, or who officials mistake for that other Cholo down the street slanging trees, can -- once they're in custody -- be subjected to losing their home and livelihood in the U.S.
"We have seen and heard far too often this type of abuse where innocent men and women are terrorized by ICE agents gone rogue," Angelica Salas, CHIRLA executive director, says in the presser. "... It seems to us that what ICE agents decide on the street has nothing to do with what is right and fair."
And even if these agents just made an innocent mistake on July 19, one (allegedly) drug-free family shouldn't have to pay for it with welts, deportation proceedings and life in a constant terror-state of paranoia.
Update: Here is ICE's response to the allegations.
Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) went to the residence on Corona Avenue in Norco, Calif., Tuesday (July 19) to execute a search warrant related to a federal drug-trafficking investigation. Because that probe is continuing, the search warrant remains under seal, so we are not at liberty to release additional details about the criminal case at this time. However, the charges made by the home's residents about the HSI agents' actions during the court-authorized search have been referred to ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility for further investigation. ICE holds its officers to the highest standards of professional conduct. All allegations of this nature will be thoroughly investigated and, if corroborated, appropriate action will be taken.
During the course of executing the criminal search warrant, HSI agents determined that eight of the home's occupants were in the country illegally. Four adult males were taken into custody at the scene and placed in removal proceedings. For humanitarian reasons, the remaining four individuals encountered in the home were given letters instructing them to report to ICE at a later date for processing. It will be up to an immigration judge to determine whether these individuals have a legal basis to remain in the United States.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.