Sunday, July 13, 2008

Immigrant Claims Local Police in NJ and ICE Attorney Violated First Amendment Rights

On July 2, 2008, a former New Jersey resident filed a lawsuit in New Jersey federal court that claims an Edison NJ police officer violated his First Amendment rights by reporting him to an ICE attorney to seek his deportation in retaliation for claiming he was a victim of police brutality and speaking publicly about his allegations.

The entire dispute began on July 4, 2006, when then-resident of Edison, NJ Rajnikant Parikh came across Edison police officer Michael Dotro. According to the police, Mr. Parikh told 10 more or people to stop Officer Dotro from issuing a parking ticket. According to Mr. Parikh, the Edison police without provocation brutally assaulted him.

Mr. Parikh filed a citizen complaint with the Edison police department and made public statements about the altercation.

According to Mr. Parikh, Officer Dotro contacted an ICE attorney in Newark, New Jersey to retaliate against Mr. Parikh for filing his citizen complaint and speaking about it. According to Mr. Parikh, Officer Dotro tried to find out whether there was a way to take action based on Mr. Parikh's immigration status and then he worked with ICE officials to plan to arrest Mr. Parikh on immigration law violations.

In August 2006, many people gathered for a demonstration in Edison against the police for allegedly brutalizing Mr. Parikh. At that very demonstration, ICE agents arrested Mr. Parikh and started immigration court proceedings that by now has led to Mr. Parikh's deportation.

Among many other issues, Mr. Parikh's lawsuit claims that Mr. Parikh's First Amendment rights were illegally chilled when Edison police and ICE officials worked together to arrest Mr. Parikh in retaliation for filing his citizen complaint and speaking out about what happened. The lawsuit contains a Bivens claim for the police and ICE officials' allegedly unconstitutional acts.

The lawsuit was filed by Ravinder S. Bhalla along with members of AALDEF, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (including Alexander Saingchin and Tushar Sheth). Mr. Saingchin has commented that this underscores the reason why immigrants are fearful of seeking help from the police.

The allegations in Mr. Parikh's lawsuit back up the problems in New Jersey of immigrants being afraid to report crimes to local police. In another case, ICE attorneys actively worked to seek the deportation of an immigrant who called local police to report a crime and the local police only found out about the person thanks to his call for help. (That case is on appeal.) Turning immigrants over for deportation when they seek to call the local police for help or file citizen complaints over local police actions would be a terrible public policy -- everyone's safety is worsened if bystanders are too afraid to call the police for help.

The allegations have not yet been tested or proven in court and it is not clear what type of evidence each side has to back up its view, so it is not safe to say which side's story is true. (Stay tuned for more developments.) Nevertheless, the allegations do raise serious concerns about whether ICE attorneys in New Jersey act appropriately to make sure immigrants are able to call local police for help and to contact the local police with their complaints.


Post a Comment

<< Home