GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of a U.S. citizen and his mother, a legal permanent resident, who were illegally handcuffed and assaulted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents last year even though they produced driver’s licenses to prove their identities.

“Fairness and equality are the most fundamental values we share as Americans. There's nothing fair or equal about arresting citizens and trampling on their rights because of the color of their skin or their ethnicity,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. “It is clear that if this mother and son were not Latino, they would not have been handcuffed, assaulted and detained. Not only is this type of racial profiling illegal, but it is counterproductive and erodes community trust.”

Telma Valdez has lived in the United States for 22 years and is a legal permanent resident. Her son, Luis Valdez, was born in the U.S. and is a college student at Grand Rapids Community College. On February 23, 2011, Telma and Luis drove to the home of relatives to allow their 6-year-old cousin to play with Luis’ new puppy.

As they pulled the car into the driveway, ICE agents ran toward them. An agent pointed a gun at Luis and demanded identification. Both Luis and Telma produced their valid driver’s licenses and ICE agents ordered them to get out of the car.

Telma was handcuffed and taken to the back of the car where an agent held a gun to her back and repeatedly hit her head into the trunk of the car, yelling at her to admit she was “Irma.” Telma screamed out in pain and fear, begging the agent to stop. Luis was handcuffed, and both Luis and Telma were forced into an apartment.

Inside the apartment, Luis and Telma again tried to explain that he was a U.S. citizen and she was a legal permanent resident. Eventually, the agents realized what they had done. The agents released the Valdezes, but not before one agent threatened Telma that she risked losing her legal status if tried to do anything about what happened. The agents then pushed both Telma and Luis out of the apartment. While Luis was able to catch himself, Telma hit a handrail and sustained injuries to her stomach.

“Being born in the U.S., I’ve always felt like a true American. This has always been my home. But most importantly, I always believed I was equal to every other American,” said Luis. “I never imagined that, just because of my skin color, I would end up in handcuffs and treated like a second-class citizen.”

In their 10-page lawsuit, the ACLU and MIRC asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan to declare that the ICE agents violated the Valdezes’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure and their Fifth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. The Valdezes also accused the ICE agents of assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false arrest and imprisonment.

“From Arizona to Michigan, the stories of racial profiling, intimidation and illegal detention are proof that what happened to Luis and Telma is not unique,” said Susan Reed, lead attorney with MIRC. “Just this week, the U.S. Senate heard testimony in its first hearing on racial profiling in more than a decade. The message was clear – it’s time we end such practices and hold law enforcement agencies that use these tactics accountable.”

In addition to Aukerman and Reed, Luis and Telma’s legal team includes Michael J. Steinberg and Sarah Mehta of the ACLU of Michigan, ACLU Cooperating Attorney Rhett Pinsky, and Maura Hagen, MIRC staff attorney and Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow.

Key News and Documents
Facing Reality: Luis's Story of ICE Abuse & Racial Profiling