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Cannabis Charge Weaponized in Los Angeles ICE Raid

Cannabis Charge Used to Justify ICE Raid
PHOTO U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement


Cannabis Charge Weaponized in Los Angeles ICE Raid

An ICE raid in Echo Park sparked local outrage, with a longtime resident (and pregnant mother of two) detained for deportation “justified” by a cannabis conviction from many years ago.

The Central Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park is in shock following a July 21 raid by Immigration & Customs Enforcement in which a local woman was arrested, over the protests of local residents who demanded to see a warrant. Footage of the brief confrontation has gone viral online.

The incident began when neighbors responded as ICE agents attempted to hustle a local woman into an unmarked car. The video shows neighbor Alicia Rivera repeatedly demanding that the agents show her a “signed order” from a judge. The agents apparently flashed some paperwork, but Rivera is repeatedly heard saying, “It’s not signed by a judge, you shouldn’t be arresting this woman.”

“They closed their folder, and they asked me not to intervene and I said, ‘I’m a neighbor and I want to see if you have an order from a judge, you can’t arrest this woman without it,'” Rivera recounted to CBS Los Angeles.

Rivera, a community organizer familiar with the law, claims both that the paperwork the agents had was not signed and was not on Los Angeles Superior Court letterhead.

Rivera’s son, Victor Bowman-Rivera, was also on the scene. He told CBS Los Angeles: “You’re like ‘Whoa’…  Just like that in five minutes… they took her… Boom. Just like that, in unmarked cars and they tell you, ‘We don’t have to show you anything.’ They just leave a note, a number to call.” 

“No Process, Requirement or Expectation” of Justice

The name of the detained woman was not revealed, but neighbors said she came to California from Guatemala when she was 3 years old and had finally applied for citizenship six months ago. CBS Los Angeles attempted to talk to her husband, but said that he was too scared to speak on camera. He reportedly told Rivera that his wife and the mother of his two young children had a cannabis possession charge from when she was in her 20s. The family believes this is why the citizenship application was held up, and — worse still — that the application itself prompted the raid.

Reports did not indicate if she had been in the country as a legal resident for at least five years (the usual condition for citizenship application), although this could be denied on the basis of the cannabis conviction, making her vulnerable to deportation.

The woman is now apparently being held for deportation to Guatemala.

The fact that the arrest was evidently carried out without a warrant has in particular sparked outrage. ICE agents do need a judicial warrant to search or even enter a home. This is emphasized in a video statement issued by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Michel Moore ahead of President Donald Trump’s announced immigration raids last week. “You don’t have to open your door to an ICE agent that doesn’t have a warrant signed by a judge,” Garcetti says.

However, the Echo Park woman was taken into custody outside her home — she had reportedly gone outside to move her car. In a statement quoted by Los Angeles Magazine, ICE asserted that federal law does not mandate that agents have a judge-signed warrant in order just to make an arrest.

“Congress has established no process, requirement, or expectation directing ICE to seek a judicial warrant from already overburdened federal courts before taking custody of an alien on civil immigration violations,” read the statement provided by ICE public affairs officer Lori Haley. “This idea is simply a figment created by those who wish to undermine immigration enforcement and excuse the ill-conceived practices of sanctuary jurisdictions that put politics before public safety.”

Echo Park neighbors have launched a social media campaign to raise money for the family’s legal fees and childcare. One post on Twitter indicates that the detained mom is pregnant with her third child.

Old Cannabis Busts Lead to Deportation

This would certainly not be the first time that an old cannabis bust came back to haunt a longtime United States resident and result in deportation to a strange country — and an uncertain future.

Last year, several Vietnamese immigrants who had been living legally for many years in the U.S. were detained by ICE for deportation back to Vietnam, where they may face persecution. Yet Vietnam rarely accepts deportees from the U.S., which meant the arrested immigrants potentially faced indefinite detention. They launched a lawsuit against the government over their detention and state of “legal limbo.”

The government said they violated terms of their status by committing crimes, including growing small quantities of cannabis. A federal judge in Southern California ruled last September that the case may proceed, and it remains pending.

And in December, some 50 Cambodian immigrants and refugees detained in the same sweeps and facing the same dilemma were put on an ICE-chartered flight to Phnom Penh from El Paso, Texas, where they had been detained. The mass deportation came after the Trump administration struck a new deal with the Cambodian government under which it would begin accepting deportees again. These immigrants and refugees had all come to the U.S. legally, but were ordered deported for having committed a crime.

Last year, Public Radio International reported on the case of Sothy Kum, 39, who left Cambodia when he was 2 years old before arriving in the U.S. at age 6. He married an American woman, with whom he has a young daughter, and was living in Wisconsin. He was deported back to his birth country in April on the basis of a cannabis bust. His wife Lisa, who is not of Cambodian descent, is now saving money to join him in exile.

TELL US, do you think a cannabis charge should be grounds for deportation?

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