Immigrant Workers Hit Sheriff with Federal Suit in Campaign to Win Right to Remain in New Orleans

For Immediate Release
February 2, 2011

CONTACTS:

Saket Soni, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice
504-881-6610;
saket@nowcrj.org

Adela de la Torre, National Immigration Law Center
213-674-2832; delatorre@nilc.org

Immigrant Workers Hit Sheriff with Federal Suit in Campaign to Win Right to Remain in New Orleans

Community Demands End to Race-Based Deportations Through Orleans Parish Prison

NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 2, 2011—Today, members of the Congress of Day Laborers filed a federal lawsuit as part of a campaign to win the right to remain in New Orleans five years after they arrived as reconstruction workers to rebuild the city. The lawsuit takes Sheriff Marlin Gusman to task for unconstitutionally holding immigrants in his Orleans Parish Prison for months before they are funneled through deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Community members charged that by choosing to submit to “hold requests” from ICE, the sheriff is effectively terrorizing the communities he’s sworn to protect.

“The reconstruction workers who rebuilt New Orleans and made it their home are living in terror because of Sheriff Gusman,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, lead organizer of the Congress of Day Laborers. “The sheriff is running OPP in a way that ensures that even a person with a traffic ticket who comes to his jail will be funneled into deportation on the mere suspicion that person may be a non-citizen.”

Gonzalez spoke at a 24-hour prayer vigil that reconstruction workers and community members launched at the sheriff’s office on Wednesday to demand he reverse his policy of submitting to hold requests from ICE.

As the lawsuit details, Sheriff Gusman’s policy of submitting to hold requests from ICE has led to severe violations of the Constitution, including deprivation of liberty and due process. Plaintiff Antonio Ocampo, a father of a young child, was held unlawfully in OPP for 91 days. He filed five written complaints, all of which were ignored. His co-plaintiff Mario Cacho, another reconstruction worker, was held for more than 160 days. Federal law limits imprisonment on custody holds from ICE to 48 hours.

The workers are represented in the lawsuit by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and the National Immigration Law Center.

“I filed this lawsuit today not only for myself, but so that no one else will have to suffer as I did, spending months in jail without charge,” Ocampo said. “Too many people are living in terror because of the way Sheriff Gusman runs his jail.”

At Wednesday’s prayer vigil, survivors of OPP gave witness accounts of Gusman’s policy and practice of funneling Latino immigrants into deportation for minor offenses. Community members spoke about the climate of terror they live in as a result, and demanded that Gusman reverse his current policy of submitting to hold requests from ICE.

“I came to rebuild New Orleans, and New Orleans has become my home,” said Ezequiel Falcon, a member of the Congress of Day Laborers. “Why should I have to be afraid to walk my daughter to school? Why should I have to worry that every day here might be my last? I want what everybody wants, the right to remain in the community I love.”

“Although we know that a federal judge cannot grant the right to remain, we believe we can win it through this campaign,” Falcon said.

Following the end of the prayer vigil on Feb. 3, clergy and community members will march from Gusman’s office to the New Orleans City Council meeting for the 3 pm vote on an ordinance that would limit Gusman’s authority in expansion of Orleans Parish Prison’s jail size.

ABOUT: The Congress of Day Laborers is a project of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (nowcrj.org). Plaintiffs are represented in the litigation by the New Orleans Workers’ Center Legal Department and the National Immigration Law Center (nilc.org), a national legal advocacy organization that defends and promotes the rights of low-income immigrants and their family members.