ICE settles lawsuit filed by Vermont immigrant activists

Published: Oct. 28, 2020 at 2:55 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The federal government has agreed not to deport three immigrant activists in Vermont who sued two years ago after they were arrested and claimed they were targeted in retaliation for their activism. The settlement in the lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security was filed in federal court Wednesday.

Activists from Migrant Justice celebrated the settlement Wednesday afternoon by marching up Church Street and blocking the road in front of the Federal Building.

“For me, this is a really important day because it’s been two years of struggling to advance this lawsuit, waiting for a positive response, and today we achieved that,” Victor Diaz, one of the three plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Speaking through a translator, Diaz said that ICE followed and targeted immigrant activists for their political activism and violating their First Amendment rights. “Then they started to target us because we are community leaders.”

The rally included chants and speeches from migrant justice leaders. But in between speeches there was an intense moment as someone demanded to drive through the blocked road filled with demonstrators. The car eventually moved through the crowd with no injuries.

Leah Lotto, an attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, was at the courthouse for Wednesday’s settlement. “This is the government targeting organizers for speaking out and coming together for making changes in their community,” Lotto said. She says the Vermont incident is not isolated and that federal arrests of activists are happening across the country, but she says this settlement is a first. “Vermont is the first case that I know of that where we are reaching a settlement with ICE where they are agreeing that they are going to instruct their officers not to target people based off of their First Amendment activities,”

According to Migrant Justice, the settlement ends the deportation cases of those arrested and also includes a $100,000 payout that is split up among those involved.

“I feel very happy and satisfied to be a part of this because, though this was a very difficult process for me, I don’t regret having joined in this lawsuit,” Diaz said.

In a statement to WCAX, ICE says:

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can confirm that the agency reached a settlement with the plaintiffs in this case, however the agency disputes the notion that the 1st Amendment rights of these individuals were violated. ICE does not target unlawfully present aliens for arrest based on advocacy positions they hold or in retaliation for critical comments they make. However, ICE does have an obligation to pursue a case against anyone claiming to be breaking our nation’s immigration laws. ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All individuals in violation of U.S. immigration laws may be subject to arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the U.S.”