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Sara Rosenblit, MTO,

May 16, 2024

Order vacates practice of unconstitutional home arrests

LOS ANGELES — The so-called “knock-and-talk” practice by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is unlawful and unconstitutional, according to a federal judge who vacated the enforcement practice on Wednesday.  

Judge Otis D. Wright II granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in a set of claims concerning ICE’s “knock-and-talk” practice in Kidd v Mayorkas, a class action lawsuit challenging ICE’s deceptive home arrest practices in Los Angeles and the surrounding region. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two community organizations, the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ) and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), who represent the class, and an individual, Osny Sorto-Vasquez Kidd.

 “Everyone should feel safe in their own home, regardless of immigration status. Because ICE never has judicial warrants, they primarily rely on ‘knock and talks’ to conduct home arrests,” said Stephanie Padilla, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “This order should significantly curtail ICE’s unconstitutional home arrest practices.”

The order gives examples of four instances from February 2017 to April 2020, where ICE unlawfully entered constitutionally protected areas around a community member’s home, called the curtilage, with only an administrative immigration warrant and not a warrant signed by a judge. In those cases, ICE agents had entered a covered porch area, private patio, or backyard to get to the entrance of a home and make contact with a resident for an arrest.

"CHIRLA is proud to have represented community members who were subject to illegal arrests by ICE in their own homes," said CHIRLA Executive Director Angelica Salas. "In addition to tearing countless families apart in their own homes where the Constitution's protections extend to all, ICE's 'knocking and arresting' method diverted limited community resources and harmed CHIRLA's ability to provide services to the community. We hope and expect that this practice will soon end across the entire country."

The order rejects ICE’s argument that its agents could enter the private areas surrounding community members’ homes to knock on the door because other members of the public, such as a neighbor or delivery person, routinely do so. While agents would have been permitted to enter these areas if their purpose was merely to ask questions of residents, with residents’ consent, according to the court, the Constitution prohibits them from encroaching upon these areas “with the intent to arrest.”

“It is a basic human right for immigrants to feel safe in their own homes and live without fear,” said Lizbeth Abeln, Interim Director at the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice. “This lawsuit is a huge victory for our community and ICIJ will continue to do our work so immigrants are well equipped and understand their rights. This won’t undo the years of harm done by ICE but it is a good first step towards justice.” 

The order clarifies that while the "knock-and-talk" practice, as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court, is considered constitutional, the practice as defined and executed by ICE is not. Judge Wright puts it plainly stating that ICE's practice can be more accurately termed "knock and arrests" and "violate[s] the Fourth Amendment."

The lawsuit was initially filed in April 2020, by the ACLU SoCal, the UC Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, and the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.

“This is a win not only for the organizational plaintiffs in this case but for the courageous individuals who stepped forward to tell their stories and the community as a whole,” said Annie Lai, Clinical Professor of Law and Co-Associate Dean for Experiential Learning at UC Irvine School of Law. “We were honored to be a part of the broad coalition that challenged ICE’s illegal home arrest practices.”

The order applies to the ICE's Los Angeles Field Office, which covers the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo.

“This significant legal victory further clarifies the law around the permissible use of ‘knock and talks.’ The order will curb ICE’s deceptive ‘knock and arrest’ practices and provide meaningful relief to the class and the broader Southern California community,” said Giovanni Saarman González, an attorney with Munger, Tolles and Olson LLP.  “We are thrilled with this result and humbled by the opportunity to participate in this effort to hold ICE accountable.” 

Read the order: