Federal Judge Rules Against ICE’s ‘Knock-and-Talk’ Tactics to Arrest Illegal Immigrants

Judge Wright said the tactic violates the Fourth Amendment protecting against illegal search and seizure.
Federal Judge Rules Against ICE’s ‘Knock-and-Talk’ Tactics to Arrest Illegal Immigrants
A man is detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents in Los Angeles, Calif. on Oct. 14, 2015. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Matt McGregor

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can no longer use knock-and-talk tactics to arrest illegal immigrants, according to a recent ruling from a federal judge.

“Considering the policies and practices governing how ICE conducts its ‘knock and talks,’ the more accurate title for certain law enforcement operations would be ‘knock and arrests,’” said U.S. District Judge Otis Wright, a George W. Bush appointee.

The knock-and-talk maneuver relies on an administrative warrant enacted in-house by ICE, which skips the due process of establishing probable cause and obtaining a judge’s signature.

Therefore, Judge Wright said the tactic violates the Fourth Amendment protecting against illegal search and seizure.

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The order stems from a case the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed against ICE on behalf of Osny Sorto-Vasquez Kidd, the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) in 2020.

The plaintiffs sought a class-wide declaratory and injunctive relief “to enjoin Defendants from engaging in certain actions, policies, and practices in the future.”

The plaintiffs alleged that ICE officers were misrepresenting themselves as local law enforcement such as police or probation officers to gain entry into their homes, in addition to entering “constitutionally protected private areas around the individuals’ homes” to enact the knock-and-talk tactic.

“As a part of carrying out a ‘knock and talk,’ field officers enter onto curtilage without first obtaining residents’ express consent and, upon initiating contact with the resident, generally state that they are ‘conducting an investigation,’” the order stated.

Despite the claim, the true intent of the ICE officers is to make an arrest, the order said.

The plaintiffs asked for a full injunction; however, Judge Wright instead issued “the less drastic remedy of vacatur to be sufficient to redress the Knock and Talk Class’s injury.”

“Here, either a vacatur or an injunction would suffice to strike down ICE’s ‘knock and talk’ policy, but only an injunction would restrain Defendants from, in the future, attempting to institute a modified or amended version of the ‘knock and talk’ policy that complies with constitutional limitations,” the judge said.

With a vacatur, ICE will still have the opportunity to adjust its policy to align with the constitutional law, he said.

Stephanie Padilla, a staff attorney with the Southern California Chapter of the ACLU, praised the ruling in a statement, saying that people should feel safe in their homes “regardless of immigration status.”

“Because ICE never has judicial warrants, they primarily rely on ‘knock and talks’ to conduct home arrests,” she said. “This order should significantly curtail ICE’s unconstitutional home arrest practices.”

She referenced examples used in the order in which ICE entered curtilage around people’s homes “with only an administrative immigration warrant and not a warrant signed by a judge.”

According to the order, in 2017, ICE officers arrested a suspect by entering her backyard and in another instance through someone’s fence surrounding the property.

In 2019, ICE officers accessed the front door by entering the patio covered by a tarp and enclosed by a gate.

In 2020, ICE officers used the knock-and-talk strategy by asking a suspect to step outside to “answer a couple of questions.”

“As soon as he stepped outside, the officers arrested him,” the order said. “In each of these instances, consistent with the training policies and procedures described above, ICE officers entered the curtilage of the home for the purpose of arresting the resident without a judicial warrant or the express consent of the resident.”

“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,” Ms. Padilla said.

Angelica Salas, the executive director for CHIRLA, echoed Ms. Padilla’s sentiment regarding the order.

“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,” she said. “We hope and expect that this practice will soon end across the entire country.”

The Epoch Times contacted ICE for comment but did not receive a reply by press time.