ACLU: ICE Illegally Arrested Spanish-Speaking Amway Group

ICE Says 36 of 42 Passengers On Bus Were Illegal Immigrants

The ACLU has filed a complaint against the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency for illegally arresting Denver Amway distributors who are U.S. citizens and legal immigrants because they were speaking Spanish at an Omaha, Neb., fast-food restaurant.

"This is a case of racial profiling and ethnic stereotyping at its very worst," said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union, in a Monday morning news release.

"An ICE agent targeted our clients for speaking Spanish in an Omaha fast-food restaurant. Speaking Spanish is not a crime, nor does it provide any basis for immigration officers to start demanding papers or otherwise launch any investigation," said Silverstein.

A response from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday afternoon said 36 of the 42 passengers aboard the chartered Amway bus stopped in Omaha were in the United States illegally.

In a statement, ICE said that "two officers ... based on their 29 years combined immigration-enforcement experience, suspected that the bus in question may be used for smuggling illegal aliens. Their initial inquiries immediately identified two illegal aliens.

"Both ICE agents happen to be Hispanic themselves, and native Spanish speakers. No racial profiling was involved in detaining the bus or its passengers," ICE said in the statement.

"Of the 36 illegal alien passengers on the bus, one had been previously deported," ICE said. "It’s a felony to re-enter the United States after being deported. In addition, one was a fugitive who already had already been ordered deported by a federal immigration judge; and three others had previous criminal convictions."

The Amway group had traveled overnight on the bus from Denver to Omaha on April 2 to attend an Amway convention. They were having breakfast at the restaurant, speaking in Spanish about their trip, the ACLU said.

A Spanish-speaking female ICE agent eating at the same restaurant overhead the group and concluded they had been traveling "for a while" and suspected the bus was carrying "a smuggling load," according to an ICE report cited by the ACLU.

The ICE agent called her superiors who dispatched reinforcements, the ACLU said.

As the Amway distributors returned to their bus ICE officers swooped in, blocking the bus with their vehicles, the ACLU said.

The bus driver explained that Amway had hired his company to take the passengers to the Omaha Hilton for a convention and he makes similar trips every three months, the ACLU said.

ICE agents boarded the bus, announcing they were "immigration," and began "aggressively demanding identification and questioning passengers about their immigration status," the ACLU said.

The agents checked a handful of passengers' identifications, including those of two U.S. citizens, Arquimides Bautista and Rosalba Artimas, of Denver, on whose behalf the ACLU filed the complaint. Bautista and Artimas both said they showed documentation proving their citizenship, but were ignored.

"I felt like my rights were violated because even though I am a United States citizen and I showed them that I was legally here through documentation, they stilled searched me and took a picture," said Bautista. "I felt like a criminal."

"They ignored us and made us feel bad because they would mock us laugh at the fact that we said we were citizens," said Artimas.

ICE, however, said in a statement that "two officers ... based on their 29 years combined immigration-enforcement experience, suspected that the bus in question may be used for smuggling illegal aliens. Their initial inquiries immediately identified two illegal aliens.

"After further investigation and questioning, the ICE agents identified that 36 of the 42 passengers on the bus were in the United States illegally," the ICE statement said. "Both ICE agents happen to be Hispanic themselves, and native Spanish speakers. No racial profiling was involved in detaining the bus or its passengers."

"Of the 36 illegal alien passengers on the bus, one had been previously deported," ICE said. "It’s a felony to re-enter the United States after being deported. In addition, one was a fugitive who already had already been ordered deported by a federal immigration judge; and three others had previous criminal convictions."

The bus driver, Lawrence Newton, 73, said he thinks what happened was wrong and that the ICE agent got "all frantic" because there was a bus full of people speaking Spanish.

"So two and two add up to twelve and they're obviously illegal. Racial profiling at its best," Newton said. He said it doesn't matter if immigration officials ended up identifying illegal immigrants. "The point is that because they were speaking Spanish, they were profiled," he said.

ICE agents commandeered the bus to an ICE facility, where all passengers were ordered to empty their pockets, put their hands up against a wall and submit to thorough body searches, the ACLU said.

After ICE was convinced that Bautista and Artimas were American citizens they were released, but not before Bautista was fingerprinted and forced to pose for a mug shot, the ACLU said.

Artimas said she is speaking out to get justice.

"I want these people to learn to respect us," she said. "I want them to investigate before they arrest anyone. I also want to speak up for those who cannot."

The ACLU accuses ICE agents of violating the Amway distributor's constitutional rights, including committing false arrest, false imprisonment and battery. The complaint was filed under the Federal Torts Claims Act, which allows the government to be sued for actions by its employees.

"ICE officers had no legal basis for boarding the bus and demanding papers," said attorney Hans Meyer, who is assisting in the ACLU case. "This is especially clear after they spoke with the bus driver and learned that their suspicion of a so-called 'smuggling load' was nothing but a lurid fantasy."

The ACLU statement was issued before the ICE statement was released.

Amway said in a statement that the company does not know all of the facts of the case, and that "it would be inappropriate for us to comment" on the complaint.

"Amway has, for more than 50 years, offered an equal opportunity to entrepreneurial individuals looking to build their own independent businesses. We remain absolutely committed to this," the statement said. "In this case, the ACLU is representing the interests of two individual independent business owners, not Amway."