FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 27, 2023
National Immigration Law Center, Juan Gastelum, [email protected], 213-375-3149
Southern Poverty Law Center, Anna Núñez, [email protected], 334-201-9236
Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, Mallika Vohra, [email protected], 865-363-9188
Federal Court Approves Classwide Settlement of Civil Rights Lawsuit Challenging Workplace Raid
A federal court approved the settlement, which provides for over $1 million to workers targeted by federal agents because of their ethnicity
CHATTANOOGA, TN — On Feb. 27, a federal judge approved a final settlement in a class action lawsuit challenging an April 2018 workplace immigration raid at a meat processing plant in East Tennessee.
The settlement provides over $1 million to workers detained in the raid, which was, at the time, the largest workplace raid in nearly a decade. The plaintiffs – represented by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and several private practice attorneys acting on a pro bono basis – allege that armed U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officers illegally targeted the Latinx workers for detention, excessive force and false arrest.
“Someone asked me if I am happy about the result of this case,” said Martha Pulido, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and resident of Morristown, Tenn. “The question brought me back to that day. Everything was normal, and then in an instant everything changed. Now, I live with the aftermath of that bad experience. It will stay with all of the families forever. I am not happy, but I am content to see that justice prevailed over injustice. I am thankful to the legal team and the class members, who stuck together throughout this time. We will always remember that we are one.”
In August, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee certified the case as a class action in a precedent-setting decision, paving the way for classwide relief for the unlawful policing and racial profiling alleged in the lawsuit. Class members are approximately 100 Latinx workers who were detained during the workplace raid.
Today, the court granted the plaintiffs’ and individual defendants’ motion for final approval of the settlement of the class-action claims against federal agents from the IRS and DHS (including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] and U.S. Customs and Border Protection). The court determined the settlement was reasonable and the relief provided to the class was adequate. Over 95 percent of class members submitted claims forms to access the settlement’s benefits.
“Nearly five years after the raid that tore apart families – but galvanized a community – the final approval of this class settlement is a milestone in the fight for justice,” said Michelle Lapointe, deputy legal director at NILC. “Our courageous plaintiffs and class members worked long hours in grueling conditions to provide food for this country. While the settlement cannot heal the wounds caused by the violent 2018 raid, we are pleased with this hard-fought vindication of their rights and the power of community organizing.”
“Today, justice was served to the Latinx workers, and their community, who took a stand against federal agents targeting them because of their ethnicity,” said Meredith Stewart, senior supervising attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “The unprecedented, court-approved settlement demonstrates that we, as a nation, will not tolerate racial profiling. That type of policing goes against not only our rights but also our values. We look forward to the workers receiving the relief the settlement provides.”
The devastating impacts of the 2018 raid were far-reaching, but the community came together to demand justice. The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) was on the ground within hours, working to reunite families, locate detained individuals and meet families’ immediate needs.
“Today’s ruling is a testament to the incredible power and resiliency of immigrant workers and their communities,” said Lisa Sherman Luna, executive director at TIRRC. “Violent enforcement tactics like workplace raids are designed to keep immigrant families living in fear, but these plaintiffs and class members refused to stand by when they knew their rights had been violated. This settlement sends a clear message: No matter who we are or where we are from, we all deserve the freedom to work and live safely in our communities.”
Under the $1.175 million settlement, class members will receive a total of $550,000 and, upon request, a letter from ICE confirming their membership in the class that can be included in any applications for immigration relief. The settlement also requires the United States to pay $475,000 to the six individual plaintiffs to resolve their FTCA claims, including excessive force and unlawful arrest, and $150,000 in attorneys’ fees and expenses to SPLC and NILC.
“This settlement exemplifies that courage and perseverance can bring justice and resolution,” said Eben Colby, a pro bono attorney on the lawsuit. “It is a consequential moment in addressing illegal targeting of workers due to their ethnicity, as well as overly aggressive and abusive enforcement activities. We are pleased that the court system provided dozens of Latinx workers with what they are owed. This settlement is a historic step in advancing dignity and justice for all immigrant workers.”
Isabel Zelaya, et al. v. Robert Hammer, et al. was filed on Feb. 21, 2019. Plaintiffs are represented by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), pro bono attorneys Eben P. Colby, Jeremy A. Berman, Arthur R. Bookout and the law firms of Sherrard Roe Voigt & Harbison and Sperling & Slater. On April 5, 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Morristown Police Department, executed the largest workplace immigration raid in nearly a decade, detaining approximately 100 Latinx workers at an east Tennessee meat processing plant, violating their civil rights.
About the National Immigration Law Center
Established in 1979, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) is the nation’s leading organization exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of immigrants with low income. Using their litigation and policy expertise, NILC challenges unjust laws and policies that marginalize low-income and other vulnerable immigrant communities. In order to amass the political power necessary to hold decision-makers accountable for making policy changes real and lasting, NILC is also focused on building a stronger, more inclusive immigrant justice movement and fostering intersectional alliances across communities.
About the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition
The Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) is a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to build power, amplify our voices, and organize communities to advocate for our rights in order to build a stronger, more inclusive Tennessee where people of all nationalities, immigration statuses, and racial identities can belong and thrive. Since its founding in 2001, TIRRC has grown from a grassroots network of community leaders into one of the most diverse and effective coalitions of its kind, a model for emerging immigrant rights organizations in the Southeast and throughout the United States.
About the Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people. For more information, visit www.splcenter.org.