Federal judge grants claims against  agents in immigration raid

KNOXVILLE – A federal judge has ruled the involvement of the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) during an April 2018 raid on a Bean Station slaughterhouse is the factor which will allow plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming civil rights violations to pursue some of their claims. 

United States District Judge Travis R. McDonough issued a Memorandum Opinion denying four of the plaintiffs’ causes of action, but allowing nine others to proceed, January 31. 

In the opinion McDonough states, “Notably, of the four claims dismissed here, three are barred not because Plaintiffs failed to allege illegal conduct, but because the law provides them no pecuniary remedy for violation of their constitutional protections. Binding precedent mandates the conclusion that, however meritorious Plaintiff’s constitutional claims may be, they are entitled to pursue damages only because Defendants allegedly conspired with THP, bringing their equal-protection claim within the ambit of § 1985(3). Were it not for THP’s involvement, Plaintiffs would have no access to the only recourse that can matter to them now: damages.”

The suit, filed February 21, 2019 by Isabel Zelaya, Geronimo Guerrero, Carolina Romulo Mendoza, Luis Roberto Bautista Martinez, Martha Pulido, Catarino Zapote Hernandez and Maria Del Pilar Gonzalez, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, claims agents targeted hispanic workers during the raid, taking them into custody without asking about their identity, work authorization or immigration status prior to detaining and transporting them to the National Guard Armory located at 5255 Andrew Johnson Highway, Russellville. White workers were not treated in the same manner, according to court documents.

Agents are accused of using excessive force against some workers, and of detaining immigrants based solely on their apparent race and ethnicity, without detaining white workers.

During the raid, THP reportedly blocked the road to the plant while armed federal officers entered the plant through multiple doors and moved throughout its interior. When officers ordered Latino workers to walk outside, THP officers reportedly stood with large machine guns pointed at them.

In the opinion, McDonough concluded, “The lesson here is that federal agents can avoid accountability for their violations of the Constitution by simply excluding state and local agencies from their next operation. Perhaps a higher court will recognize causes of action that more directly address agents’ searches and seizures based on skin color. But this Court does not have the authority to do so.”