Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has agreed to make changes in how its agents conduct raids and enter private homes when seeking alien fugitives.

Settling a class action with eight Latino families in Westchester County and on Long Island who claim ICE agents illegally entered their homes, the agency also has agreed to pay $1 million in damages, with $36,000 to each of the 22 individual plaintiffs in those families and the rest for attorney fees.

Plaintiffs alleged that ICE agents overstepped their bounds while trying to meet new quotas for arrests of immigrant fugitives under the 2006 "Operation Return to Sender" operation.

The settlement in Aguilar v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 07 Civ. 8224, before Southern District Judge Katherine Forrest (See Profile), requires ICE to issue a national policy and training memorandum for its agents.

The memo must include language making it clear that consent must be obtained to search a residence in the language understood by the resident. A Spanish-speaking officer must be present to seek consent "where the target is from a Spanish-speaking country."

Under the settlement, agents on consent-based home operations cannot enter areas around or in the home where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy unless they obtain consent and "protective sweeps are permitted only where there is a reasonable, articulable suspicion of danger."

Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Bober, Shane Cargo, Brandon Cowart, and Louis Pellegrino represented the government.

Foster Maer and Elizabeth Joynes of LatinoJustice PRLDEF; Aldo Baldini, Kelly Librera and George Mastoris of Winston & Strawn; and Ghita Schwarz of the Center for Constitutional Rights represented the plaintiffs.

"This is the first time we’re aware of that as result of litigation ICE has agreed to change their policies and develop new policies to govern the behavior of ICE agents when they conduct ‘home visits,’ as they call them," Maer said. "These changes will result in ICE agents knowing what the law requires them to do and we look forward to the implementation of these new rules across the country. This will make Latinos in their homes feel much safer—they don’t have to worry that someone is going to be pounding on their door at 4 a.m."

Forrest approved the settlement on April 4.