SAN FRANCISCO — Lawyers for Latino workers and labor unions on Tuesday praised a federal judge's ruling limiting immigration agents' authority to enter a workplace and look for illegal aliens.
"This prohibits raids by the preferred method the Immigration and Naturalization Service uses, which is to obtain a general, open-ended warrant . . . to name one or two individuals and then to arrest, en masse, the entire workplace," said Francisco Garcia of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
U.S. District Judge Robert Aguilar, in a decision that was issued last week in San Jose but came to public attention only Tuesday when lawyers distributed it to reporters, ruled against the INS, saying that agents had failed to identify by name or specific description some of the people sought in a raid of a Petaluma poultry plant.
"This makes the securing of warrants of inspection much more difficult," said David Ilchert, the INS director for the San Francisco district that extends from Bakersfield to the Oregon border. "Obviously it will have an adverse impact on our ability to gain legal access to work sites."
He said his office may appeal the ruling. A previous decision by Aguilar in the case was narrowed substantially last year by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
But Ilchert said the effect of the decision may be lessened by the new federal immigration law because of the "widespread acceptance and voluntary compliance" that employers have shown so far to provisions making it a crime to knowingly hire an illegal alien.
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Alan Schlosser disagreed. "Because of the new immigration law, we're looking at the possibility of stepped-up activities" by the INS in the workplace, he said.
Garcia said the INS San Francisco district has entered few factories in the last several years because of the lawsuit. But he said the agency has conducted "massive raids" in Los Angeles as recently as a month ago. Though the ruling is binding only in the San Francisco district, it should provide guidance to courts elsewhere, Garcia said.
The suit was filed on behalf of all Latino workers in the San Francisco district, the International Molders and Allied Workers Union Local 164, and several employers, including the Petaluma Poultry Co., which was the target of an INS raid in April, 1982.
The raid was part of a series of workplace searches that the agency called Operation Jobs because it was supposed to create job openings for U.S. citizens and legal residents.
A warrant for the raid, issued by U.S. Magistrate Richard Goldsmith, authorized INS agents to enter the site and to look for and seize five named workers "and others suspected of being illegal aliens."
Agents arrested four of the named workers and 10 others. Lawyers said some have since been deported or left voluntarily.
Aguilar said the warrant properly authorized the agents to arrest the named workers, whose likely presence had been documented. But he said the reference to "others suspected of being illegal aliens" violated a constitutional requirement that a warrant specify the person to be seized; under previous rulings, either a name or other specific identification is needed.