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INS Settles Suit Alleging Bias at Its Miami Offices

Courts: Legal action also involved an agent who said he faced retaliation.

September 21, 2002|From Associated Press

MIAMI — The Immigration and Naturalization Service settled a lawsuit Friday that alleged its Miami offices fostered anti-Cuban and anti-Latino sentiments and retaliated against an agent who aired bias accusations after the armed raid to seize Elian Gonzalez.

The federal whistle-blower lawsuit, brought by INS agent Ricardo Ramirez against the Justice Department, had been scheduled to go to trial on Monday. Ramirez claimed he faced retaliation after going public with allegations of bias at the INS.

Most terms of the settlement are secret.

Ramirez, a 17-year veteran of the agency, claimed he has been the target of about 20 internal complaints since he spoke out after the armed federal raid to seize Elian from the home of his Miami relatives in April 2000.

Ramirez claimed a picture of Elian bearing the words "Kick me" was taped to a box, encouraging passers-by to vent their frustration with the slow-moving tug of war between the boy's Miami relatives and his father in Cuba. Elian was eventually returned to his father's custody.

INS agents also testified they saw cup holders bearing a crossed-out image of a Cuban flag, "banana republic" banners and swastikas on display at the Miami office.

In a hearing in May, a federal judge said he was troubled by "persuasive evidence" of anti-Cuban sentiment at the agency's local office. But the judge dismissed the discrimination complaint, saying he didn't have jurisdiction.

Several agents who testified at an administrative hearing in April differed on whether the sentiments were widespread, encouraged from supervisors or simply tolerated.

Ramirez said Friday that he was pleased with the settlement. He had asked for a transfer to Texas and the removal of items from his personnel file that involved his accusations.

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