Three days before a government-ordered flight back to his native Ecuador, Washington Colala was granted a week’s reprieve by a federal court judge.
Colala (at right in photo) had been ordered to board a 7 p.m. flight to Ecuador on Monday. He would have been taking some powerful testimony with him. His lawyers say that’s why the government seeks to have him deported.
Colala (at right in photo) is one of 32 Latino immigrants who were swept up in immigration raids in Fair Haven in 2007. Now, three years later, he’s part of a federal civil rights lawsuit, which argues that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents violated his constitutional rights when they came into his apartment on the morning of the raids.
In the midst of that case, ICE has moved aggressively to deport him. Just before Thanksgiving, he was given a deadline to leave the country: Monday, Dec. 6.
Colala has bought a ticket and was ready to fly from JFK to his native Ecuador on Monday night. Meanwhile, law students at Yale were scrambling to find a last-minute exception to keep him in the country.
On Friday afternoon, their efforts paid off. Judge Stefan Underhill, the federal court judge overseeing the civil rights suit, entered an order staying Colala’s deportation for a week. He did so to give Colala’s lawyers time to argue that he should be allowed to remain in the country and testify in the case, said Mark Pedulla (at left in photo), a student attorney on the case.
After the 2007 raids, Yale students worked with about half of the arrested immigrants to appeal their deportation orders, but not Colala. They argued that the ICE raids had been conducted illegally and were able to overturn the deportation orders for several of their clients, including Colala’s housemate.
They did that with the help of testimony from Colala.
Colala, who’s 44, said ICE agents came into his apartment illegally in June of 2007 and arrested him without identifying themselves. His lawyers said his testimony about that incident was instrumental in a successful overturning of a deportation order against Colala’s roommate’s, by showing that the agents violated the 4th, 5th, and 10th Amendments.
“Immigration officers entered my house without consent ... based on lies ... and they arrested me,” Colala said about the raid on his apartment in 2007.
The agents had their guns out, he said. “They made me open the door. ... I didn’t resist at any moment.”
It wasn’t until a half-hour later, after he had been in handcuffs for some time, that ICE agents identified themselves, he said.
“It was quite humiliating,” Colala said.
After the raids, Colala (at right in above photo) did not join the group of arrested immigrants working with Yale law school. He appealed his deportation with a different attorney, used a different argument, and failed to overturn his deportation order. That means he can now be forced to leave the country, even as he’s part of another case stemming from the raids, the civil rights lawsuit that began in October 2009.
Colala would likely share that same potentially incriminating testimony he did before when the pending civil rights case comes to trial, but from his home in province of Pastaza, he would have been unable to participate in the civil rights trial. Despite several appeals and intervention attempts by his lawyers, Colala was being forced to leave the country on Monday.
Scholtz (pictured) called it “puzzling” that ICE is trying to deport Colala so “expeditiously.” “It certainly gives the impression that ICE is trying to avoid liability for its conduct in the raids.”
The fact that Colala’s testimony resulted in the overturning of his housemate’s deportation order shows that his claims are credible, Pedulla said.
This is yet another victory by the law students at Yale...students who are also working hard to prove their case in the Danbury 11 matter.