8 Hispanic homeowners file suit over raids

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
FEBRUARY 27, 2003
Contact Persons: Bernard J. Kleina (630) 690-6500 ext.4 
Florentina Rendón (630) 690-6500 ext 8

HISPANIC HOMEOWNERS FILE CIVIL RIGHTS CASE AGAINST THE CITY OF WEST CHICAGO AFTER A PRE-DAWN RAID TO CHECK FOR OVERCROWDING. ADDITIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINTS WERE FILED BY THE HOMEOWNERS AND HOPE FAIR HOUSING CENTER WITH HUD AND THE U.S. OFFICE OF CIVIL RIGHTS.

A Federal Court lawsuit was filed today by the owners of a single-family home in West Chicago, Illinois, accusing the City of staging a pre-dawn raid on their home to check for overcrowding. The complaint alleges that on June 17, 2002, at 4:50AM, a SWAT team of nine (9) City of West Chicago Building Inspectors and Police Officers raided a single-family home owned by plaintiffs Hugo and Araceli Romero and Luz Reyna. 

The officers barged into every room in the house, rousting the Romeros, their elderly parents, siblings and young children out of their beds while still in their nightclothes, humiliating the adults and terrifying the children. The Police defendants forced everyone in the household, residents and visitors alike, into the living room and restrained them from getting their clothes, using the bathroom or moving throughout the house. 

The defendants searched through closets and dresser drawers, in flowerpots, under mattresses and throughout the house looking for “evidence” of overcrowding. They questioned the Romeros’ 16 year old nephew and they forced the other children, ages 1 through 7, out of their beds. While the search and seizure was taking place, the defendants took pictures and videos of the premises and its occupants, sarcastically telling the families to say “cheese.” 

Defendants seized the occupants’ bank statements and telephone bills, the childrens’ grade school diplomas and birth certificates by taking close-up photos of the documents. All of this was done solely on the basis of a general, Administrative Search Warrant which authorized only that “the structure and property …be inspected to determine if the premises is in compliance with the Ordinances of the City of West Chicago.”

As a result of the raid, the Romeros were given an overcrowding “ticket”, were ordered not to have any visitors, even during the day, including their parents or other family members, and were prohibited from using their home’s rear entrance. 

The complaint further alleges that the raid on the Romeros’ home was the culmination of over sixteen (16) months of warrantless, harassing surveillance of the household that was directly related to the City’s discriminatory policy of disproportionately enforcing stringent overcrowding rules against the Hispanic residents of West Chicago in response to the changing demographics of the City. Despite the fact that over half of the single-family homeowners in West Chicago are non-Hispanic, during 2001 and 2002, virtually all overcrowding enforcement actions commenced by the defendants were against Hispanic homeowners. The majority of overcrowding investigations undertaken by the City against Hispanic homeowners were found to be groundless. 

The complaint seeks a court order prohibiting the City from continuing to harass Hispanic residents in this manner and damages against the officers and city officials participating in the raid.
In conjunction with the Federal Court complaint, the Romeros, along with HOPE Fair Housing Center, have filed broad-reaching complaints with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and with the United States Office of Civil Rights (OCR). These complaints accuse the City and its Public Schools of waging an unconstitutional and discriminatory campaign of harassment targeting the Hispanic population of West Chicago. The alleged discriminatory actions include:

  1. Bringing “overcrowding” complaints exclusively against Hispanic households based upon complaints filed by non-Hispanic city officials and employees;
  2. Passing an overly restrictive “bedroom” ordinance that prohibits households from utilizing most family-rooms, dens, living rooms, lofts, attics or basements as sleeping quarters, even if they comply with nationally recognized safety codes;
  3. Subjecting Hispanic households to repeated warrantless surveillance to determine whether too many people are residing in the household;
  4. Utilizing confidential student records to check the number of students residing in a household;

HOPE Fair Housing Center, founded in 1968, seeks to eliminate housing discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, familial status, or any other characteristic protected under state or local laws. HOPE works to ensure that fair housing laws are properly and fairly enforced, primarily throughout Northern and North Central Illinois.

The plaintiffs and HOPE are represented by Jeffrey L. Taren and Joanne Kinoy from the law firm of Kinoy, Taren and Geraghty, P.C., of Chicago, Illinois.