Case of Waheed Saleh Asserts First Amendment “Right to Petition” in NYPD’s Enforcement of Immigration Laws
New York—The Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund (AALDEF) today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York asserting that the First Amendment right to petition guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution includes an immigrants right to file a grievance against the government without facing retaliation by being reported to immigration authorities. AALDEF brought this action on behalf of Waheed Saleh, a New York City resident who was reported to immigration authorities by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and put into deportation proceedings in retaliation for submitting a formal harassment complaint against a New York City police officer.
The lawsuit alleges that the NYPD’s actions violated Mr. Saleh’s First Amendment rights, and ignored New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s Executive Order 41, which prohibits inquiry into and disclosure of the immigration status of any person who seeks City services.
“Instead of working to make our communities safer and reducing fear, the NYPD stripped Mr. Saleh of a constitutional right to make sure our government does not abuse the public trust,” said AALDEF Staff Attorney and OSI Fellow Tushar J. Sheth. “We believe the NYPD abused its power and called in immigration authorities as a reprisal against Mr. Saleh for lodging a complaint against an officer.”
In late 2003, Mr. Saleh filed an administrative harassment complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) against a NYPD officer who repeatedly singled him out for verbal abuse and baseless threats of arrest. Then, shortly after midnight on December 21, 2004, police officers from the same precinct as the officer against whom Mr. Saleh filed the CCRB charge against accompanied a federal immigration agent while he questioned Mr. Saleh. After the immigration agent asked a brief series of questions, the NYPD officers arrested Mr. Saleh and took him in a police van back to their precinct where he was held overnight. The following morning, federal immigration agents from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took him into custody and detained Mr. Saleh for 14 days. He is now facing deportation proceedings.
In his federal complaint, Mr. Saleh alleges that the NYPD officers contacted federal immigration authorities in retaliation for the CCRB complaint that he filed. The lawsuit further alleges that the NYPD failed to follow the directives of Executive Order 41 in disclosing Mr. Saleh’s immigration status information and, by arresting him while working with immigration agents, violated publicly stated NYPD policy against such immigration enforcement by NYPD officers. The complaint asserts causes of action under the First Amendments right to petition which guarantees all persons the right to seek redress from the government for a grievance.
Someone trying to seek fairness and justice should not have a government agency try to silence them from complaining against someone who has crossed the line, said Waheed Saleh. Mr. Saleh, 35, is a resident of the Bronx and originally immigrated from Palestine.