As of 2012, an estimated 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the United States. Many of them will be deported. Under the Obama administration, annual deportations have reached nearly 400,000. A considerable number of these removals take place without court involvement through expedited and voluntary-removal procedures, but immigration courts still play a large role in the enforcement system. Indeed, between 2008 and 2012, immigration judges completed a yearly average of about 284,000 removal proceedings, with more than 75 percent resulting in removal orders.
The immigration-enforcement actions spurring these removals feature illegal searches and seizures with worrying frequency. Perhaps most prominent are arrests made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in warrantless home raids—an increasingly common enforcement tool. During the typical raid, a team of armed ICE agents approaches a private dwelling before dawn with only an administrative warrant for an individual suspected of having committed an immigration violation. The agents then enter the residence without the occupants’ consent—either by knocking and pushing their way in once the door is opened, or by simply breaking in. Having gained entry, the team moves from room to room, seizing all occupants, interrogating them, and arresting those who cannot produce proof of citizenship. In such a raid, the ICE agents have violated the Fourth Amendment by entering a private dwelling without a proper warrant or informed consent and by making seizures without reasonable suspicion.
Usually, victims of Fourth Amendment violations can prevent illegally seized evidence from being used against them in court by means of the exclusionary rule, which prohibits the admission of inculpatory evidence collected in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights. But the victims of the illegal searches and seizures in the raid described above are practically without remedy. In accordance with the Supreme Court’s landmark 1984 decision in Immigration and Naturalization Service v Lopez-Mendoza, the exclusionary rule generally does not apply in civil-removal hearings. This holding has become increasingly troubling, however, as evidence of serious and frequent Fourth Amendment violations committed by immigration authorities has mounted in recent years.
The Lopez-Mendoza Court carved out two exceptions to its broad holding. A plurality of four justices—effectively, but not explicitly, joined by four dissenting justices—stated that the exclusionary rule ought to apply (1) when the predicate violation of the respondent’s constitutional rights was “egregious,” or (2) when Fourth Amendment violations by immigration officers have become “widespread.” While the former exception has been analyzed extensively, it remains unclear what is required to establish that a violation has become widespread. Ascertaining the scope of the widespread-violations exception is important because of the gap left by Lopez-Mendoza between constitutional violations in immigration-enforcement actions and the availability of a remedy to those who suffer these violations. This Comment proposes an approach for courts and practitioners to use in determining whether an alleged violation is widespread and assesses that determination’s consequences for the application of the exclusionary rule.