- The city of Southaven, Mississippi, argued in a legal brief that a man who was fatally shot by police in 2017 had no constitutional protections because he was an undocumented immigrant.
- Ismael Lopez was killed in 2017 after Southaven officers arrived at the wrong door to execute a warrant. After a commotion, they shot Lopez in the back of his head, according to state investigators.
- Attorneys for Lopez’s family have filed a civil lawsuit over the shooting, and are seeking $US20 million in damages.
- An attorney for the city has denied that Lopez was protected by the Fouth Amendment and 14th Amendment, which protect against unreasonable searches and seizures and guarantee equal protection under the law.
- The Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that any person on US soil – no matter their immigration status – is protected by the Constitution.
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Two years ago, police officers arrived at a Mississippi home in the middle of the night to execute a warrant. But they knocked on the wrong person’s door, a commotion ensued, and they shot the homeowner in the back of the head, state investigators said.
Now, the city of Southaven has argued in a legal brief that the man, Ismael Lopez, was not protected by the US Constitution because he was an undocumented immigrant.
“It is the most absurd thing in the world,” Aaron Neglia, a lawyer for Lopez’s wife, told Insider. “What [they’re] saying is that because this man is undocumented, it’s ok to kill him?”
Attorneys for Lopez’s family have filed a civil lawsuit over the shooting, and are seeking $US20 million in damages for Lopez’s widow, Claudia Linares. They have argued that Lopez was the victim of one of the worst police shootings in recent memory – akin to Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was shot in the back in 2015 while he ran from a white police officer.
But the city, the Southaven Police Department, and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation have alleged that the officers opened fire on Lopez after he pointed a .22-calibre rifle at them – an allegation Lopez’s lawyers deny.
Immigrants – both documented and undocumented – are protected by the Constitution
An attorney for Southaven who wrote the legal brief argued that Lopez, due to his immigration status and criminal history, had no rights under the Fourth Amendment or 14th Amendment. The amendments protect against unreasonable searches and seizures, and guarantee equal protection, respectively.
“Ismael Lopez may have been a person on American soil but he was not one of the ‘We, the People of the United States’ entitled to the civil rights invoked in this lawsuit,” attorney Katherine Kerby wrote. “Ismael Lopez had insufficient connections with the United States of the type, dignity, and calibre required to attain standing for Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment protection.”
In fact, immigrants – both documented and undocumented – are protected by the Constitution, as is anyone on US soil.
The Supreme Court has affirmed these protections before, such as in the landmark 1982 case Plyler v. Doe, which held that immigrant children are protected under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore can’t be barred from attending public schools.
“Where they say, ‘We the people,’ they don’t say ‘residents’ or ‘citizens.'”
Kerby also argued in her brief that Lopez’s criminal history – he was charged in the 1990s with domestic violence and driving under the influence – precluded him from constitutional protections.
“Ismael Lopez was a convicted felon for a crime of violence while in the United States and a fugitive from justice in violation of the his terms of probation with an outstanding warrant for deportation as well as being a felon in possession and an illegal alien in possession of a firearm at the time he opened his door to the knock of the described Southaven police officers,”
He added that he believed Kerby’s legal brief was akin to a “hate manifesto” and said she was warping the true meaning of the Constitution.
“Every human being on American soil has constitutional rights. It’s very clear in the Constitution – where they say, ‘We the people,’ they don’t say ‘residents’ or ‘citizens.’ They say ‘people,” Neglia said. “The US Supreme Court has made it clear that any individual on American soil, regardless of how they entered America, has constitutional protections.”
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