All of the 80-plus women who were arrested during the November raid of Club 907 in downtown Los Angeles have been released. Club 907 is a “hostess club” where patrons pay for women’s companionship (e.g., dancing, delivering drinks). Officers from the L.A. police department (LAPD) raided the club on suspicion of prostitution on November 5, but ended up arresting 78 (of 81) dancers on documentation charges. Although some of the women are still facing immigration court proceedings, this is a major victory for the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and the Raids Response Network of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
The Club 907 raid generated a flurry of criticism. According to the LAPD, the action was initiated because police witnessed illicit sexual activity at the club during a routine inspection. But CHIRLA and others claimed that it constituted an immigration raid in violation of S.B. 40, which prohibits the LAPD from initiating “police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person.” The vast majority of those arrested were handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Others expressed concern that the working conditions may have constituted indentured servitude or human trafficking, and that the LAPD arrested the victims of, and witnesses to, criminal activities at the club.
Speaking of the women’s release, Xiomara Corpeño, CHIRLA’s organizing director, said:
This is a great day for the almost 80 women who have worked so hard to have their pending immigration cases reconsidered. These women were detained by the LAPD for a crime they were never charged with but ended up nonetheless spending almost two months behind bars. A great injustice was done unto these immigrant workers who are not criminals but working moms and clearly victims of exploitation by their employer. Six out of 10 women were moms and their children missed them deeply during Christmas and New Year’s.
The raid on Club 907 generated more than 50 national news stories. The success in this case is a testament to the effectiveness of tireless legal advocacy and intensive media attention in holding public officials accountable.