Florida Judge: 'Persuasive Evidence' of Anti-Cuban Sentiment in INS Office

A federal judge dismissed a discrimination complaint from a federal immigration agent who had alleged anti-Cuban bias contributed to the "excessive force" used in the Elian Gonzalez case.

But Administration Judge Richard Vitaris, in ruling Friday that he had no jurisdiction, said he was troubled by "persuasive evidence" of anti-Cuban and anti-Hispanic sentiment in the Immigration and Naturalization Service office in Miami.

"At best, they evidence a serious problem within the INS' Miami District Office," Vitaris wrote. "At worst, they evidence a hostile work environment for employees of Cuban-American and Hispanic national origin."

INS agent Ricardo Ramirez, who is Mexican-American, claimed the hostile atmosphere contributed to "excessive force" in the April 2000 raid in which Elian was taken from the Little Havana home of his American relatives to be reunited with his father.

Ramirez contended that when he publicized his concerns, the INS retaliated by giving him a poor job rating.

At an administrative hearing, INS agents testified they saw office cup holders bearing a crossed-out image of a Cuban flag, "banana republic" banners and a cartoon of a boy that said "Elian: Kick me."

Ramirez's federal civil rights lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in September, according to his attorney, Larry Klayman.

INS spokeswoman Patricia Mancha said the agency will not tolerate discrimination.

In March, a federal judge dismissed a separate lawsuit in which Ramirez claimed he was harassed for reporting alleged anti-Cuban bias in the agency after the Elian case.