A.F.P. and J.F.C. v. United States of America, No. 1:21-cv-780 (E.D. Cal., filed May 14, 2021)
Plaintiff A.F.P. and his fifteen-year-old son J.F.C., both citizens of Honduras, approached Border Patrol agents near McAllen, Texas to seek asylum. Instead, Border Patrol agents separated J.F.C. from his father and detained both in a holding facility, often referred to as a hielera or “ice box” for its freezing cold temperatures. The hielera was cold and cramped, and the food provided was frozen and expired.
The two were only permitted to speak to each other for 30 minutes per day. Three days after the two were taken into custody, A.F.P. was charged with illegal entry and taken to federal criminal court. During A.F.P.’s court hearing, CBP and ICE officers designated J.F.C. as an unaccompanied minor, transferred his custody to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and moved him to a facility in New York. When A.F.P. returned to the detention center, his son was gone. The officers did not advise A.F.P. of the reason or destination of his son’s transfer.
In New York, J.F.C. resided at the Children’s Village facility, where he was not allowed to communicate with his father, was denied medical care, and was subject to emotional abuse. As a result of this neglect, J.F.C. suffers from hearing loss from an untreated ear infection and severe memory problems because of the trauma he experienced.
During this time, A.F.P. was held in ICE detention in Texas, where he had an interview with an asylum officer and was told he had a credible asylum case. After officers at the detention center put A.F.P. in touch with a notary public who led him to believe that pursuing his asylum case would keep him from reuniting with his son, A.F.P. withdrew his asylum application at his hearing in front of an immigration judge. He was then transferred to maximum security prisons and deported a month later. He was separated from his son for almost fifteen months. A human rights organization later helped A.F.P. lawfully re-enter the U.S. and reunite with J.F.C.
Plaintiffs filed suit against the federal government in the Eastern District of California, seeking damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, negligence as to family separation, and negligence. Defendant United States moved to dismiss the claims and moved to transfer the case to the Southern District of Texas. On July 11, 2022, the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action regarding J.F.C.’s time in ORR custody as barred by the independent contractor exception to the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity. On July 26, 2022, Defendant filed its answer to the remaining claims. As of February 2023, discovery is currently underway.
Counsel: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P.