NYLAG v. DHS

New York Legal Assistance Group, Inc., v. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 1:22-cv-05928 (S.D.N.Y., filed Jul. 12, 2022)

New York Legal Assistance Group, Inc. (NYLAG), a not-for-profit civil legal services organization in New York, New York, filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failed to produce responsive records to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to the deployment of federal law enforcement personnel in New York City during protests related to the killing of George Floyd in 2020.

In June 2020, at a New York City protest against police brutality, a protestor was violently arrested on the Upper West Side by an officer identified as an agent for ICE or Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). After the identification of the officer, organizations like NYLAG raised concerns questioning the authority of the federal government to deploy federal agents to monitor local protests and surveil immigrant protestors.

NYLAG submitted an administrative FOIA request on September 29, 2020, requesting records from May 25, 2020, through the date of filing the request. Following their administrative request, NYLAG received some communications from DHS, ICE, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Secret Service (USSS), and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), indicating that responsive records existed and were identified. However, after nearly two years, the agencies failed to produce to NYLAG any of the documents they identified as responsive to the FOIA request, prompting NYLAG to file suit in July 2022. On September 16, 2022, Defendants filed an answer to the complaint. 

Counsel: New York Legal Assistance Group | Cooley LLP

Contact: Danielle Tarantolo | NYLAG | (212) 613-5000
Marc Suskin | Cooley LLP | (212) 479-6000

Related Links: https://nylag.org/nylagvdhs/

Davis Wright Tremaine v. CBP

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP v. United States Customs and Border Protection, No. 2:19-cv-00334 (W.D. Wash., filed Mar. 6, 2019)

A Seattle-area law firm filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against CBP after the agency refused to respond to a FOIA request for information concerning CBP’s widely publicized policy and practice of denying entry to noncitizens due to their involvement with the legal cannabis industry in Canada. Individuals subjected to the policy in the past have been detained and at times even told they are banned for life from entering the United States. In one instance cited in the complaint, the executive commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations, Todd Owen, was quoted as claiming, “If you work for the [cannabis] industry, that is grounds for inadmissibility.” Owens also claimed that CBP had the authority to permanently ban from entering the U.S. even those who only invested in legal cannabis business.

The firm which filed the suit, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, sought access to records to assess whether CBP’s actions are within the scope of the authority granted to it by Congress, whether CBP was acting pursuant to any policies or procedures, and whether it promulgated any such policies or procedures consistent with the procedures Congress has required for agency rulemaking.

On June 16, 2020, plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment was granted in part and denied in part, and CBP’s motion for summary judgment was denied. The court found CBP’s production in response to the FOIA request inadequate, and the parties submitted periodic status reports on the agency’s ongoing production. Chief among the documents produced was a 2018 CBP Information Guide which acknowledged that foreign nationals who work in legal foreign cannabis industries are not inadmissible, assuming their visit to the United States is unrelated to domestic or cross-border cannabis operations – a policy which contradicts statements and actions by CBP in the past regarding Canadian citizens associated with the industry. The parties stipulated to dismiss the case in 2022.

Counsel: Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Contact:
Bruce Johnson | brucejohnson@dwt.com
Caesar Kalinowski | caesarkalinowski@dwt.com

FTCA Suit on Behalf of U.S.-Citizen Child Held by CBP for 30 Hours

J.A.M., et al., v. United States of America, et al., No. 3:22-cv-00380 (S.D. Cal., filed Mar. 21, 2022)

The family of a 9-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy filed a damages suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act after the children, both U.S. citizens, were held in custody at the San Ysidro Port of Entry – the boy for more than 12 hours and his sister for more than 30 hours. The complaint recounts how J.A.M. and her brother O.A.M. were falsely imprisoned in San Ysidro and coerced into making false confessions about the girl’s identity. Officers insisted to the children that the girl was actually their cousin, who is not a U.S. citizen.

J.A.M. and her brother O.A.M. were on their way from Tijuana to school in San Diego with a family friend. Though both children presented officers with valid U.S. passports, a CBP officer sent them to secondary inspection, then to a holding area. According to the children, CBP officers interviewed them about other young relatives their age and then pressured them to sign false statements claiming that J.A.M. was actually their cousin. The children said they were told that O.A.M. would be taken to jail for smuggling if they did not sign. CBP allegedly intended to have the Mexican consulate interview J.A.M. to verify her identity, but claimed an appointment was not available until the following morning.

Upon learning her children had not made it out of the port of entry, their mother, Ms. Medina Navarro, left the medical facility where she was awaiting surgery to inquire at the port of entry for her children. At first, officers denied having the children in custody. More than 12 hours after her children were first taken into custody, Ms. Medina Navarro received a call that C.B.P. had her son in custody with a girl who was not her daughter, and was told she could come pick up her son. Though Ms. Medina Navarro took additional documents to prove the identity of her daughter, officers did not release J.A.M. to her mother until after J.A.M.’s interview with the Mexican consulate the following day, 33 hours after she was first taken into custody.

The family filed administrative Federal Tort Claims Act complaints. CBP denied the claims in full on September 29, 2021, and the family filed suit on March 21, 2022. The government filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or motion for summary judgment, which was denied on July 21, 2022, and subsequently filed an answer to the complaint on August 4, 2022.

Counsel: Law Offices of Joseph M. McMullen

Contact: Joseph Mark McMullen ǀ (619) 501-2000 ǀ joe@imm-legal.com

Press: Lawsuit alleging border officials falsely imprisoned 9-year-old U.S. citizen girl passes legal hurdle

State of Washington v. Greyhound Lines, Inc.

State of Washington v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., No. 20-2-01236-32 (Spokane Cnty. Sup. Ct., consent decree filed Sept. 26, 2021)

In April 2020, the Attorney General of Washington (Bob Ferguson) filed a lawsuit against Greyhound Lines challenging its practice of allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents on its buses to conduct warrantless and suspicionless immigration sweeps. Greyhound failed to warn customers of the sweeps, misrepresented its role in allowing the sweeps to occur on its buses, and subjected passengers to unlawful discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. The case was set for trial on September 27, 2021.

On September 26, 2021, the parties filed a consent decree which requires Greyhound to pay $2.2 million and to enact a number of corporate reforms to end its unlawful conduct. For example, Greyhound must establish and implement a clear policy that denies CBP agents permission to board its buses without warrants or reasonable suspicion in the state of Washington. The Attorney General has stated that the $2.2 million will be used to provide restitution to those passengers who were detained, arrested, or deported as a result of the immigration sweeps on Greyhound buses.

Documents:

Counsel: Lane Polozola, Yesica Hernandez, Brian J. Sutherland, and Emily C. Nelson (Washington State Attorney General’s Office)

Contact: Yesica Hernandez | Washington State Attorney General’s Office | civilrights@atg.wa.gov

Villalobos et al. v. United States

Villalobos et al. v. United States, No. 0:21-cv-02233 (D. Minn., filed Oct. 11, 2021)

Plaintiff Kerlin Sanchez Villalobos and her younger sister are suing the United States for the severe abuse and mistreatment they suffered while they were held in immigration custody. In June 2019, they entered the United States seeking safety from violence and persecution in Honduras, and were arrested by CBP agents. At the time, Kerlin was sixteen and her sister was fourteen. After their arrest, Kerlin and her sister were taken to a CBP detention facility in Clint, Texas and held there for nine days, after which they were forcibly separated and transferred to different group homes operated by Southwest Key Programs, Inc.

At the facility in Clint, Texas, CBP officers and government contractors mistreated Plaintiffs in a variety of ways, including physically assaulting them, depriving them of adequate food and water, denying them access to necessary medical care and medication, forcing them to watch the mistreatment of other children, and forcing them to care for younger children. Officers forced the girls to lift their shirts to be searched in a non-private setting, and threw away medicine one of the sisters brought with her to treat a recent injury. According to the siblings, officers ordered them to control the younger children who were crying because they were separated from their families. One of the sisters was injured by an officer who kicked her repeatedly. Additionally, the Clint facility was reported to have subpar sanitation for the number of children held there, and an MSNBC video from 2019 revealed children caged like animals. According to an ABC news report, staff had no training on caring for children.

In spite of initially assuring the sisters they would not be separated, officers traumatically separated the sisters without explanation and transported them to separate group homes. Despite prior reports of abuse at the Texas group homes where the sisters were held, the U.S. government has continued to place children there. In total, Kerlin spent twenty days in detention, and her sister spent twenty-nine days. Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages for negligence, negligent undertaking, battery, and assault under Texas law via the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Plaintiffs filed their complaint in October 2021 and the United States answered in January 2022. After engaging in discovery, the parties reached a settlement, which was reviewed and approved by the court with regards to the minor plaintiff. The case was dismissed pursuant to a stipulation of dismissal by the parties.