Blanca Gomez Arellano v. United States

Blanca Gomez Arellano v. United States, No. 2:19-cv-00141 (S.D. Tex., filed May 13, 2019).

This is a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a mother whose son who died trapped in a tractor-trailer container while the vehicle was impounded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). On October 13, 2017, CBP officers detained a tractor-trailer for inspection and discovered an undocumented individual inside. CBP then took the driver and undocumented individual into custody and impounded the truck. Three days later, CBP officers noticed a foul smell and liquid leaking from the truck, and they contacted the local sheriff’s department, who found a decomposing body.

The complaint alleges claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act for negligence, gross negligence, assault and battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A policy manual currently in effect directs CBP officers that “all closed containers must be opened and their contents inventoried” upon the impounding of a vehicle. The compartment in which the victim’s body was found was clearly marked as a “Liftable Lower Bunk.” The complaint alleges that the officers acted negligently or recklessly to cause the victim’s death. The government moved to dismiss the complaint in May of 2019.

Counsel: Texas Civil Rights Project

Contact: Efrén C. Olivares | efren@texascivilrightsproject.org

FTCA Administrative Complaint Filed with CBP over Killing of Unarmed Woman

An unnamed Border Patrol Agent shot and killed Claudia Patricia Gómez González in Rio Bravo, Texas on May 23, 2018.

According to an administrative Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) complaint filed by Claudia’s parents with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Claudia was walking in Rio Bravo with several other people when the group was approached by the unknown Border Patrol Agent. Four of the individuals fled, while Claudia and another person stayed in the vacant lot where the CBP agent had approached them. The agent drew his weapon and shot Claudia in the head. She was unarmed and no one in the group did anything threatening or violent.

CBP issued a statement soon after the incident claiming that members of Claudia’s group had attacked the agent with “blunt objects.” They later retracted this statement.

The administrative complaint raises claims for battery, negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and wrongful death.

Counsel: Kirkland & Ellis LLP

Contact: Yosef J. Reimer | 212-446-4802 | Yosef.riemer@kirkland.com

NBC 7 San Diego v. United States Department of Homeland Security

NBC 7 San Diego et al v. United States Department of Homeland Security et al., No. 1:19-cv-01146 (D.D.C., filed Apr. 22, 2019).

In March 2019, NBC 7 San Diego reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) maintains a secret database of lawyers, journalists, and others who were covering the migrant caravan or advocating for asylum seekers. Several of those in the database reported spending hours in secondary screening, and at least three people reported being barred from crossing into Mexico.

NBC reported that CBP secretly tracks these individuals under the aegis of “Operation Secure Line,” the moniker for its efforts to deter and intimidate caravans of asylum seekers. The agency’s proffered justification for maintaining this secret database is that the people listed were somehow involved with an incident in which a large group of asylum seekers approached the border barrier, leading CBP to respond with tear gas.

The existence of this database attracted the attention of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security, prompting a letter to DHS leadership requesting further information on the tracking of journalists and advocates.

On April 22, 2019, NBC 7 San Diego filed this lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking records that reference “Operation Secure Line” and the secret database. CBP continues to deny the data base sought exists.

Counsel: The Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press

Contact: Katie Townsend | 202-795-9300 | ktownsend@rcfp.org

Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen

Innovation Law Lab et al. v. Nielsen, No. 3:19-cv-00807 (N.D. Cal., filed Feb. 14, 2019)

On December 20, 2018, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen announced a new government policy, the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” that would force noncitizens seeking admission from Mexico to return to Mexico to await their removal proceedings. The administration voiced its intention to implement the policy “on a large scale basis,” beginning first with San Ysidro Port of Entry in California on January 28, 2019.

A lawsuit challenging this forced return policy (commonly known as “Remain in Mexico”), was brought on behalf of legal organizations that serve asylum seekers and eleven asylum seekers from Central America. Defendants include DHS, CBP, USCIS and ICE. The complaint explains that the individual plaintiffs are particularly vulnerable to, and many have already suffered, serious violence and discrimination while stranded in Mexico. Furthermore, without access to legal representation, information regarding immigration court hearings, or the right to lawfully work in Mexico, these individuals have been effectively deprived of the right to apply for asylum in the United States as a result of the MPP/RIM policy.

The lawsuit explains that procedural deficiencies in the MPP/RIM policy undermine the United States’ domestic and international legal obligations to ensure nonrefoulement of individuals who have expressed a fear of return to Mexico. In addition to alleging that the procedures for determining whether individuals will face persecution or torture in Mexico are unlawful, the complaint specifies the grossly deficient—and at times abusive—practices of CBP officers in implementing the MPP/RIM policy. The complaint recounts cursory interviews during which plaintiffs routinely were not asked about fear of return to Mexico; were not provided explanations of the process to which they were subjected; were coerced into signing documents they did not understand or wish to sign; and were questioned by U.S. government officers who did not speak their language and who verbally abused or threatened them.

MPP/RIM also substantially interferes with legal organizations seeking to serve asylum seekers and other immigrant populations, straining and diverting these organizations’ resources as they scramble to assist asylum seekers stranded in Mexico. The complaint alleges that Defendants’ failure to comply with the notice and comment requirements established under the Administrative Procedures Act is also a violation of law.

On April 8, 2019, the federal district court issued a preliminary injunction blocking MPP/RIM. The government appealed, and on May 7, 2019, the Ninth Circuit granted DHS’s motion for a stay of the preliminary injunction while the appeal remained pending; this permitted MPP/RIM to go back into effect. The Ninth Circuit heard oral argument on the merits of the government’s appeal of the preliminary injunction grant on October 1, 2019.

Counsel: Judy Rabinovitz, Michael Tan, Omar Jadwat, Jennifer Chang Newell, Katrina Eiland, Julie Veroff, Lee Gelernt, Anand Balakrishnan, & Daniel Galindo, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Sean Riordan & Christine Sun, ACLU of Northern California; Melissa Crow, Mary Bauer, Saira Draper, & Gracie Willis, Southern Poverty Law Center; Blaine Bookey, Karen Musalo, Eunice Lee, Kathryn Jastram, & Sayoni Maitra, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

Contact: Judy Rabinovitz | ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project | jrabinovitz@aclu.org
Jennifer Chang Newell | ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project | jnewell@aclu.org

Suda and Hernandez v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Suda v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 4:19-cv-00010-BMM, (D. Mont., filed Feb. 14, 2019)

On May 16, 2018, Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez were shopping at a convenience store in the small town of Havre, Montana, where both reside, when they were seized and detained by CBP Agent Paul O’Neill. While in the checkout line, Ms. Hernandez gave a friendly hello to Defendant O’Neill who was in line behind them. He responded by asking the two women where they were born. Although Ms. Suda and Ms. Hernandez told the agent they were U.S. citizens, born in Texas and California, respectively, Defendant O’Neill proceeded to detain them. Even after giving Defendant O’Neill their Montana driver’s licenses, they were detained for forty minutes. The only reason both Defendant O’Neill and his supervisor subsequently gave for their detention was that Ms. Suda and Ms. Hernandez were speaking Spanish.

On February 14, 2019, the ACLU of Montana filed an action against CBP and its agents for violations of Ms. Suda and Ms. Hernandez’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. The complaint alleges that Defendant O’Neill stated he had asked for identification “because I came in [the convenience store] and saw that you guys are speaking Spanish which is very unheard of up here.” Defendant O’Neill’s supervisor confirmed that the women had been singled out for speaking Spanish and specifically admitted that CBP doesn’t detain individuals for speaking French.

The complaint alleges that other Latinos in the community similarly have been targeted by CBP agents. The suit names as defendants CBP, its Commissioner, Defendant O’Neal, and 25 “John Doe” agents. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief aimed at preventing CBP officers from stopping and detaining individuals solely on the basis of race, accent, and/or speaking Spanish. The Plaintiffs also seek compensatory and punitive damages pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The government, which is representing all the defendants except for Defendant O’Neill, filed a motion to dismiss on April 19, 2019. Defendant O’Neal, through private counsel, submitted a motion to dismiss the claims for injunctive and declaratory relief. June 4, 2019. Defendant O’Neill did not seek dismissal of the Bivens claim for damages. After a hearing on October 2, 2019, those motions are still pending. Plaintiffs amended their complaint on January 29, 2020.

Counsel: ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, ACLU of Montana; Crowley Fleck

Contact: Alex Rate | ACLU of Montana Foundation, Inc. | 406.203.3375 | ratea@aclumontana.org

 

SIX FTCA ADMINISTRATIVE COMPLAINTS FILED WITH CBP AND OTHERS OVER SEPARATION OF PARENTS AND CHILDREN

SIX FTCA ADMINISTRATIVE COMPLAINTS FILED WITH CBP AND OTHERS OVER SEPARATION OF PARENTS AND CHILDREN

On February 11, 2019, six asylum-seeking mothers and their children filed administrative claims for money damages for the trauma they suffered when torn apart under the Trump Administration’s family separation policy. Each family was fleeing persecution in their country of origin. Instead of finding safety in the United States, the government forcibly took the children from their mothers and then left them in the dark about where they were taken and when—if ever—they would see each other again. The mothers and their children suffered greatly during the separations, which in some cases lasted for months. For example:

  • A 7-year-old girl is still unable to sleep unless her mom holds her;
  • A 7-year-old boy refuses to go to school, fearful of being separated from his mom again;
  • A 5-year-old girl now cries when she drops something, saying “Don’t get mad at me, don’t hit me.”
  • A 6-year-old boy separated from his mother for more than two months refuses to talk about his time in a New York shelter and is reluctant to eat.

The claims charge the government with intentionally inflicting emotional pain and suffering on these families in order to deter other Central Americans from seeking asylum in the United States. The claims were filed with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services. They are brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue the United States for injuries resulting from unlawful conduct of federal officers.

Counsel: The American Immigration Council, the National Immigrant Justice Center, Arnold & Porter, and Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin.

Contact: Trina Realmuto | American Immigration Council | 857.305.3600 | trealmuto@immcouncil.org
Mary Kenney | American Immigration Council | 202.507.7512 | mkenney@immcouncil.org

 

Lovell v. United States

Lovell v. United States of America, No. 1:18-cv-01867 (E.D.N.Y., filed Mar. 28, 2018)

On November 27, 2016, Tameika Lovell was returning from Jamaica and traveling through John F. Kennedy Airport when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers selected her for a “random search.” Officers took her to a secured area and conducted a physically invasive and traumatic search of her body, including a body cavity search, for which she later sought medical and psychological treatment.

Ms. Lovell filed a federal tort claim with CBP on May 10, 2017, but it was subsequently denied. On March 28, 2018, Ms. Lovell filed this action seeking damages under Bivens and alleging violations of her Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. The complaint alleges that CBP’s search of Ms. Lovell was carried out in in violation of the Fourth Amendment and was conduct that “shocked the conscience” in violation of the Fifth Amendment. She further alleges that the search was not random but instead based on her race, and that CBP unlawfully singles out females and persons of color for searches. Furthermore, Ms. Lovell alleges that the United States and CBP condone employees’ intentional violations of the National Standards on Transportation, Escort, Detention, and Search—the agency’s written standards for searches. Ms. Lovell seeks compensatory and punitive damages against CBP.

Press Coverage:

Counsel: Eric Sanders, The Sanders Firm, P.C.

Boule v. Egbert

Boule v. Egbert et al., Nos. 2:17-cv-00106-RSM (W.D. Wash., filed Jan. 25, 2017) and 18-35789 (9th Cir., filed Sep. 20, 2018)

A U.S. citizen filed a Bivens action for damages he suffered when a U.S. Border Patrol agent unlawfully entered his property in violation of the Fourth Amendment, refused to leave when told to do so, and knocked him to the ground. The district court granted the defendant agent’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim. Although it found that the agent had violated the Fourth Amendment, it nevertheless held that the case presents a new context for Bivens and that special factors existed which counseled against extending Bivens. In particular, the court found that the case implicated national security issues because the plaintiff’s property—where the incident occurred—is located right on the United States’ side of the U.S-Canada border. The court indicated that the risk of personal liability would cause Border Patrol agents to hesitate and second guess their daily decisions about whether and how to investigate suspicious activity near the border.

The plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Immigration Council filed an amicus in support of the appeal. In August 2019, the Ninth Circuit stayed proceedings in this case pending issuance of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hernandez v. Mesa.

Counsel: Breean L. Beggs, Paukert and Troppmann; Gregory Boos and W. Scott Railton, Cascadia Cross-Border Law

Contact: Gregory Boos | Cascadia Cross-Border Law | 360.671.5945 | gdboos@cascadia.com

FTCA Administrative Complaint against CBP and Border Patrol for False Arrest at a Greyhound Bus Station

FTCA Administrative Complaint against CBP and Border Patrol for False Arrest at a Greyhound Bus Station

Sosa Segura v. United States of America, No. 2:19-cv-00219-SAB (E.D. Wash., filed Jun. 25, 2019) 

On June 20, 2018 the ACLU of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a claim under the FTCA on behalf of Andres Sosa Segura, who was unlawfully seized and detained by Border Patrol agents at an intermodal transit station in Spokane, Washington.

Mr. Sosa, a resident of Washington, traveled regularly to Montana for work. On his return trip from Montana, after disembarking a bus at the Spokane station to make a transfer, Mr. Sosa was approached by Border Patrol agents who began to interrogate him about his legal status. Mr. Sosa had been the only Latinx-appearing passenger on the bus. He asserted his right to remain silent and showed the agents a “know your rights” card. Upon viewing the card, one of the agents called Mr. Sosa “illegal,” and both agents positioned their bodies so he could not leave, even once putting their hand on their gun as though to imply the use of force if Mr. Sosa did not comply.

The agents continued to question Mr. Sosa and to threaten him with deportation, even after he disclosed he had already been released from immigration detention and had an ankle monitor. They eventually drove him to a detention facility an hour away from the bus station and continued to detain him for several hours while they verified he had been released from immigration detention on bond. Eventually, Mr. Sosa was driven back to the Spokane bus station and released, though he had already missed all buses back to his home. The complaint letter asserts that Mr. Sosa experienced humiliation, emotional distress, and other damages during the time he was falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned.

On June 25, 2019, Mr. Sosa filed a complaint in federal district court, as CBP failed to issue a final disposition on the administrative complaint within the required six-month period. The government filed a subsequent motion to dismiss, which was denied on November 22, 2019.

Counsel: ACLU of Washington|Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

Contact: Matt Adams | Northwest Immigrant Rights Project | matt@nwirp.org

Press:

 

FTCA Administrative Complaint against CBP for Unlawfully Deportation of an Individual in Removal Proceedings

FTCA Administrative Complaint against CBP for Unlawfully Deportation of an Individual in Removal Proceedings

On October 12, 2018, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed an FTCA Administrative Complaint on behalf of an individual who was wrongfully deported by CBP in October of 2016. Already in removal proceedings, the individual was picked up by CBP while traveling in Texas and wrongfully deported to Mexico, in spite of having paperwork on his person which showed he already had a pending case in immigration court.

In December of 2014, the subject of the complaint, who had lived in the US for over 15 years, was detained by ICE after an arrest, after which DHS moved to reinstate a prior order of removal. In 2015, he passed a reasonable fear interview when an asylum officer found a significant possibility that he would be eligible for protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) due to his status as a target of two cartels. Accordingly, his case was referred to an Immigration Judge for withholding of removal proceedings and he was able to bond out of detention. After a competency hearing, the individual was found to be a Franco-Gonzalez class member due to his neurocognitive history and as such, was appointed counsel for immigration court.

While awaiting his next hearing, the individual traveled to Hidalgo, Texas to visit family. Border Patrol agents detained him as he was walking back from a party, assuming he was traveling with another larger group that had been walking nearby. The agents transported him to a detention center and refused to listen when he asserted he was already in removal proceedings and wished to speak to his lawyer. He spent at least two full days and nights in a detention center, constantly insisting to officers on speaking to his attorney, to no avail. Officers demanded that he sign a form agreeing to deportation, even at one time falsely assuring him his next court hearing had been “cancelled.” The officers kept the immigration court documents the individual showed them and forcibly removed him to Mexico.

While in Mexico, the subject was forced to flee for his life and remained in hiding until his immigration attorney was able to make arrangements for his return to the U.S. with agency officers. He was finally allowed to present himself at the border in January of 2017. The claim filed affirms he suffered significant, foreseeable, and direct emotional and financial harm as a result of the unlawful activity of ICE and CBP.

Counsel: Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

Contact: Aaron Korthuis | Northwest Immigrant Rights Project | aaron@nwirp.org