Lewis v. Unknown Agents of the Department of Homeland Security

Lewis v. Unknown Agents of the United States Department of Homeland Security, No. 3:19-cv-00600 (S.D. Cal., filed Apr. 1, 2019)

Sams v. Unknown Agents of the United States Department of Homeland Security, No. 3:19-cv-00612 (S.D. Cal., filed Apr. 2, 2019)

These lawsuits arise from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s detention of two individuals who were experiencing withdrawal from opiates and alcohol and were denied medical treatment. The plaintiffs bring claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), alleging violations of their Fifth Amendment Rights.

Mr. Lewis, a U.S. citizen and military veteran, was arrested by DHS at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in February 2019. He alleges that he told the arresting officers of his history of substance abuse, prompting laughter. He began experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal, and instead of being given medical treatment, was transferred back-and-forth between the San Diego Metropolitan Correction Center and DHS custody. Mr. Lewis spent four days in DHS custody experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, unable to move or eat, all the while requesting medical attention which was never given.

The facts of Ms. Sam’s case are similar. In January 2019, DHS officers interrogated and detained her. Despite advising officers of her substance abuse history, she was placed in a small holding cell. She remained in DHS custody for four days, during which time she experienced grave symptoms of withdrawal and repeatedly requested medical attention. Her requests were ignored.

Counsel: Brody McBride, Singleton Law Firm, APC

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

Gomez Vincente v. United States of America & Barrera

Gomez Vincente, et al., v. United States of America, et al., No. 5:20-cv-00081 (S.D. Tex., filed May 12, 2020)

On May 24, 2018, Border Patrol agent Romualdo Barrera shot and killed Claudia Patricia Gómez González, a twenty-year-old Guatemalan woman, several hundred yards from the U.S.-Mexico border in Rio Bravo, Texas. Claudia was walking through Rio Bravo with a few other people when Agent Barrera confronted the group. Although several members of the group began running, Claudia remained where she was. Agent Barrera drew his weapon, and when Claudia – a petite woman who was not carrying anything that could even remotely be perceived to be a weapon – took a step forward, the agent aimed at her, pulled the trigger, and shot her in the head.

Following the shooting, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a press release claiming that members of Claudia’s group had attacked the agent with “blunt objects” and that Claudia was one of the assailants. It later retracted that statement and issued a new one, removing any references to the blunt objects or allegations that Claudia had assaulted the agent.

On May 23, 2019, Claudia’s family filed an administrative claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for Claudia’s wrongful death, seeking substantial damages and hoping to ensure accountability for the officials’ unlawful acts. When more than six months passed after filing the claim without any action by the agencies, Claudia’s family filed a federal suit against the United States for common law battery, negligence, gross negligence, and reckless conduct pursuant to the FTCA, and against the agent who killed Claudia for excessive, unreasonable force and deprivation of due process in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

On May 13, 2020, the Plaintiffs filed an emergency motion to expedite discovery, which the court granted in part and denied in part on May 19, 2020. On September 9, 2020, Defendants filed their answer. On September 29, 2020, Defendant Barrera filed a motion to dismiss the Bivens claims against him. On December 1, 2020, the court granted the U.S.’s motion to stay the case pending an FBI investigation of Claudia’s death. 

Counsel: Kirkland & Ellis LLP; ACLU of Texas; ACLU Immigrant Rights Project

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. The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment.

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, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen announced a new government policy, the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), which would force noncitizens seeking admission from Mexico to return to Mexico to await their removal proceedings. The Trump 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,” or RIM), 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 alleges 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, 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.

On February 28, 2020, the Ninth Circuit denied the government’s appeal. That same day, the government filed an emergency motion requesting a stay of the preliminary injunction pending disposition of a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court or an immediate administrative stay. That evening, the Ninth Circuit granted the government an administrative stay pending briefing by the parties. On March 4, 2020, following briefing, the Ninth Circuit granted the government’s stay motion in part and denied it in part. The stay was denied with respect to the Ninth Circuit’s holding that MPP violated federal law, affirming the Ninth Circuit’s belief in the policy’s illegality. However, the stay was granted in part and denied in part with respect to the injunctive relief. The order permitted enforcement of MPP nationwide through March 11, 2020, but thereafter prohibited MPP from operating only in the Ninth Circuit.

On March 11, 2020, the government applied for a stay of the preliminary injunction to the Supreme Court, which granted a stay pending filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari. If the writ is denied, the stay will terminate automatically. If the writ is granted, the stay will terminate upon judgment of the Court. On April 10, 2020, DHS petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court and on October 19, 2020, the Court granted certiorari.

Counsel: Judy Rabinovitz, Michael Tan, Omar Jadwat, Katrina Eiland, Julie Veroff, Lee Gelernt, Anand Balakrishnan, & Daniel Galindo, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Sean Riordan, 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

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 Plaintiffs amended their complaint to add claims of negligence and false arrest under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

The government, which is representing all the defendants except for Defendant O’Neal, 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 on June 4, 2019. Defendant O’Neal did not seek dismissal of the Bivens claim for damages. Plaintiffs amended their complaint on January 29, 2020. The district court denied Defendant O’Neal’s motion to dismiss and denied in part and granted in part the government’s motion to dismiss on February 26, 2020. The court found that Plaintiffs had standing to seek injunctive relief and that Plaintiffs’ claims for declaratory relief are ripe. The court dismissed Plaintiffs’ damages claims against the defendants in their official capacity. Plaintiffs’ FTCA claims for damages survived.

The parties reached an undisclosed monetary settlement in November 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

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C.M., et al., v. United States

C.M., et al., v. United States, No. 2:19-cv-05217-SRB (D. Ariz., filed Sept. 19, 2019)

On September 19, 2019, five asylum-seeking mothers and their children filed a lawsuit 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:

  • An eight-year-old girl is still unable to sleep unless her mother holds her.
  • A seven-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.
  • A 14-year-old boy refuses to discuss the separation or his time in detention and experiences outbursts of inexplicable anger.
  • A six-year-old girl has nightmares about her experience and often screams out to her mother in the night seeking protection from people who might separate them again.
  • An eight-year-old boy shows constant signs of fear when he is apart from his mother, especially when his mother takes him to school.

On February 11, 2019, the families filed administrative claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). When the government failed to respond, they brought suit. The complaint charges 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 complaint also alleges negligence.

On March 30, 2020, the district court denied the government’s motion to dismiss, finding that neither the due care exception nor the discretionary function exception to liability under the FTCA barred the claims. The government moved the court to certify its order for interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). Briefing on that motion was completed on June 19, 2020. On July 6, 2020, the court denied the government’s motion. Discovery is ongoing.

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

Contact: Claudia Valenzuela | American Immigration Council | 202-507-7540  | cvalenzuela@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 Sept. 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. Following the Supreme Court’s February 25, 2020, decision in Hernandez, the Ninth Circuit lifted the stay and heard oral arguments.

On November 20, 2020, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion reversing the district court’s summary judgment for defendants and holding that Bivens remedies were available in the circumstances of this case.

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. Mr. Sosa filed for partial summary judgment on September 23, 2020, which was denied on November 17, 2020. A bench trial set for January 19, 2021, has been postponed due to the pandemic, and is now scheduled for June 2021.

In the course of discovery, the government agreed to lift a confidentiality designation on certain information produced, including deposition excerpts from an officer confirming that CBP no longer requires agents to possess “actionable intelligence” prior to performing security checks at transportation hubs like bus stations. That requirement came into place during the Obama administration, but was lifted after Trump’s election. In addition, the confidentiality designation was lifted on an internal CBP memo from January 2020 detailing Border Patrol’s interpretation of its statutory authority to engage in “suspicionless and consensual encounters” at public bus or train stations.

Counsel: ACLU of Washington | Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

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

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