Al Otro Lado v. Nielsen

Al Otro Lado, et al. v. Nielsen, et al., Case No. 3:17-cv-02366 (S.D. Cal., filed July 12, 2017)

On July 12, 2017, the American Immigration Council, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Latham & Watkins, LLP, filed a class action lawsuit challenging U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”)’s unlawful practice of turning away asylum seekers who present themselves at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Plaintiffs in the case are Al Otro Lado (a non-profit legal services organization that serves indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees in Los Angeles and Tijuana) and six courageous asylum seekers who experienced CBP’s unlawful conduct firsthand.  Their experiences demonstrate that CBP uses a variety of tactics—including misrepresentation, threats and intimidation, verbal and physical abuse, and coercion—to deny bona fide asylum seekers the opportunity to pursue their claims.  The complaint alleges that CBP’s conduct violates the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and the doctrine of non-refoulement under international law.

On November 13, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification, which included dozens of declarations from asylum seekers CBP had turned away at the border. On November 28, 2017, the Court granted Defendants’ motion to transfer venue to the Southern District of California and dismissed all pending motions without prejudice. On December 15, 2017, Defendants again filed a motion to dismiss, and Plaintiffs opposed that motion. On February 5, 2018, Defendants filed a reply to Plaintiff’s opposition. As of August 2018, the parties are awaiting a decision on the motion.

Counsel: Latham & Watkins LLP | American Immigration Council | Center for Constitutional Rights

Contact: Manuel A. Abascal | Latham & Watkins LLP | manny.abascal@lw.com | 213-485-1234

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American Immigration Lawyers Association v. DHS, et al.

American Immigration Lawyers Association v. DHS, et al., No. 1:16-cv-02470 (D.D.C. filed Dec. 19, 2016)

On July 10, 2013, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), submitted a FOIA request to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), seeking records relating to the issuance and implementation of the Officers’ Resource Tool (ORT) and how it has come to replace the Inspector’s Field Manual (IFM). The ORT replaced the IFM, which previously provided guidance regarding the inspection and admission of individuals into the United States at U.S. ports of entry. CBP failed to produce any responsive records and did not respond to AILA’s administrative appeal.

In December 2016, the American Immigration Council, in cooperation with Foley and Lardner, LLP, filed the lawsuit on AILA’s behalf seeking to compel CBP to release the ORT. On June 7, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court denied on March 30, 2018. As of August 2018, the case is still pending.

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee v. CBP

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 1:17-cv-00708 (D.D.C. filed April 18, 2017)

In March 2017, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with CBP seeking agency records relating to Global Entry System (GES) revocations, suspensions, terminations, confirmations, and policy practices. ADC alleged that after the November 2016 presidential election, and significantly accelerating following President Trump’s attempted travel ban implementation, CBP began revoking—without explanation—Global Entry System approval for Arabs and Muslims who previously had been approved for Global Entry. ADC further alleged that the revocations were not isolated incidents but rather part of a wider pattern in which CBP singled out travelers with Arab or Muslim names or ancestries and revoked their GES approval without any accompanying material change in circumstance or security risk. Those singled out for revocation included doctors, bankers, students, and businesspeople. These revocations also corresponded with inexplicably heightened scrutiny by CBP agents towards Arab and Muslim travelers in the wake of the travel ban.

Through its FOIA request, ADC specifically sought agency records relating to each revocation, suspension, or termination of GES participation beginning November 9, 2016, as well as additional records that would show a pattern of CBP’s singling out Arab and Muslim travelers from whom to revoke GES approval, including agency records created on or after November 9, 2016, relating to the operation or functioning of the GES program and containing the words or phrases “Muslim,” “Arab,” “ban,” “Muslim ban,” or “travel ban.”

CBP failed to disclose the requested records within the designated timeframe. In April 2017 ADC sought declaratory and injunctive relief to compel DHS to produce the requested records.

On February 19, 2018, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. As of August 2018, the case is stayed pending the parties’ negotiations.

Co-Counsel: R. Andrew Free | Law Office of R. Andrew Free

Co-Counsel: Gregory H. Siskind | Siskind Susser, PC

Contact: R. Andrew Free | andrew@immigrationcivilrights.com | 844-321-3221

Murphy v. CBP

Murphy v. CBP, No. 3:15-cv-00133-GMG-RWT (N.D.W.V., filed Dec. 4, 2015)

Acting pro se, a former armed security guard under federal contract at the CBP Training Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against CBP on December 4, 2015.  The complaint alleged that CBP unlawfully redacted or withheld over 80% of the responsive documents that Plaintiff sought in conjunction with an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint he filed alleging that CBP unlawfully terminated him due to his race and his wife’s race and religion.

After initially moving to dismiss the complaint due to insufficient service, which the district court denied, CBP moved for summary judgment.  Plaintiff opposed the motion, cross-filed for summary judgment, and filed a motion to compel as well as for in camera review of the documents.  After the completing of briefing, on August 5, 2016, the district court denied CBP’s motion for summary judgment, holding that CBP failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that documents responsive to the Plaintiff’s FOIA request were withheld pursuant to a recognized FOIA exemption under FOIA.  The court further established a schedule for the filing of a Vaughn index and for additional briefing from the parties. The court also denied without prejudice Plaintiff’s motion for in camera review of the responsive documents.

On August 8, 2015, CBP filed its answer to the complaint.

On June 13, 2017, the court denied Defendant’s third motion for summary judgment, granted Plaintiff’s cross motion for summary judgment, and ordered Defendant to reimburse Plaintiff for the expenses he incurred in bringing the suit.

Cervantes v. United States, et al.

Cervantes v. United States, et al., No. 4:16-cv-00334-CKJ (D. Ariz., filed June 8, 2016) 

On June 8, 2016, Plaintiff, a teenage U.S. citizen, filed a law suit under Bivens, the Federal Tort Claim Act, and 42 U.S.C. 1983 seeking redress for seven hours of abusive and degrading searches and strip searches by Border Patrol agents.  The complaint alleges that Plaintiff was walking home after eating breakfast in Nogales, Sonora when a Border Patrol agent accused her of carrying drugs.  She was then directed to a detention room, handcuffed to a chair, sniffed by dogs, and strip-searched by female agents.   After no drugs were found, CBP agents brought her to Holy Cross Hospital, in handcuffs, where hospital staff subjected her to invasive pelvic and rectal exams while CBP agents observed.

On October 24, 2016, the Government filed their answer to the complaint.

On February 7, 2017, the government filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s Bivens claims against Defendant Patrick F. Martinez, M.D. On February 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant Martinez’s motion to dismiss. Subsequently, Defendant Martinez withdrew his motion to dismiss on February 28, 2017.

On November 10, 2017, Defendant Quantum Plus filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff erroneously brought a negligent hiring claim based solely on a Bivens action against an agent. Several days later, Defendant Holy Cross Hospital moved to join in Quantum Plus’ motion. On February 19, 2018, Defendant Martinez filed a separate motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff could not bring a Bivens action against him because he was privately employed and not acting under claim of federal authority at the time of the medical examination.

The court granted the motions on July 18, 2018, dismissing the complaint with prejudice. With respect to Quantum Plus and Holy Cross Hospitals’ motion, the court reasoned that Plaintiff could not hold Defendants liable on a negligent hiring, training, and supervision claim in a Bivens cause of action. Regarding Defendant Martinez’ motion, the court held that it may not impose Bivens liability because Plaintiff may pursue an alternate state court action.

Counsel: Brian Marchetti, Marchetti Law PLC and Matthew C. Davidson | Law Offices of Matthew C Davidson Limited

Arizona Interior Enforcement Complaint

Arizona Interior Enforcement Complaint

In June 2016, the ACLU of Arizona filed a complaint on behalf of ten individuals with U.S. Department of Homeland Security oversight agencies and the Department of Justice demanding investigations into abuses arising from Border Patrol interior operations.

Most of the incidents described in the ACLU’s complaint arose in the course of Border Patrol checkpoint and “roving patrol” stops.  Several describe agents wrongfully detaining innocent residents for days in filthy, frigid, and overcrowded detention facilities.  Although these individuals were not charged with any crime or immigration violation, their property was confiscated and some had to pay thousands of dollars to recover a vehicle.

In other cases, residents describe facing constant surveillance and harassment on their own property, including frequent incursions by low-flying Border Patrol helicopters.

A copy of the ACLU complaint to CBP and DOJ is available here.

Contact:  Mitra Ebadolahi| ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties| mebadolahi@aclusandiego.org

American Immigration Council v. United States Department of Homeland Security

American Immigration Council v. United States Department of Homeland SecurityNo. 16-cv-01050-RJL (D.C. District Court, Filed June 6, 2016)

The American Immigration Council filed a FOIA request with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in October, 2015 seeking information about complaints filed against the U.S. Border Patrol since January, 2012. This request followed-up on an earlier FOIA request by the Council in response to which CBP produced data concerning 809 complaints of abuse lodged against U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents between January 2009 and January 2012. The Council analyzed this earlier data in a May 2014 report entitled, No Action Taken: Lack of CBP Accountability in Responding to Complaints of Abuse, revealing that the recorded outcome in 97 percent of the cases CBP claimed to have resolved was “no action.” The data further showed that “physical abuse” by USBP agents was the most prevalent reason given for filing a complaint (cited in 40 percent of the complaints), with “excessive use of force” referenced in 38 percent of the cases. The October 2015 FOIA was filed in order for the Council to determine whether CBP and USBP had made any improvements to the complaint system, and in particular whether the response to complaints filed against agents had changed.

Over 8 months later, CBP had not responded to the October 2015 FOIA. The Council, represented by Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, filed a lawsuit on June 6, 2016, to compel the release of documents related to the complaints process. CBP subsequently produced a multiple-page spreadsheet listing abbreviated information about thousands of complaints. The parties currently are negotiating for the release of additional documents.

Counsel: The American Immigration Council, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

Contact: Mary Kenney | American Immigration Council | 202.507.7512 | mkenney@immcouncil.org

Perez, C.Y. v. United States

Perez, C.Y. v. United States, 3:13-cv-01417-WQH (S.D. Cal., Fourth Amended Complaint, filed Sep. 22, 2016); 17-56610 (9th Cir., filed Oct. 19, 2017) 

This case challenges CBP and U.S. Border Patrol’s excessive use of force pursuant to the agency’s “Rocking Policy,” which permits the use of lethal force against persons throwing rocks and other objects in the direction of border patrol agents.  Maria Del Socorro Quintero Perez filed a lawsuit against the United States, DHS, CBP, the Office of Border Patrol, and various Border Patrol supervisors and agents in their individual capacities for the wrongful death of her husband, Jesus Alfredo Yañez Reyes.

On June 21, 2011, Yañez and Jose Ibarra-Murietta crossed the border from Mexico to the United States. Soon thereafter they were apprehended by Border Patrol agents Chad Michael Nelson and Dorian Diaz. While Yañez managed to escape back to the Mexican side of the border through a small hole in a fence, Agent Nelson tackled Murietta to the ground and began to strike him. Yañez climbed a tree that leaned against the Mexican side of the fence near the area where Agent Nelson was beating Murietta.

The events that followed are in dispute. Agents Nelson and Diaz allege that, during Nelson’s struggle with Murietta, Yañez threw one or two rocks in the direction of Agent Nelson, neither of which hit him. They further allege that Yañez threw a nail-studded board that struck Agent Nelson in the head. Murietta, meanwhile, asserts that Yañez never threw anything at Agent Nelson, but instead attempted to stop Nelson’s beating of Murietta by threatening to record the scene on his cellphone.

In both versions of the event, Diaz then instructed Yañez to come down from the fence. Without any further warning or provocation from Yañez, Diaz shot Yañez directly in the head, killing him. Yañez fell out of the tree on the southern side of the fence, and neither agent attempted to render any assistance to him.  Agent Nelson sustained only minor injuries, none of which originated from rocks or a nail-studded board.

Plaintiffs argue that, regardless of which version of events is accurate, the agents unlawfully used excessive lethal force against Yañez. Both agents admitted that neither of them gave Yañez any verbal command or warning to stop throwing objects. Furthermore, Yañez’s alleged conduct did not create a risk of death or serious injury; the rocks were small, they did not hit the agents, and the allegedly thrown nail-studded board did not cause Agent Nelson any injury. There was no evidence that Yañez was about to throw any other objects in the moments before the shooting.

Yañez’s death was not an isolated event. According to a detailed report by an expert witness in the case, Thomas Frazier, Border Patrol agents along the U.S-Mexico border have regularly used lethal force against persons of perceived Hispanic or Mexican nationality. Plaintiffs allege that Border Patrol supervisors and other various agents within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acquiesced and tacitly approved of the excessive use of force against persons crossing the border. Between January 2010 and October 2012, border patrol agents responded to an alleged thrown rock with deadly force at least twenty-nine times.

Plaintiffs claim that the government’s Rocking Policy violated international peremptory norms against extrajudicial killings, bilateral treaties, and domestic law, including Fourth and Fifth Amendment and a federal regulation that prohibits the police from using deadly force in the absence of a significant risk of death or serious physical injury Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, reasonable attorney fees, and other reasonable relief.

On February 22, 2016, Defendants’ attorneys filed a motion to dismiss and/or to strike portions of the Plaintiffs’ complaint, seeking to strike all causes of action alleged by the Plaintiffs other than their Fourth Amendment excessive force claim against Agents Nelson and Diaz and Chief of the Border Patrol Michael J. Fisher. In late March 2016, the judge granted Defendants’ motion in part and denied it in part.

Following the District Court’s decision, on September 22, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a fourth amended complaint. On October 20, 2016, Defendants again moved to dismiss the complaint.

On March 3, 2017, the Court granted in part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Fifth Amendment Claims. In addition, the Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s FTCA claims. On April 1, 2017, the remaining two individual defendants filed a motion for summary judgment with respect to the surviving Fourth Amendment  claims. On September 21, 2017, the district court entered an order granting the defendants’ motion, declining to find a Bivens remedy for Plaintiffs’ alleged Fourth Amendment violation and also concluding that qualified immunity barred suit. Plaintiffs have filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit.

The parties completed appeal briefing in May 2018.

Counsel: Singleton Law Firm, APC; Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, LLP; Hilliard & Shadowen, LLP

Contact: Brody McBride | brody@geraldsingleton.com  | (760) 697 1330

Gallegos v. United States of America, et al

Gallegos v. United States of America, et al., No. 5:14-cv-00136 (S.D. Tex., Amended Complaint filed June 23, 2015)

This case challenges the actions of two U.S. Border Patrol agents, who shot dead an unarmed man on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2012. Nora Lam Gallegos, on behalf of herself and her minor children, brought a lawsuit against the United States and various Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in their individual capacities for the wrongful death of her husband, Guillermo Arevalo Pedraz (“Arevalo”).

On September 3, 2012, Arevalo and his family were celebrating his birthday in a park in Mexico bordering the Rio Grande when a U.S. Border Patrol airboat pulled beside a man swimming in the river. The two agents, Matthew Lambrecht and Christopher Boatwright, were responding to a report that three people had swum over to the Texas border. Witnesses allege that the man in the river was swimming back to Mexico in order to evade capture. One of the border agents on the boat attempted to catch the swimmer using a long boat hook. A crowd gathered on the Mexican shore as onlookers shouted at the two agents to leave the man alone. Arevalo ran toward the crowd. The agents in the airboat later reported that about 20 people on the Mexican shore began throwing rocks at the boat, but Mexican witnesses vehemently denied this. One of the agents on the boat aimed and fired at least five shots at the crowd, which included children. Two bullets hit Arevalo. He was rushed to a hospital but was pronounced dead after an unsuccessful attempt to revive him.

A complaint filed by Plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleges that the agents unlawfully used excessive force. Multiple eyewitnesses directly contradict Border Patrol’s assertion that Arevalo was throwing rocks before he was killed. The plaintiffs assert that, even assuming arguendo that Arevalo was throwing rocks, the agents’ response was grossly excessive; a cellphone video of the incident demonstrates that when the agents opened fire, they were beyond the distance at which any thrown rock could pose a risk of death or serious bodily injury, and in any case, the agents could have shielded themselves by moving the boat further from the Mexican shore.

The Plaintiffs allege that the agents were acting pursuant to the Border Patrol’s “Rocking Policy,” which permits the use of lethal force against persons throwing rocks and other objects in the direction of border patrol agents. The Plaintiffs also assert that, despite condemnation from the Mexican government and international human rights organizations, high-ranking DHS and CBP officials have acquiesced to the Rocking Policy.

Plaintiffs allege that the Rocking Policy violates various international treaties as well as the sovereignty of Mexico by permitting Border Patrol agents to fire their weapons into Mexico’s sovereign territory. They also claim that the Rocking Policy violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, reasonable attorney fees, and other reasonable relief.

As of February 2018, the case was stayed pending the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Hernandez, et al. v. Mesa, following that case’s remand from the Supreme Court. On May 29, 2018, the parties filed a joint advisory on the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Hernandez v. Mesa, 885 F.3d 811 (5th Cir. 2018). As of August 2018, the case remains pending.

Counsel: Robert C. Hilliard | Singleton Law Firm, APC; Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, LLP

Contact: Robert C. Hilliard | bobh@hmglawfirm.com | (361) 882-1612

Administrative Complaint Against Border Patrol Re: Denial of Food to Asylum Seekers

Administrative Complaint Against Border Patrol Re: Denial of Food to Asylum Seekers Awaiting Processing at San Yisidro Port of Entry, filed by ACLU of San Diego

On March 17, 2016, U.S. citizen and immigration attorney Nicole Ramos escorted her client “M.” to the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where M., a transgender woman with disabilities, waited in line to request asylum. Ms. Ramos had prepared a letter for M. describing her disabilities and special needs. Approximately eight hours after M. had arrived at the port of entry, Ms. Ramos communicated with M. and learned that she had not received any food. She also learned that when M. tried to present the letter to a CBP officer, the officer told her that “the letter doesn’t mean shit.” Ms. Ramos immediately contacted CBP, who told her that individuals awaiting credible fear interviews were fed three times daily. Another ten hours later – more than 18 hours after arriving at the port of entry – M. had still not received any food, despite multiple requests to CBP officers. A CBP officer on duty told M. that she was responsible for bringing her own food to the port.

At 11 AM on Friday, March 18, attorney Ramos returned to the port of entry to bring M. food. At that time, a CBP officer informed Ms. Ramos that individuals in line for asylum processing would be given something to eat “if they asked.” Despite further requests by M. for something to eat that day, she was not given any food. Around 9 PM on Friday, CBP supervisor Chief Knox told Ms. Ramos that CBP “was not obligated to feed people on the Mexican side” of the port of entry, despite the fact that asylum seekers were processed in the U.S. controlled area of the port.

CBP did not provide M. with any food for 34 hours.  This was in direct violation of the Border Patrol’s own detention standards, which require CBP officers to provide individuals awaiting processing at ports of entry food and water at regular intervals. In its complaint letter to CBP, the ACLU of San Diego also alleges that the denial of food and water violated M.’s substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment. Furthermore, the ACLU alleges that the CBP officers’ abusive remarks and apparent lack of knowledge regarding official agency policies reflect CBP’s inadequate training on the humane treatment of asylum seekers.

The ACLU asks that CBP acknowledge the letter, provide the ACLU with copies of all policies relevant to the treatment of asylum seekers at ports of entry, and issue a formal apology for their treatment of Ms. Ramos and M.

In late April, CBP responded to the ACLU’s complaint.

Counsel: ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties

Contact:  Mitra Ebadolahi | ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties | mebadolahi@aclusandiego.org