Complaint Against CBP Over Failed Policies Regarding Return of Belongings

Complaint Against CBP Over Failed Policies Regarding Return of Belongings

On April 6, 2016, the New Mexico ACLU Center for Border Rights, along with the Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional and other partners, filed a complaint with DHS which documented 26 cases in which belongings—including important identity documents, money, and irreplaceable personal items—were confiscated by Border Patrol agents from individuals they apprehended and never returned at the time that the individuals were deported.  The reported cases highlight the devastating consequences that can flow from the loss of critical documents and money.  These 26 incidents are illustrative of the serious systemic problems with respect to CBP’s policies on return of belongings, including the ability for individual agent’s to abuse the system.

Counsel: Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional, ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights, ACLU Foundation of Texas, American Immigration Council, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild

Contact: Kristin Love | klove@aclu-nm.org | (505) 266-5915 extension 1007

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Administrative Complaint Re: Extreme Temperatures in CBP Short Term Detention Facilities

Administrative Complaint Re: Extreme Temperatures in CBP Short Term Detention Facilities

On February 2, 2016, NIP/NLG, in collaboration with Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional  and the ACLU of New Mexico, filed an administrative complaint on behalf of persons held by CBP in short-term detention facilities where they are exposed to extreme temperatures. The administrative complaint also challenges the agency standards  addressing temperature controls in short-term facilities, but asserts that the agency fails to abide even by these standards.

Shortly after the complaint was filed, DHS OIG announced that it would inspect short-term detention facilities.

Counsel: Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional (PDIB) | National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild | ACLU of New Mexico

Contact: Trina Realmuto | National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild | trina@nipnlg.org

S.V. v. United States

S.V. v. United States, 8:16-cv-00419 (D. Neb, filed Sept. 2, 2016)

In the middle of 2014, a 14-year-old U.S. citizen, whose parents were from Guatemala, was traveling back to the U.S. with her older sister when she was taken into custody by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

While she had been born in Florida, her family moved back to Guatemala shortly after her birth.  She lived there for the next 13 years.  However, as a result of increasingly horrific gang violence, her family’s poverty, and difficult circumstances in the home, she decided she needed to return to the country of her birth, the United States.

Upon arriving at the U.S. border and presenting a copy of her Florida birth certificate, she was shocked to be detained and accused of presenting a fake document.  After her arrest, CBP transferred her to what she called the “hielera” or “icebox.” She was held in federal custody for 44 days before finally being released into the custody of a family member living in Nebraska.

However, the Department of Homeland Security continued to insist for almost a year that this U.S. citizen child should be deported back to Guatemala, before the Immigration Court terminated her removal proceedings and concluded she is a U.S. citizen.

As a result of the ordeal, this child has experienced significant emotional distress.  She filed her FTCA administrative complaint on October 14, 2015 against CBP, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). On March 4, 2016, CBP responded by issuing a final denial of her complaint. On July 6, 2016, DHHS closed the complaint without a decision in light of CBP’s denial. Following these denials, she filed an FTCA lawsuit in the District of Nebraska on September 2, 2016.

On January 26, 2017, the United States filed an answer to the complaint. In June 2017 the parties reached a settlement agreement after the meet and confer process, in which the government agreed to award monetary damages in the amount of $40,000 as satisfaction for any and all injuries to person and property this child suffered.

On June 14, 2017, the court dismissed the action.

Counsel: Justice for Our Neighbors

Contact: Charles Shane Ellison | charles@jfon-ne.org(402) 898-1349

Rios-Diaz, et al. v. Colonel Tom Butler, Montana Highway Patrol, et al.

Rios-Diaz v. Montana Highway Patrol, No. 13-CV-77 (D. Mont. 2014)

On October 7, 2013, the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (“MIJA”) and four representative plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana against Colonel Tom Butler, sued in his official capacity as acting Chief Administrator of the Montana Highway Patrol, and Attorney General Tim Fox, sued in his official capacity as head of the Montana Department of Justice.

The lawsuit alleges that Montana Highway Patrol has a policy and practice of seizing Latino drivers or passengers, that a patrol officer believes may be in the country without authorization, for a prolonged period of time–often between forty minutes to two hours. The sole basis for detaining these individuals is to make contact with the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) to ascertain their immigration status and determine if an immigration enforcement officer wishes to assume custody of them.

On April 2, 2015, a final judgment was entered by U.S. District Court Judge Dana L. Christensen, approving an Offer of Judgment provided by Defendants and accepted by Plaintiffs. The settlement requires adherence to a new policy clarifying that Montana State’s Highway Patrol will not stop or prolong detention for purposes for verifying immigration status, even if requested to do so by CBP or ICE. In addition, the judgment also requires, among other things, training for MHP officials as to the new policy, requires MHA to collect data on all traffic stops anytime MHP contacts DHS and requires MHP to submit annual reports regarding racial profiling.

Counsel: Shahid Haque-Hausrath | Border Crossing Law Firm, P.C.

Press coverage:

Salem v. USA, et al.

Salem v. USA, et al., No. 5:15-cv-02091-JGB-SP (C.D. Cal., filed Oct. 9, 2015)

Mr. Salem brought this damages case against the United States, the Los Angeles Fire Department, and unknown CBP officers. Mr. Salem is a U.S. citizen who is also a citizen of Egypt. An accomplished playwright, 75 year old Salem was at the Los Angeles airport to begin his annual trip to Egypt, where he taught a literature class as an adjunct professor at the University of Cairo. He passed through security without incident, handed over his boarding pass and entered the passenger bridge to board his plane. At that point he was pulled over by an officer he believes was with CBP, who asked to see his passport. When he asked why he had been singled out, he was immediately surrounded by three other officers who forcibly grabbed both of his arms. They searched his carry-on luggage and, after finding nothing objectionable, forcibly escorted him to an interrogation room. There he was questioned for several hours, during which time the officers forced his arm behind his back, breaking it in the process. After about 4 hours of questioning, he was released without being charged. He was in great pain, and a bone in his arm was visibly displaced.

Mr. Salem’s suit includes Bivens claims under the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure and use of excessive force) and the Fifth Amendment (equal protection). It also includes FTCA claims for assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.

Defendant United States of America filed an answer to the amended complaint on January 18, 2017. Defendant City of Los Angeles filed an answer to the amended complaint on February 9, 2017. Individual Defendants also filed answers to the amended complaint on February 2, 2017 and March 07, 2017. The parties have agreed to stipulations for the Plaintiff’s inspection of the premises where Mr. Salem’s detention took place, and the Court accordingly entered a protective order regarding the Plaintiff’s entry and inspection of the premises on March 15, 2017.

On April 21, 2017, the individual federal Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which Plaintiff opposed. On June 13, 2017, the district court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss. The parties entered into a settlement agreement on September 12, 2017, in which Defendant USA agreed to pay Plaintiff $45,000 under the FTCA in exchange for dismissing all other claims.

Counsel: Counsel on American-Islamic Relations, CA l Law Office of Shafiel A. Karim

Contact: Marwa Rifahie (Civil Rights Managing Attorney) | mrifahie@cair.com

Martinez-Castro, et al. v. Village of Wakeman, et al.

Martinez-Castro, et al. v. Village of Wakeman, et al., U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio, Western Division (N.D. Ohio; 3:12-cv-2364)

In 2012, ABLE filed a federal court complaint on behalf of two Hispanic married couples from Norwalk, Ohio.  The married couples, traveling in the same car and returning from work at a local nursery, were stopped by the Wakeman Police Department early one morning.  Without reasonable suspicion or cause, the Wakeman police officer contacted the U.S. Border Patrol.  When Border Patrol agents arrived at the scene, they proceeded to interrogate and verbally harass the occupants of the car.  The individuals were aggressively removed from the car, handcuffed and taken to the Sandusky Bay Station.  At the station, the individuals were then placed in a room where they were harassed and interrogated by ten to twelve different agents over the course of the day.

The complaint filed against the Village of Wakeman and the U.S. Border Patrol alleges claims under the Fourth Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Bivens claims against the individual Border Patrol agents and claims pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act.  The complaint alleges that the U.S. Border Patrol and the Wakeman Police Department have engaged in illegal profiling of Hispanics and seeks injunctive relief to prohibit the use of race as a motivating factor in stops and detentions.

Following extensive discovery, the court declined to dismiss all but one of Plaintiffs’ claims, finding that they stated a claim for relief and also that they satisfied the pleading standard set out in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678–89 (2009). Subsequently, the parties entered into settlement discussions and reached a resolution of the case in early 2014 in which each of the plaintiffs received $7,000.00 plus an additional amount in attorneys fees.

Vasquez-Palafox v. United States

Vasquez-Palafox v. United States U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio, Western Division (N.D. Ohio; 3:12-cv-2380)

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Sixth Cir. 13-3599)

In a related case to Muñiz v. United States Border Patrol, ABLE filed a subsequent federal court complaint on behalf of an individual who was questioned by two Border Patrol Agents while walking down a street in Fremont, Ohio, after picking up his son at school.  The plaintiff believes he was targeted for questioning because he is Hispanic.  He alleges in his Federal Tort Claims Act case against the United States that two Border Patrol Agents committed the Ohio torts of assault, false imprisonment, deprivation of civil rights through ethnic intimidation, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.  In 2013, the federal district court judge granted the United States’ Motion for Summary Judgment.  The dismissal was appealed and, while pending in the Sixth Circuit, the parties were able to reach a settlement in which the Plaintiff received a nominal amount.

Saucedo-Carrillo, et al. v. United States

Saucedo-Carrillo, et al. v. United States, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio, Western Division (N.D. Ohio; 3:12-cv-2571)

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit  (Sixth Cir. 13-4502)

In a related case to Muñiz v. United States Border Patrol, ABLE filed a Federal Tort Claims Action on behalf of a mother and daughter who allege that a Border Patrol Agent profiled them for arrest because they are Hispanic.  The Plaintiffs were purchasing gasoline at a gas station in Norwalk, Ohio, when an Agent blocked their vehicle and started questioning them.  This lawsuit against the United States alleges the Border Patrol Agent committed the Ohio torts of assault, false imprisonment, deprivation of civil rights through ethnic intimidation, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.  In 2013, the federal district court judge granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the United States.  The Sixth Circuit, in a decision on August 13, 2015, affirmed the grant of summary judgment 2 -1, with the dissenting opinion stating that a factfinder could find that the Plaintiffs were falsely imprisoned before the Border Patrol Agent developed probable cause for an arrest.

On a related note, the Plaintiffs had been placed in removal proceedings.  The Immigration Judge found that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the conduct of the Border Patrol Agent, but the violation was not egregious.  The removal cases were administratively closed.

Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Civil Clinic and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Civil Clinic and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division (S.D. Ohio; 2:14-cv-2329), transferred to U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio, Western Division (N.D. Ohio; 3:15-cv-833)

The Ohio State University College of Law Civil Clinic and ABLE filed a FOIA request with U.S. Customs and Border Protection on August 18, 2014.  The requested documents focus on enforcement efforts of the Sandusky Bay Station (Ohio) of the U.S. Border Patrol, including apprehension and arrest records; records relating to cooperation between Border Patrol and local police; and records of any civil rights investigations against the Border Patrol.  When no timely response was received, the requesters filed a lawsuit against CBP in the S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division (Columbus).  The U.S. Attorney filed a motion to transfer the case to the Northern District of Ohio; the Plaintiffs opposed the motion.  The motion was granted and the case was transferred to Judge Jack Zouhary in the Northern District based on his prior handling of a series of cases against the Sandusky Bay Station of the U.S. Border Patrol.  The Defendant has, as of October 12, 2015, started a phased delivery of requested information.

ACLU of Arizona v. DHS (Tucson Interior Enforcement FOIA)

ACLU of Arizona v. DHS, No.CV-14-2052-TUC-RM-BPV (D. Az., filed April 28, 2014) (Tucson Interior Enforcement FOIA)

In January 2014, the Arizona ACLU and two University of Arizona law professors filed a FOIA request with DHS seeking records related to interior enforcement activities by the Border Patrol’s Tucson and Yuma Sectors (covering all of Arizona and a portion of southeastern California) from 2011 to 2014. The request specified that it included complaints and investigations, apprehension statistics, stop records, policies, and training materials.

DHS failed to respond to the FOIA request, prompting the Plaintiffs to sue in federal court in April 2014.  The government eventually identified at least 10,000 pages of responsive records, but has released only half of those records. Approximately 1,200 pages were withheld in full and the remaining records were heavily redacted; there was no legal justification or explanation for these redactions. CBP subsequently acknowledged the existence of substantially more responsive records, which it has refused to provide.

As of April 2017, litigation is ongoing. On January 26, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a report and recommendation that the District Court (1) grant in part and deny in part Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, and (2) grant in party and deny in part Plaintiffs’ Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. DHS filed its objection to the report and recommendation on March 15, 2017.

Even the limited records released to date provide troubling insights into Border Patrol’s internal enforcement operations.  In October 2015, the ACLU released a report, Record of Abuse, based on the agency records it obtained, which the ACLU also made available on its website.

The parties have entered into a settlement agreement, the terms of which are confidential.

Contact: Kathy Brody | ACLU of Arizona | kbrody@acluaz.org 

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