Wilbur P.G. v. United States

Wilbur P.G, et al., v. United States, No. 4:21-cv-44657 (N.D. Cal., filed June 10, 2021)

Plaintiffs are three families who were separated at the Arizona border in May 2018 under the Department of Justice’s Zero Tolerance policy. The parents were separated from their children while in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, under the guise of pursuing criminal prosecutions against the parents. Two parents were never criminally prosecuted, while the other parent was prosecuted for illegal entry—a misdemeanor—and served a three-day sentence in criminal custody.

After separating the children from their parents, CBP officers transferred the plaintiff children to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The families were separated for weeks. While detained, one parent sustained lasting physical injuries after being denied medical attention. One of the children was sexually abused while in ORR custody.

The families sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act to recover damages caused by the separation itself, as well as the physical and emotional injuries suffered by various plaintiffs during their time in detention.

Plaintiffs filed suit on June 10, 2021 in the Northern District of California. On January 5, 2022, Defendant United States filed a motion to transfer the case to the District of Arizona. Defendants also moved to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On May 10, 2022, the district court denied Defendant’s motion to transfer and motion to dismiss. On May 24, 2022, Defendant filed its answer to the complaint; Defendant later amended the answer on July 29, 2022.

Documents:

Counsel: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area | Keker, Van Nest & Peters

Contact: Victoria Petty | vpetty@lccrsf.org

Press:

Note: Other family separation cases filed in California include:

  • I.T. v. United States, 4:22-cv-5333 (N.D. Cal., filed Sept. 20, 2022);
  • J.R.G. and M.A.R. v. United States, 4:22-cv-5183 (N.D. Cal., filed Sept. 12, 2022);
  • Rodriguez v. United States, 2:22-cv-2845 (C.D. Cal., filed Apr. 28, 2022);
  • A.F.P. v. United States, 1:21-cv-780 (E.D. Cal., filed May 14, 2021);
  • Nunez Euceda v. United States, 2:20-cv-10793 (C.D. Cal., filed Nov. 25, 2020).

Other family separation cases filed in district courts in other states:

  • F.C.C. v. United States, 2:22-cv-5057 (E.D.N.Y., filed Aug. 25, 2022);
  • W.P.V. v. Cayuga Home for Children, Inc. and United States, 1:21-cv-4436 (S.D.N.Y., filed May 17, 2021);
  • C.D.A. v. United States, 5:21-cv-469 (E.D. Pa., filed Feb. 1, 2021);
  • R.Y.M.R v. United States, 1:20-cv-23598 (S.D. Fla., filed Aug. 28, 2020);
  • D.J.C.V. v. United States, 1:20-cv-5747 (S.D.N.Y., filed July 24, 2020).

For a list of District of Arizona family separation cases, consult the entry on C.M. v. United States.

Letters Protesting CBP’s Practice of Confiscating Sikh Individuals’ Turbans During Asylum Processing

On August 1, 2022, the ACLU of Arizona, along with the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, filed a letter with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus asking for an investigation and cessation of the Yuma Border Patrol Sector’s practice of confiscating religious headwear from Sikh individuals seeking asylum. The letter argued that such confiscations violate individuals’ religious freedom rights, federal law, and CBP’s own non-discrimination policy.

The ACLU of Arizona, ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, and Sikh Coalition, along with over 160 other organizations sent a second letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on August 22, 2022.  The letter requested DHS investigation on the broader property confiscation issue to include all religious articles of faith, personal belongings, and access to religious-compliant meals.

Counsel: ACLU of Arizona | ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief

Contact: Vanessa Pineda, vpineda@acluaz.org | Noah Schramm, nschramm@acluaz.org

Press:

Clark v. Wolf

Clark v. Wolf, No. 3:20-cv-1436 (D. Or., filed Aug. 24, 2020)

In July 2020, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers—in concert with other federal and local law enforcement officers—used violent crowd control devices on nonviolent protestors during ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon. This included the use of tear gas, pepper-spray balls, rubber bullets, and flashbangs, which disoriented and injured many protestors.

Four individuals who had participated in the protests brought a putative class action against federal law enforcement officers, seeking damages under Bivens for the physical and mental harms they had suffered from the defendants’ actions. Additionally, the plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the use of tear gas on peaceful protestors violates the First Amendment.

On February 3, 2022, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ damages claims on the basis that special factors counseled against the extending of Bivens to the context of plaintiffs’ claims. A rule 54(b) judgment issued, which plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

On June 27, 2022, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the case and the pending appeal.

Documents:

Counsel: Pickett Dummigan McCall LLP | Elliot & Park PC | Sugerman Law Office | Harmon Johnson LLC | Chase Law PC | People’s Law Project | Piucci Law | Michelle R. Burrows PC

A.F.P. and J.F.C. v. United States of America

A.F.P. and J.F.C. v. United States of America, No. 1:21-cv-780 (E.D. Cal., filed May 14, 2021)

Plaintiff A.F.P. and his fifteen-year-old son J.F.C., both citizens of Honduras, approached Border Patrol agents near McAllen, Texas to seek asylum. Instead, Border Patrol agents separated J.F.C. from his father and detained both in a holding facility, often referred to as a hielera or “ice box” for its freezing cold temperatures. The hielera was cold and cramped, and the food provided was frozen and expired.

The two were only permitted to speak to each other for 30 minutes per day. Three days after the two were taken into custody, A.F.P. was charged with illegal entry and taken to federal criminal court. During A.F.P.’s court hearing, CBP and ICE officers designated J.F.C. as an unaccompanied minor, transferred his custody to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and moved him to a facility in New York. When A.F.P. returned to the detention center, his son was gone. The officers did not advise A.F.P. of the reason or destination of his son’s transfer.

In New York, J.F.C. resided at the Children’s Village facility, where he was not allowed to communicate with his father, was denied medical care, and was subject to emotional abuse. As a result of this neglect, J.F.C. suffers from hearing loss from an untreated ear infection and severe memory problems because of the trauma he experienced.

During this time, A.F.P. was held in ICE detention in Texas, where he had an interview with an asylum officer and was told he had a credible asylum case. After officers at the detention center put A.F.P. in touch with a notary public who led him to believe that pursuing his asylum case would keep him from reuniting with his son, A.F.P. withdrew his asylum application at his hearing in front of an immigration judge. He was then transferred to maximum security prisons and deported a month later. He was separated from his son for almost fifteen months. A human rights organization later helped A.F.P. lawfully re-enter the U.S. and reunite with J.F.C.

Plaintiffs filed suit against the federal government in the Eastern District of California, seeking damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, negligence as to family separation, and negligence. Defendant United States moved to dismiss the claims and moved to transfer the case to the Southern District of Texas. On July 11, 2022, the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action regarding J.F.C.’s time in ORR custody as barred by the independent contractor exception to the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity.  On July 26, 2022, Defendant filed its answer to the remaining claims.

Documents:

Counsel: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P.

Johnson v. United States of America

Carey Johnson v. United States of America, No. 18-cv-2178 (S.D. Cal., filed Sept. 20, 2018)

Carey Johnson is a U.S. citizen and military veteran who resides in Mexico. Johnson has a disability and carries a Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) identification card with a disability designation. He frequently crosses the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego to receive treatment at VA facilities.  On September 22, 2016, Johnson approached Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Otay Mesa SENTRI gate and requested that he be allowed to use the SENTRI gate for expedited crossing as an accommodation for his disability. CBP denied his request, and officers told him he would need to request accommodations each time he crossed the border. After this encounter, the CBP officer wrote up a report that led to Johnson being repeatedly stopped and harassed on several future crossings.

During Johnson’s following border crossings, he attempted to request accommodations to expedite his border crossing. CBP officers repeatedly abused him. On one occasion, CBP officers impounded his car and shackled him to a bench for 3 hours. On another, officers dragged him from his car and tasered him. CBP agents seized his car on at least two occasions, allegedly based on SENTRI lane violations. CBP officers refused to return the car unless Johnson paid a $10,000 fine, which he was unable to afford.

Johnson eventually sued to seek redress for the repeated abuses he suffered. He sought damages under Bivens, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,the Federal Tort Claims Act, and California’s Bane Act. On July 14, 2020, the district court dismissed Johnson’s Bivens claims against the individual CBP officers. On January 25, 2021, the court granted Defendant United States’ motion for summary judgment on the Rehabilitation Act and Bane Act claims.

The case settled and was dismissed pursuant to a joint motion on March 26, 2021.

Documents:

Counsel: Robbins & Curtin, P.L.L.C.
Contact: Joel Robbins | joel@robbinsandcurtin.com

Reyes v. United States, DOE CBP Officers 1-30

Reyes v. United States, DOE CBP Officers 1-30, No. 3:20-cv-01752 (S.D. Cal., filed Sept. 8, 2020)

On August 2, 2018, Marco Reyes was waiting in his car to cross into the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California. Due to an incident in another vehicle lane, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer knocked at Reyes’ car window and asked him to step out of the car. Reyes, who suffered from significant hearing loss from military service, did not immediately hear the officer or comply with his commands. When Reyes realized the officer was speaking to him, he immediately got out of the car and stood behind his vehicle. The CBP officer then began to yell profanities at Reyes and bumped him with his chest, accusing him of not immediately following directions. When Reyes raised his hand to keep the officer from bumping into him, the officer accused him of assault and called for back-up assistance. A larger group of CBP officers arrived, pushed Reyes to the ground, and proceeded to beat him up while he was on the ground, injuring his shoulder and arm and breaking several ribs. After beating Reyes up, the officers arrested him for assault on a federal officer. The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to pursue prosecution of Reyes.

On September 8, 2020, Reyes filed this action, alleging violations of his rights under California’s Bane Act, the federal Rehabilitation Act, and the Federal Tort Claims Act. On February 16, 2021, the district court dismissed Reyes’ Bane Act claims and Rehabilitation Act claims without prejudice and with leave to file an amended complaint. The court also dismissed on consent the FTCA claims against the individual CBP officers.

Reyes proceeded to file two amended complaints. The case settled and was dismissed pursuant to a joint motion to dismiss on January 11, 2022.

Documents:

Counsel: McKenzie Scott, P.C.
Contact: Timothy Scott | tscott@mckenziescott.com

Anibowei v. Morgan

Anibowei v. Morgan, No. 20-10059 (5th Cir., appeal filed Jan. 17, 2020); Anibowei v. Wolf, Civil Action No. 3:16-CV-3495 (N.D. Tex., filed Dec. 23, 2016)

Anibowei filed a lawsuit to challenge the actions of the CBP officers—and the underlying CBP and ICE directives—as violative of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). He sought damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents as well as injunctive and declaratory relief. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. On February 14, 2019, the court dismissed Anibowei’s claims under Bivens as improperly pled, with leave to replead. On March 14, 2019, Anibowei filed a second amended complaint, and shortly thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment and for a preliminary injunction. On January 14, 2020, the district court denied Anibowei’s motions for partial summary judgment and a preliminary injunction. 

George Anibowei—a U.S. citizen and licensed attorney based in Dallas, Texas—was repeatedly stopped and questioned by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers when returning to the United States from international travel. On several such occasions, CBP officers also searched Anibowei’s cellphone and copied the cellphone’s contents without a warrant. CBP conducted these nonconsensual searches of Anibowei’s cellphone in accordance with CBP and ICE internal directives that permit the search of electronic devices at the border without individualized suspicion.

On January 17, 2020, Anibowei appealed the district court’s decision, asking the Fifth Circuit to rule on whether searching a cellphone without exigent circumstances or a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment, even if said search is conducted at the U.S. border. On December 3, 2020, the Fifth Circuit heard oral argument in this case. No opinion has been issued.

Documents

Counsel: Arnold & Porter
Contact: Andrew Tutt | Andrew.tutt@arnoldporter.com

Haitian Bridge Alliance, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 1:21-cv-03317 (D.D.C., filed Dec. 20, 2021)

Mirard Joseph is a Haitian man who was whipped by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while attempting to bring food to his family in a Texas migrant encampment. Mr. Joseph alleges his wife received only bread and water and a single diaper for their infant daughter each day—conditions that eventually drove him and others to leave the Del Rio encampment and return to Mexico to buy food. When they attempted to reenter the camp with their purchases, they were met by Border Patrol officers who grabbed Mr. Joseph’s shirt, “lashed at him with reins, attempted to drag him back into the water, and nearly trampled him.”

Mr. Joseph and ten other Haitian nationals held in the temporary Border Patrol camp allege that this mistreatment was part of a discriminatory policy by the Biden administration to target Haitians. Plaintiffs allege that the U.S. government differentially applied the Title 42 process—a summary expulsion process purportedly designed to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the government used Title 42 at the Del Rio Port of Entry against Haitian and Haitian-appearing asylum seekers with the purpose of discouraging them from accessing their right to seek asylum. Plaintiffs assert that this Haitian Deterrence Policy diverges from standard practice for asylum seekers and is driven by discriminatory purpose. Despite ample warning that thousands of Haitian migrants were heading toward Del Rio, federal authorities refused to prepare adequate infrastructure to receive them when arrivals started ramping up in September. As a result, a makeshift processing center under the Del Rio International Bridge turned into an encampment, where up to 15,000 people were made to wait for days at a time in temperatures topping 100 degrees without adequate food, water, bedding, or medical attention.

Footage described in the complaint prompted a national outcry in September 2021, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki calling the tape “horrific” during her September 20 press briefing. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas launched an internal investigation into the encounter. While the Secretary initially called for findings to be released by the end of September, results are still pending.

Plaintiffs allege that the Haitian Deterrence Policy did not end with mistreatment in Del Rio. After being processed for admission, the U.S. government placed those Haitian asylum seekers in detention, split up families, and shackled and removed them to Haiti without providing the opportunity to request humanitarian protection in the United States. Plaintiff Wilson Doe testified that DHS officers lied and said his family was being transferred to another detention facility when they were actually being expelled pursuant to Title 42. Officers then beat him when he resisted boarding the plane.

Plaintiffs allege violations of the Fifth Amendment due process clause and the Administrative Procedure Act. They also seek certification for a class of all Haitian or presumed Haitian individuals who were denied access to the U.S. asylum process in or around the Del Rio encampment between September 9 and 24, 2021. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief enjoining the government from subjecting members of the proposed class to the Haitian Deterrence Policy or Title 42 expulsions. They also seek return of those already expelled under Title 42 to allow them to pursue their asylum claims. Plaintiffs filed their complaint on December 20, 2021. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on June 10, 2022.

Documents:
Complaint
Motion to Dismiss

Counsel: Innovation Law Lab; Haitian Bridge Alliance; Justice Action Center.

Contacts:
Taisha Santil | tsaintil@haitianbridge.org
Tasha Moro | tasha.moro@justiceactioncenter.org
Alex Mensing | alexm@innovationlawlab.org

Press:
Class Action Ties Alleged Whipping To Haitian Discrimination
Haitian Migrants File Lawsuit Protesting Treatment by Border Patrol

Dousa v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Dousa v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 3:19-cv-01255 (S.D. Cal., filed Jul. 8, 2019)

Pastor Kaji Douša sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to stop their unlawful retaliation against her for providing pastoral services to migrants and refugees—a central calling of her Christian faith. In 2018, Pastor Douša helped organize the “Sanctuary Caravan,” a mobile clinic of faith leaders to deliver pastoral services, such as prayer and church-blessed marriage ceremonies, to migrants seeking asylum in the United States. In December 2018, Pastor Douša traveled to Mexico to join the Sanctuary Caravan. But upon attempting to return to the United States, federal officials detained and interrogated her. She later learned that DHS had targeted her for heightened scrutiny and had revoked her clearance for expedited border crossing as part of Operation Secure Line, a DHS intelligence collection operation targeting activists, lawyers, and journalists working on issues related to the October 2018 migrant caravan and conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border. In March 2019, media outlet NBC 7 San Diego revealed existence of a “watchlist” that included the names, photos, and information of fifty-nine individuals purportedly tied to the migrant caravans, including Pastor Douša.

Pastor Douša brought this suit in July 2019, alleging retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, and violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). She seeks declaratory relief and an injunction compelling the government to stop surveilling, detaining, interrogating, or acting unlawfully against her in retaliation for how, when, and where she exercises her religion.

On January 28, 2020, the court denied Pastor Douša’s motion for a preliminary injunction and granted in part the government’s motion to dismiss. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s hybrid First Amendment rights claim, which asserted a Free Exercise claim in conjunction with a free speech and association claim, but allowed her to proceed with her First Amendment free exercise and RFRA claims. The parties have continued to engage in discovery. In December 2021, Pastor Douša moved to sanction DHS for misrepresentations, discovery delays, and failure to correct a false declaration. The court heard arguments on the motion for sanctions onMay 12, 2022, and denied the motion that same day. A bench trial was held the week of August 29, 2022, and the parties submitted closing briefs on September 30, 2022. The parties are awaiting a ruling from the court.

Further information can be found on the Protect Democracy website.

Two other lawsuits related to the unlawful targeting of journalists, attorneys, and advocates as part of Operation Secure Line are Guan v. Mayorkas and Phillips v. CBP.

Documents:

Counsel:
Arnold & Porter LLP; Protect Democracy

Contact:
Stanton Jones | stanton.jones@arnoldporter.com
Christine Kwon | christine.kwon@protectdemocracy.org

Press:
New York Pastor and Immigration Advocate Asks Court to Sanction Federal Officials
Source: Leaked Documents Show the U.S. Government Tracking Journalists and Immigration Advocates Through a Secret Database – NBC 7 San Diego (nbcsandiego.com)

Granillo v. United States of America

Granillo v. United States of America, No. 2:21-cv-00777 (D.N.M., filed Aug. 18, 2021)

Anastacio Granillo is a 64-year-old man who was assaulted by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the Columbus Port of Entry while returning home from visiting family in Mexico in June 2019. On June 18, 2019, Mr. Granillo arrived at the Columbus Port of Entry with his wife’s cousin. At passport check, Mr. Granillo suggested to CBP Officer Oscar Orrantia that it would be helpful to open up another lane to allow for faster processing of vehicles in the heat. The officer responded in an angry tone and stated that CBP officers could do whatever they wanted. The CBP officer then asked what Mr. Granillo was bringing into the United States. Mr. Granillo responded that he was bringing allergy medication that he purchased in Mexico. He attempted to hand the medication to the officer, but accidentally dropped it, and it landed in the officer’s hands. The officer accused Mr. Granillo of throwing the medication at him before forcing him out of his vehicle and slamming him against the wall of the vehicle inspection bay, causing him to hit his head, fall to the ground, and suffer multiple injuries. CBP then detained him without medical help for close to an hour, despite him having a large visible bump on his forehead.

Mr. Granillo filed a complaint in the District of New Mexico on August 18, 2021. He alleged Officer Orrantia used excessive and unnecessary force against him and illegally detained him. Mr. Granillo claims the following causes of action under the Federal Tort Claims Act: assault, battery, false arrest, and negligence. The government filed an answer to the complaint on October 22, 2021. The parties met on December 16, 2021, and filed a joint status report outlining their provisional discovery plan on January 3, 2022. Defendants attempted to stay discovery and release of a key piece of video evidence for six months. On March 8, 2022, the District Court denied the requested six-month stay and ordered release of the video on or before May 5, 2022. The court held a Rule 16 conference on May116, 2022. On July 6, 2022, the parties reached a tentative settlement agreement. The parties moved to vacate the scheduling order and deadlines on July 19, 2022, in order to finalize settlement discussions, and moved to dismiss the case on August 30, 2022.

Documents:
Complaint
Answer
Joint Status Report

Counsel:
ACLU of New Mexico

Contact:
María Martínez Sánchez | msanchez@aclu-nm.org
Zoila Alvarez Hernández | zalvarez@aclu-nm.org
Rebecca Fae Sherman Sheff | rsheff@aclu-nm.org

Press:
ACLU Sues CBP for Excessive Force Against New Mexican Man at Columbus Port of Entry