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 the administration’s forced return policy, commonly known as the Remain in Mexico policy, was brought by legal organizations that serve asylum seekers and by eleven asylum seekers from Central America harmed by this policy. Defendants include DHS, CBP, USCIS and ICE. The complaint explains that the individual plaintiffs are particularly vulnerable to violence and discrimination in Mexico, of which many have already suffered. Furthermore, without access to legal representation, information regarding immigration court hearings, and financial resources, these asylum-seekers are meaningfully deprived of their right to apply for asylum.

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 agents in carrying out these procedures. The complaint recounts cursory interviews during which plaintiffs routinely were not asked about their fear, were not provided explanations, were coerced into signing documents, and were questioned by agents who did not speak fluent Spanish and who interrupted, got angry with and threatened them. The procedural deficiencies undermine the U.S.’s domestic and international legal obligations to ensure nonrefoulement, or “withholding of removal” under the INA, which prohibits the return of any individual to a country where he or she would more likely than not face persecution.

The policy also substantially interferes with the ability of legal organizations serving asylum seekers and other immigrant populations, as it will strain and divert their resources to helping those in Mexico. Because the government failed to provide notice and comment before implementing this policy as required under the APA, the organizational plaintiffs did not have the opportunity to inform the defendants about the harmful consequences of such a policy or persuade them not to adopt it.

On February 20, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to enjoin the government’s policy of forced return until the court rules whether to grant a preliminary injunction. Defendants have since filed a motion to transfer the case to the Southern District of California.

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

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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’Neill, 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’Neill, 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.

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.

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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. The appeal currently is pending.

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

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.

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, Sosa was approached by Border Patrol agents who began to interrogate him about his legal status. 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 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 Sosa did not comply.

The agents continued to question 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, 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 Sosa experienced humiliation, emotional distress, and other damages during the time he was falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned.

Counsel: ACLU of Washington|Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

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

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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

 

FTCA Administrative Complaint on behalf of US Citizen deported by CBP

FTCA Administrative Complaint on behalf of US Citizen deported by CBP

In September of 2018, Julio Cesar Ovalle filed an administrative complaint against the Department of Homeland Security under the Federal Tort and Claims Act for being unlawfully seized and wrongfully deported last June. Mr. Ovalle, 24, is a U.S. citizen who was born in Los Angeles.

Ovalle, a resident of San Antonio, was stopped by a Border Patrol agent on June 11, 2018 while walking along Portanco Road toward his neighborhood. The agent asked for his “papers,” and refused to believe Ovalle’s assertions of his citizenship. Ovalle told the officer he had a passport and other documentation at home, but the agent did not listen and instead took Ovalle’s phone and transported him to the Border Patrol station in Cotulla. Ovalle was deported the next day to Nuevo Laredo.

In Mexico, Ovalle was kidnapped by cartel members and held for ransom with a group of about 80 other immigrants, including recent deportees. Ovalle’s family called Laredo police, who referred them to the FBI. Ovalle was eventually released at one of the international bridges in Nuevo Laredo, and returned to the U.S.

Counsel: Javier Espinoza Garcia | Espinoza Law Firm, PLLC

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Bressi v. Napier

Bressi v. Napier, No. 4:18-cv-00186-DCB (D. Ariz., amended complaint filed July 2, 2018)

On July 2, 2018, Plaintiff Terry Bressi filed an amended complaint against Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier and other county defendants alleging that they violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights when Sheriff’s deputies arrested him at a Border Patrol checkpoint in April 2017 after refusing to answer Border Patrol’s citizenship questions.  Bressi has also lodged a federal notice of claim against the Border Patrol for the same incident.

Bressi, who has traveled the same route since 1993 from his Tucson home to his rural worksite west of Tucson, has contended many times with the abuses and excesses of the Border Patrol.  For example, Mr. Bressi previously sued another local police agency when it illegally detained him at a checkpoint erected at the direction of the Border Patrol.  See Bressi v. Ford, 575 F.3d 891, 894 (9th Cir. 2009). On April 10, 2017, Bressi was returning home from work when he passed through the Border Patrol checkpoint.  Consistent with his personal opposition to the existence of interior checkpoints, Bressi refused to answer the Border Patrol’s questions. Shortly after, the Pima County Sheriff’s deputy – who was stationed at the checkpoint under a federal grant program called Operation Stonegarden – took over the interaction with Bressi and insisted that he answer the Border Patrol’s questions. Eventually, the deputy arrested Bressi and placed him in handcuffs, purportedly because Bressi had “obstructed” the highway.

The lawsuit alleges that the deputy retaliated against Bressi for exercising his First Amendment right not to answer Border Patrol’s questions. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the pervasive presence of local law enforcement at the Border Patrol checkpoint materially altered the nature of the checkpoint itself, rendering the whole checkpoint unconstitutional under the long-standing Fourth Amendment principle that permanent checkpoints are permitted only for limited immigration-related purposes and not for the “general interest in crime control.”  As of November 2018, the lawsuit is entering the discovery phase of litigation.

Counsel: Ralph E. Ellinwood PLLC; the ACLU of Arizona

Contact: Billy Peard | ACLU Arizona | bpeard@acluaz.org

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AIC v. DHS

American Immigration Council et al. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security et al., No: 1:17-cv-02142 (D.D.C., filed Oct. 17, 2017)

This lawsuit involves the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) failure to conduct an adequate search for and disclose records responsive to Plaintiffs’ 2012 and 2017 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which sought documents pertaining to DHS’ policy and/or practice of permitting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to provide interpretation services to local law enforcement and to respond to 9-1-1 calls. Most documents that Defendants did produce in response to the FOIA requests were unjustifiably redacted.

Due to Defendants’ deficient and unlawful FOIA responses over a five-year period, on October 17, 2017, Plaintiffs filed suit against DHS under the FOIA seeking to compel the production of records concerning (1) the use of CBP personnel to provide interpretation and/or translation services to local, state, or other federal law enforcement agencies, and (2) the participation of CBP personnel in 911 dispatch activities.

The case is currently pending.

Counsel: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP | American Immigration Council | Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

Contact: Kristin Macleod-Ball | AIC | kmacleod-ball@immcouncil.org

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