Crespo Cagnant v. United States

Crespo Cagnant v. United States, No: 1:18-cv-22267-FAM (S.D. Fla., filed June 7, 2018)

 On June 7, 2018, the American Immigration Council, Holland & Knight LLP, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP sued the United States on behalf of asylum-seeker, Jose Crespo Cagnant, under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The complaint alleges misconduct by agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that involved falsifying Mr. Crespo’s paperwork and then deporting him in contravention of their statutory and regulatory duties to afford Mr. Crespo an opportunity to seek protection from persecution.

Mr. Crespo, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in the United States with his U.S.-citizen partner for more than a decade, was subjected to an expedited removal order after he entered the U.S. in 2012. Mr. Crespo feared persecution in Mexico on account of his sexual orientation; however, the border patrol agent who processed his paperwork did not speak Spanish, failed to seek an interpreter, and filled out the forms with invented information about Mr. Crespo’s reasons for coming to the United States and his family history. Based on this falsified information, CBP deported Mr. Crespo without affording him his legal right to have an asylum officer evaluate his protection claims.

Fearful for his safety upon returning to Mexico, Mr. Crespo returned to his partner—now husband—and sought to legalize his status. As a result, he was criminally charged with reentering the U.S. after deportation. A federal district court judge later dismissed the criminal case against Mr. Crespo, finding that the agent that deported him in 2012 did not testify credibly.

The case is currently pending.

Counsel: Holland & Knight LLP | American Immigration Council | Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP | Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

Contact: Trina Realmuto | AIC | trealmuto@immcouncil.org

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Kazazi v. CBP

Kazazi et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et al., No. 1:18-MC-51 (N.D. Ohio, filed May 31, 2018)

This lawsuit challenges U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) unlawful seizure of Plaintiffs’ life savings. On October 24, 2017, while one of the Plaintiffs, Rustem Kazazi, a U.S. citizen, was in route to Albania, CBP seized the $58,100 that he was carrying to purchase a retirement home in Albania and assist family members in need. CBP neither arrested nor charged Mr. Kazazi or his family members with any crime. Later, CBP sought to justify the seizure by alleging that the money was involved in a smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering operation—an unfounded allegation that CBP did not record when it confiscated the money nor one that CBP is willing to defend in court.

The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA) requires the government to return seized property or begin civil forfeiture or criminal proceedings within 90 days of the government’s notice of the owner’s suit. CBP’s 90 days expired on April 17, 2018, and it did not fulfill any of the CAFRA requirements within that time period. As a result, CBP became legally obligated to return the property promptly to Plaintiffs. Given that CBP failed to do so, Plaintiffs filed suit on May 31, 2018.

After they did, CBP immediately capitulated and returned about 99% of the money it had seized. The parties later resolved their dispute concerning the additional $770 seized and filed a stipulated dismissal on November 19, 2018. On March 1, 2019, the court awarded $43,280.13 in attorneys’ fees and costs to Petitioners.

Press Release:

Counsel: BakerHostetler LLP | Institute for Justice

Contact: Andrew H. Ward | Institute for Justice | ahward@ij.org

Nwaorie v. CBP, et al.

Nwaorie v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, et al., No: 4:18-cv-1406 (S.D. Tex., filed May 3, 2018)

On May 3, 2018, the Institute for Justice filed a class-action lawsuit challenging U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) policy or practice of demanding that owners of seized property sign “hold harmless” agreements for the return of their property, and thereby waive certain constitutional and statutory rights.

On October 31, 2017, CBP seized approximately $40,000 cash from the named Plaintiff, Anthonia Nwaorie, a U.S. citizen, while she was trying to board an international flight to Nigeria. Ms. Nwaorie intended to use more than $30,000 of the funds she had saved up from her work as a nurse to start a medical clinic in Nigeria for women and children.

In December 2017, Ms. Nwaorie, in compliance with the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), submitted a claim, requesting judicial forfeiture proceedings. When CBP failed to file a forfeiture complaint within 90 days, it became statutorily required to return the seized property.

However, instead of doing so, in April 2018, CBP mailed Ms. Nwaorie a letter, which conditioned the return of her seized cash on her signing a hold harmless agreement. If she did not sign the agreement to waive her statutory and constitutional rights and to indemnify the government for any claims brought by others related to the seized property, CBP threatened to initiate forfeiture proceedings against her. After filing the lawsuit, CBP finally sent her a check in the amount confiscated.

On July 23, 2018, Defendants moved to dismiss all claims, arguing that they are moot and barred by sovereign immunity. On August 27, Plaintiff filed her opposition to Defendants’ motion. Defendants filed a reply in support of their motion on September 4, and Plaintiff filed a surreply on October 3. As of October 2018, the motion is pending.

In May 2019, a magistrate judge recommended dismissal, finding that sovereign immunity barred the claims, and alternatively, the government’s return of Ms. Nwaorie’s money rendered her claims moot. The magistrate judge also recommended dismissal of Nwaorie’s constitutional claims, finding that CBP had a rational basis to subject her to additional searches because of the large amount of money she was carrying.

The plaintiff filed an objection to the magistrate’s memorandum and recommendations. A federal district court judge will review the magistrate judge’s recommendations.

Press Releases:

Counsel: Institute for Justice

Contacts: 

Dan Alban | Institute for Justice | dalban@ij.org

Anya Bidwell | Institute for Justice | abidwell@ij.org

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, et al., vs. United States Department of Homeland Security, and United States Customs and Border Patrol

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, et al., vs. United States Department of Homeland Security, and United States Customs and Border Patrol, No. 5:16-cv-14192-JCO-EAS (E.D. Mich. filed November 30, 2016)

Citing concerns over potential Constitutional violations, the ACLU of Michigan, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, and researchers filed a federal lawsuit against DHS and CBP in 2016 for the agencies’ failure to provide information related to its “100-mile zone” policy—which CBP claims authorizes agents to engage in warrantless vehicle searches within 100 miles of any international border or waterway.

8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(3) grants CBP authority to conduct warrantless vehicle searches and detentions within a “reasonable distance” of the border solely for the purpose of preventing illegal entry into the United States. 8 C.F.R. § 287.1(b) defines “reasonable distance” as 100 miles. The Great Lakes are considered the “functional equivalent” of an international border, and therefore the entire state of Michigan is within this “100-mile zone.”

To shed light on the 100-mile zone policy in Michigan, advocates and researchers submitted a FOIA request to DHS and CBP in 2015. Neither agency provided a legally adequate response. Instead, a few heavily-redacted documents were released. These documents underscored the need for greater public access to information about Border Patrol’s roving patrols operations and CBP’s claims that agents may search any motorist anywhere in the state without a warrant.

The requesters filed a federal lawsuit on November 30, 2016 in the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on July 28, 2017. On February 14, 2018, Defendants moved for summary judgment. On March 28, 2018, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment and opposition to Defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment. Oral arguments were heard on the motions, and on September 7, 2018, the parties reached an agreement whereby the government will provide city-level information in apprehension reports about where apprehensions occur. Plaintiffs will receive these reports on a rolling three-month schedule through the end of the year.  A dispute continues about the remaining documents, and plaintiffs are waiting to get a production schedule from defendants.

Contact: Miriam Aukerman | maukerman@aclumich.org

Gabriel Gomez Maciel v. Mylissa Coleman, in her official and individual capacities; City of Spokane

Gabriel Gomez Maciel v. Mylissa Coleman, in her official and individual capacities; City of Spokane, No. 2:17-cv-00292 (E.D. Wa. filed August 21, 2017)

On August 24, 2014, Gabriel Gomez Maciel was driving to church when his pickup truck was struck by a minivan. Mylissa Coleman, who at the time was working as a police officer for the City of Spokane, arrived at the scene of the accident to investigate, and contacted the Border Patrol to ask whether the agency had any interest in Gomez. Coleman contacted the Border Patrol solely on the basis of Gomez’s race and ethnicity.

Even though Gomez had been injured in the accident, Coleman did not ask if he needed medical assistance. Even after she completed her investigation of the accident and cited the minivan driver, Coleman continued to detain Gomez Coleman’s continued detention of Gomez was not justified by reasonable suspicion, much less probable cause. Eventually, Border Patrol agents arrived and transferred Gomez to the Tacoma immigration detention center, where he remained for one month until he was able to post bond.

On August 21, 2017, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a complaint in the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Washington against Mylissa Coleman and the City of Spokane pursuant to42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Article 1, § 7 of the Constitution of the State of Washington. Gomez alleges that he suffered substantial physical, emotional, and economic harm as a result of his unlawful detention.

On November 13, 2017, the parties notified the Court that the case had settled. As part of the settlement agreement, the parties agreed to a number of conditions. The City of Spokane agreed to modify its policies to clarify that police officers “shall not contact, question, delay, detain, or arrest an individual [because] s/he is suspected of violating immigration laws.” The City has also agreed to provide training to City police officers regarding the policy change. As part of the settlement, the City also agreed to pay a total of $49,000 in damages and fees.

J.I. v. USA

J.I. v. USA, No. 1:18-at-00185 (E.D. Cal., filed March 15, 2018)

In the summer of 2016, J.I., a minor, traveled from Guatemala with her older sister to reunite with their mother in the United States. The sisters became lost in the area near the Presidio, Texas and Ojinaga, Chihuahua border. Afraid and thirsty, the sisters flagged down Border Patrol agents for help. The sisters were then taken into custody.

Once J.I. was in custody, a Border Patrol agent removed her from the cell she was in with her sister and took her to a small room, where he forced J.I. to remove her clothing and expose her breasts and genitalia. He then assaulted and battered J.I.

On March 21, 2017, J.I. submitted an administrative claim to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), as required under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). In a letter dated September 27, 2017, CBP replied on behalf of all named agencies and denied the administrative tort claim in full.

On March 15, 2018, the ACLU of Northern California filed an FTCA lawsuit against CBP alleging assault and battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. The lawsuit also included constitutional claims (violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments). The parties agreed to settle on October 19, 2018, and reached an agreement that includes a $125,000 payment to J.I. It is unclear whether CBP disciplined the agent, Fernando Saucedo III, and whether he is still employed by CBP.

Related Documents:

Counsel: ACLU of Northern California

Contact:  Angélica Salceda | ACLU of Northern California | asalceda@aclunc.org

 

Wilwal v. Kelly

Wilwal, et al. v. Kelly, et al., No. 0:17-cv-02835 (D. Minn., filed July 13, 2017)

On July 13, 2017, the ACLU, the ACLU of Minnesota, and Robins Kaplan LLP brought suit on behalf of the Wilwal-Abdigani family, a family of 6 American citizens who were detained at a North Dakota port of entry for over ten hours when crossing back into the United States from Canada. When the family arrived at the border, CBP agents drew their weapons and handcuffed Abdisalam Wilwal, allegedly because his name appeared on a terrorism-related watchlist, which Mr. Wilwal believes was a wrongful placement. He was questioned for hours and ended up fainting while in custody due to the placement of his handcuffs. Agents allegedly questioned him for being a Muslim and demanded to know if he was involved with terrorism. When Mr. Wilwal’s teenage son called 911 and reported that he was being held against his will, CBP agents confiscated his phone and strip-searched him.

Mr. Wilwal and his family brought suit against CBP seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of his constitutional rights, including the right against search and seizure and his right to due process because of his placement on a terrorism watchlist without any opportunity to challenge that placement. On October 12, 2017, the plaintiffs amended the complaint to add claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act for false imprisonment, assault, and battery. On November 8, 2017, the government moved to dismiss the case. Briefing was completed on the motion to dismiss on January 24, 2018.

On September 27, 2018 the court granted in part and denied in part the government’s motion to dismiss. Plaintiff’s claim alleging violation of substantive due process rights was dismissed with prejudice; and the government’s motion was denied in all other respects.

Press coverage:

Serrano v. CBP

Serrano v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et al., Nos. 2:17-cv-00048 (W.D. Tex., filed Sept. 6, 2017) and 18-50977 (5th Cir., filed Nov. 21, 2018)

On September 6, 2017, the Institute for Justice brought a class action suit against Customs and Border Protection over the agency’s practice of engaging in civil forfeiture of vehicles at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border. The plaintiff, Gerardo Serrano, was detained in 2015 when crossing into Mexico at the Eagle Pass, Texas port of entry. After CBP officers found a small amount of pistol ammunition in his truck, they seized the vehicle. CBP held his truck for over two years without ever filing a civil forfeiture action in court against him, despite requiring him to post thousands of dollars for a bond purportedly to allow him to challenge the seizure. Because the agency never filed a forfeiture action, Mr. Serrano was given no opportunity to have his day in court and challenge CBP’s seizure.

His complaint alleges that CBP seizes hundreds of vehicles owned by American citizens each year and refuses to hold prompt post-seizure hearings at which the owners can challenge the seizure. The class action suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring CBP to hold prompt post-seizure hearings, as well as compensation for Mr. Serrano. In October 2017, CBP returned Mr. Serrano’s truck without subjecting it to a forfeiture action. On December 13, 2017, Defendants moved to dismiss the suit. The parties completed briefing on January 19, 2018.

On July 23, 2018, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which he advised granting Defendants’ motions to dismiss.

On September 28, 2018, the district court adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendations and issued an order denying class certification and granting all motions to dismiss. Mr. Serrano appealed the district court decision to the Fifth Circuit on November 21, 2018.

In April 2019, the plaintiff filed his opening brief with the Fifth Circuit. Several amicus briefs were filed in support. The government’s answering brief is due on June 17, 2019.

Fifth Circuit Pleadings:

Counsel: Anya Bidwell & Robert Everett Johnson | Institute for Justice

Alasaad v. Nielsen

Alasaad et al. v. Nielsen et al., No. 1:17-cv-11730-DJC  (D. Mass., filed Sept. 13, 2017)

On September 13, 2017, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with the ACLU and the ACLU of Massachusetts, brought suit against Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, challenging those agencies’ practices of seizing travelers’ electronic devices without a warrant or individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. The organizations filed on behalf of 10 U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident who had smartphones and other electronic devices seized when they arrived at the U.S. border. Many of the plaintiffs had their devices confiscated for extended periods of times. The plaintiffs seek the return of their devices, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the government to seek a warrant or have probable cause that a crime was committed prior to seizing a travelers’ cellphone. On December 15, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss.

On May 9, 2018, the court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding that Plaintiffs plausibly alleged that the government’s digital device search policies substantially burden travelers’ First Amendment rights.

Defendants filed an answer on June 1, 2018. Since then, the parties have been proceeding through the discovery process. On April 30, 2019, the plaintiffs moved for summary judgment. They argue that CBP’s policy authorizing warrantless, suspicionless searches of electronic devices violates the First and Fourth Amendments, and are seeking an injunction.

Counsel:  Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Massachusetts

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. On August 20, 2018, the court denied in part and granted in part the government’s motion to dismiss, allowing the majority of plaintiffs’ claims to go forward. On October 12, 2018, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint highlighting the Trump administration’s specific implementation of the “turnback policy” as well as the administration’s own “zero-tolerance policy.”

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on November 29, 2018, which Plaintiffs opposed. Close to two dozen states filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs’ opposition to the motion to dismiss, as did many members of Congress, Amnesty International, law professors, and nineteen nonprofit immigrant advocacy organizations. The motion to dismiss currently is pending.

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

Contact: Melissa Crow | Southern Poverty Law Center | Melissa.Crow@SPLCenter.org