Administrative Complaint Regarding U.S. Border Patrol’s Mistreatment of Honduran Family Seeking Asylum and Summary Expulsion of Newborn U.S. Citizen

Administrative Complaint Regarding U.S. Border Patrol’s Mistreatment of Honduran Family Seeking Asylum and Summary Expulsion of Newborn U.S. Citizen

On July 10, 2020, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLU-SDIC) and Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) submitted an administrative complaint to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), regarding U.S. Border Patrol’s mistreatment of a Honduran family seeking asylum and the agency’s summary expulsion of the family, including their newborn U.S. citizen child, to Mexico. The family, including the mother, father, and their nine-year-old son, fled Honduras after gangs extorted them, made repeated death threats, beat the nine-year-old with a gun, and took over their house.

In early March 2020, the family made an initial attempt to seek asylum, but Border Patrol force them to wait in Mexico for an immigration court hearing. Fearing for their safety in Mexico, on June 27, 2020, the family, including the mother, who was now nine months pregnant, attempted to cross into the U.S. once again and turned themselves in to the Border Patrol. The Border Patrol agents separated the family, sending the father and son back to Mexico in the middle of the night, despite their repeated pleas to stay with the mother. Agents sent the mother to the hospital, where she gave birth to her child – a natural-born U.S. citizen. Just two days after giving birth, Border Patrol agents took the mother and her newborn U.S. citizen child to the border and directed them to walk over the border back into Mexico, even though the mother had repeatedly expressed a fear of persecution there. Once back in Mexico, the mother and child were eventually able to reunite with the father and son. The family contacted JFS from Tijuana, where they reported that neither the newborn child nor his mother had received any medical care since birth.

ACLU-SDIC and JFS filed an administrative complaint on the family’s behalf, calling for an urgent investigation of Border Patrol’s treatment of the family, including the forced expulsion of the newborn U.S. citizen and his mother to Mexico and the forced removal of the father and son. The complaint also emphasizes that Border Patrol twice failed to ensure that the family had access to non-refoulement interviews, which are intended to ensure people are not removed to countries where they are likely to face persecution – a clear violation of both U.S. law and agency policy. In addition to the investigation, the complaint calls on DHS OIG to recommend CBP immediately exempt all pregnant persons from MPP, promptly release people forced to give birth in CBP custody and their families as soon as possible after birth, and ensure CBP complies with their non-refoulement obligations and hold officers who do not accountable, among others.

Documents:

Counsel: ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties; Jewish Family Services of San Diego

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

Additional Links:

Santa Fe Dreamers Project v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Santa Fe Dreamers Project v. U.S. Customs & Border Protection, No. 1:20-cv-00490 (D.N.M., filed May 21, 2020)

In response to the Trump Administration’s implementation of a series of new policies designed to dissuade asylum seekers from coming to the United States, an increasing number of immigrants’ rights advocates began representing asylum seekers in the U.S.-Mexico border region. In late 2018 and early 2019, reports emerged that federal law enforcement was surveilling attorneys and immigrants’ rights advocates as a result of this increased human rights work. In mid-December 2018, federal officials subjected El Paso-area advocates to increased questioning and detention while traveling through ports of entry and abroad. In April 2019, the Santa Fe Dreamers Project (SFDP) submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seeking records related to border enforcement and the potential targeting of human rights defenders by border enforcement agencies. SFDP did not receive a single responsive document, nor has CBP conducted a timely search for the records requested.

On May 21, 2020, SFDP filed this FOIA lawsuit seeking to compel CBP to conduct a reasonable search and produce records responsive to their FOIA request. On June 24, 2020, Defendants filed their answer. Per their August scheduling order, Defendants must produce all responsive documents by November 6, 2020.

A settlement conference was held on April 6, 2021.

Documents:

Counsel: Christopher Benoit, The Law Office of Lynn Coyle, PLLC

Contact: Christopher Benoit, The Law Office of Lynn Coyle, PLLC | chris@coylefirm.com

Texas Civil Rights Project v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Texas Civil Rights Project et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 1:20-cv-02389 (D.D.C., filed Aug. 27, 2020)

In March 2020, the Trump Administration began carrying out summary expulsions pursuant to Title 42 § 265 of the U.S. Code and the CDC’s  implementing regulations. The Administration removed noncitizens without travel documents apprehended at the border – including unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers – without any legal process under the ruse of mitigating the spread of COVID-19. In late July 2020, news began breaking that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had been contracting with private contractors to detain immigrant children as young as one in hotels along the U.S.-Mexico border prior to carrying out such summary expulsions, regardless of whether the child had tested positive for COVID-19 or not. While detained in these hotels, children, including unaccompanied minors, were unable to contact family members, denied access to counsel, and denied any legal process before being removed to countries where many feared persecution.

In response, the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) submitted three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), DHS, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to obtain more information about the government’s treatment of unaccompanied children who have crossed the border in recent months. Specifically, the organizations sought records encompassing (1) the standards use to determine whether unaccompanied and undocumented children are immediately expelled or allowed to apply for humanitarian relief; (2) statistics on how many children have been expelled and to where; (3) the secret locations where DHS detains children prior to Title 42 expulsion; and (4) the identity of the companies that DHS had contracted with to transport and detain children. Plaintiffs received no response to their requests.

On August 27, 2020, TCRP and ICAPfiled this suit seeking to compel CBP, ICE, and DHS to conduct a reasonable search and produce records responsive to their FOIA request. 

Documents:

Counsel: Robert D. Friedman, Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, Georgetown University Law Center

Contact: Robert Friedman, Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, Georgetown University Law Center | rdf34@georgetown.edu

Additional Links:

Drewniak v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Drewniak v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, et al., No. 1:20-cv-00852 (D.N.H., filed August 11, 2020)

Throughout northern New England, the Border Patrol operates temporary checkpoints to detain hundreds – if not thousands – of individuals without any suspicion. This case challenges these checkpoints.

On August 26, 2017, Plaintiff Jesse Drewniak, a New Hampshire resident and U.S. citizen, was returning home from a fishing trip when the Border Patrol stopped him at one such temporary interior checkpoint. During this encounter, heavily-armed Border Patrol agents illegally detained and searched Mr. Drewniak for almost an hour. After detecting a small quantity of hashish oil, agents arrested Mr. Drewniak for the state law violation-level offense of unlawful possession of a prohibited substance.

In May 2018, the Plymouth Circuit Court reviewed the charges against Mr. Drewniak and fifteen other individuals arising out of the August 2017 checkpoint, eventually suppressing all the evidence as seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the New Hampshire Constitution. The state judge further found that Border Patrol was impermissibly using the checkpoint for the purpose of general crime control, not immigration enforcement, thereby making the checkpoint unconstitutional under federal law. The State then voluntarily dropped all charges against Mr. Drewniak and the fifteen other individuals. However, despite this victory, Border Patrol has continued to use these unconstitutional checkpoints in northern New England.

Mr. Drewniak now seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the Border Patrol agents involved in his unconstitutional search and seizure pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief to stop Border Patrol from conducting these illegal checkpoints in Woodstock, New Hampshire. In November 2020, defendants moved to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim and lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The parties stipulated to dismissal of claims against one defendant, and the court set a briefing schedule.

On April 8, 2021, the District Court issued an order granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ motions to dismiss. The Court dismissed count one of the complaint, which sought Bivens damages against a Border Patrol agent for violations of his Fourth Amendment rights. It denied the motion to dismiss the second count, which sought declaratory and injunctive relief precluding CBP from operating additional traffic checkpoints.

Mr. Drewniak is represented by the ACLU of New Hampshire, the ACLU of Maine Foundation, the ACLU Foundation of Vermont, McLane Middleton, Mark Sisti, and Albert Scherr.

Documents:

Counsel: ACLU of New Hampshire Foundation; ACLU of Maine Foundation; ACLU Foundation of Vermont; McLane Middleton; Mark Sisti; Albert Scherr

Contact: Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU of New Hampshire Foundation | gilles@aclu-nh.org

Doe v. Wolf

Doe v. Wolf, No. 3:19-cv-02119-DMS-AGS (S.D. Cal., filed Nov. 5, 2019) and 20-55279 (9th Cir., filed Mar. 13, 2020)

People who are seeking asylum but have been forced to wait in Mexico under the Trump Administration’s so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” have a right to not be returned to Mexico if it is more likely than not that they will be persecuted or tortured there. But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security blocked such individuals from consulting with their lawyers prior to and during life-or-death interviews on this matter, known as non-refoulement interviews. The ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties filed a class action lawsuit to challenge this systemic denial of the right to counsel in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.

On January 14, 2020, the District Court entered a preliminary injunction guaranteeing access to counsel to a class of people detained in CBP custody while awaiting and undergoing non-refoulement interviews. The District Court first found that 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(b)(ii), which prohibits judicial review of a “decision or action” that is “in the discretion of the Attorney General or the Secretary of Homeland Security,” did not foreclose review of the Plaintiffs’ claims. The Court further found that 5 U.S.C. § 555(b), which provides that “[a] person compelled to appear in person before an agency . . . is entitled to be accompanied, represented, and advised by counsel,” applies to non-refoulement interviews. As such, the District Court ordered that “Respondents may not conduct class members’ non-refoulement interviews without first affording the interviewees access to their retained counsel both before and during any such interview.”  The government appealed to the Ninth Circuit. After oral argument, submission of the appeal was vacated pending the Supreme Court’s disposition of Wolf, et al. v. Innovation Law Lab, et al., No. 19-1212.

Documents:

Counsel: ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties

Contact: Monika Langarica, Immigrants’ Rights Staff Attorney, ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties | mlangarica@aclusandiego.org

Castellanos v. United States

Castellanos v. United States, No. 18-CV-2334-JM-BLM (S.D. Cal., filed Oct. 10, 2018)

In this case, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents’ excessive use of force during a routine inspection at Calexico Port of Entry left a seventy-five-year-old man in the hospital with a fractured elbow and displaced ribs. On December 17, 2017, Jesus and Raquel Castellanos, at the time seventy-five and seventy-one years old, and their adult son, Marco Castellanos, were in secondary inspection at the Calexico Port of Entry, when a CBP officer began yelling at Marco for using his cellphone. Marco explained he was responding to a message, put his cellphone away, and asked the CBP officer to bring a supervisor, but the CBP officer preceded to put Marco in a chokehold and a group of officers gathered and slammed him against a fence.

Jesus Castellanos pleaded with the officers to let his son go and stop assaulting him. CBP Officer Hedlund shoved Mr. Castellanos, threw him over a bench, and punched him in the chest and ribs multiple times. As Mr. Castellanos lay face down on the bench, Officer Hedlund continued to put all his weight on Mr. Castellanos and twisted his elbow with such force that it was fractured. Mr. Castellanos also suffered multiple displaced ribs from the assault.

Officer Hedlund and two other CBP officers took Mr. Castellanos to a holding cell and when he told them his arm had been injured, Officer Hedlund further bent his arm.  Mr. Castellanos was able to get the attention of a supervisor who called an ambulance that arrived thirty minutes later and took him to the hospital. While her husband was being assaulted and detained, Mrs. Castellanos, who suffers from dementia, pleaded for the officers to stop and became confused and distraught as CBP officials did not explain to her where they had taken her husband or son.

On January 12, 2017, Mr. and Mrs. Castellanos filed administrative complaints under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), but received no response. On October 10, 2018, they brought this action seeking damages under Bivens and the FTCA. The second amended complaint alleges Officer Hedlund is liable for Fourth Amendment violations under Bivens. The complaint further seeks to hold the United States liable under the FTCA for assault, battery, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false imprisonment under the FTCA.

In February 2020, the district court denied the government’s motion for summary judgment. After the summary judgement motion was denied, the Castellanos family reached a settlement agreement with the government on April 24, 2020. Details of the settlement agreement have not been disclosed. It is unknown if Officer Hedlund or any of the other CBP officers involved were disciplined in any way.

Counsel: Iredale & Yoo, APC

Contact: Eugene Iredale | 619.233.1525 | contact@iredalelaw.com

D.A. v. United States

D.A., et al., v. United States of America, et al., No. 1:20-cv-03082 (N.D. Ill., filed May 22, 2020)

On the night of May 23, 2018, D.A. and A.A. entered the United States with their mother, Lucinda Padilla-Gonzales, seeking asylum from political violence in their native Honduras, along with other asylum seekers. Shortly after crossing the U.S. border, several U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers approached the group and arrested them. The CBP officers loaded the group into a van without offering them food or water. They insulted Lucinda and her children, calling them liars and telling them that they were tired of immigrants, and questioned their motives for coming to the United States. The CBP officers also told the group that they would all lose their children.

CBP officers took Lucinda and her children to the Ysleta Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas. The type of holding center they were taken to is commonly referred to by asylum seekers as an “hielera” (an “icebox,” in Spanish) because of the freezing cold temperatures. D.A. and A.A., who were still wet from crossing the river, were forced to sit, shivering, on concrete steps in the hielera. CBP officers did not give them any blankets or jackets to protect them from the cold while they waited. Though Lucinda had crutches for her injured leg, CBP officers confiscated them. The family remained in the hielera for approximately one and a half days, during which time CBP officers repeatedly insulted them.

On approximately May 24, 2018, federal agents took Lucinda and told her that she was going to federal prison. The federal agents did not give Lucinda an opportunity to explain anything to D.A. and A.A., or hug and kiss them goodbye. As the federal agents took Lucinda away in handcuffs, fourteen-year-old D.A. and five-year-old A.A. screamed and cried for their mother through a plexiglass divider.

Lucinda and the children remained separated for almost three months. Both the mother and the children were mistreated in government custody, exacerbating the trauma of their separation. The family filed administrative claims for damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) to which the government failed to respond.

In this action, filed on May 22, 2020, the family seeks damages under the FTCA for the trauma they suffered and continue to suffer. They also brought claims against the government contractor responsible for the care and custody of the children. The complaint alleges that the United States is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, negligent supervision, conversion, abuse of process, and loss of consortium.

On September 9, 2020, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and on September 30, 2020, Plaintiffs filed their first amended complaint. Defendants moved to dismiss the first amended complaint on October 16, 2020. Briefing was completed in December 2020 and the motion remains pending before the District Court. 

Counsel: Loevy & Loevy; Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP)

 Contact: Conchita Cruz | (305) 484-9260 | conchita.cruz@asylumadvocacy.org

Adlerstein v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Adlerstein, et al., v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, et al., No. 4:19-cv-00500-CKJ (D. Ariz., filed Oct. 16, 2019)

Ana Adlerstein, Jeff Valenzuela, and Alex Mensing are humanitarian activists whom U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) subjected to repeated and lengthy detentions, searches, and interrogations without any connection to legitimate border control functions. All three are U.S. citizens with a right to return to the United States and yet all three were targeted as part of the federal government’s surveillance of individuals and groups protesting United States immigration policies.

On May 5, 2019, Ms. Adlerstein lawfully accompanied an asylum seeker to the Lukeville, Arizona port of entry. Without any evidence that Ms. Adlerstein had committed a crime, a CBP officer arrested and handcuffed Ms. Adlerstein, subjected her to an intrusive search, and detained her for hours, denying her requests to speak to her attorney. When Ms. Adlerstein protested that the CBP officers were violating her rights, an officer responded: “The Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply here.”

Mr. Valenzuela, a photographer and humanitarian volunteer, attempted to drive back into the United States at a port of entry in San Diego in December 2018. When he arrived, border officers walked to his car, ordered him out, handcuffed him, and marched him into their offices. They took his belongings, searched his bags, and shackled him by his ankles to a steel bench. They left him there, chained, for hours. Eventually they brought him to a small room where they interrogated him about his volunteer work, his associations, and his political beliefs.

Mr. Mensing crossed into the United States from Mexico twenty-eight times during a period of six months between June 2018 and October 2019. On twenty-six of those entries, CBP agents summarily referred him for “secondary inspection,” which for him included detention, searches, and repeated interrogation. During these interrogations, officers repeatedly asked him the same questions about his work, his finances, his associations, and his personal writings. These seizures became a routine part of his life: cross the border, get detained for hours, and be forced to answer the same questions by the government.

In their complaint, filed on October 16, 2019, the activists allege that CBP’s conduct violated the Fourth and First Amendments. The complaint also alleges that the government’s collection of private and protected information from the activists violated the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(a)-(l). The activists sought injunctive and declaratory relief. In April 2020, the parties completed briefing on the government’s motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment. The court held oral argument on Defendants’ motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment on August 4, 2020. On October 1, 2020, the court granted in part and denied in part Defendants’ motion to dismiss, allowing Plaintiffs to proceed on their First and Fourth Amendment claims regarding Mr. Valenzuela’s detention.

Counsel: ACLU of Southern California; ACLU of Arizona; Kirkland & Ellis

Contact: Mohammad Tajsar | (213) 977-9500 | mtajsar@aclusocal.org

Sabra v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Sabra v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 1:20-cv-00681-CKK (D.D.C., filed Mar. 9, 2020)

On September 11, 2015, Fleta Christina Cousin Sabra—a U.S. citizen and accredited humanitarian worker—traveled with a family of asylum-seeking Syrian refugees and the refugees’ lawful permanent resident relative from Mexico into the United States by way of a U.S. port of entry in Southern California. When Ms. Sabra explained to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer that the family wished to seek asylum, the officer handcuffed all members of the group, including Ms. Sabra. CBP officers detained Ms. Sabra for several hours, during which time they insulted her Muslim faith, pulled off her hijab, and physically assaulted her.

In July 2016, Ms. Sabra submitted a request for agency records pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding the September 11, 2015 encounter, CBP’s subsequent related records, CBP’s investigation, communications regarding the family of Syrian refugees, and other CBP records regarding Ms. Sabra. In response, CBP produced only five pages of records.

Ms. Sabra filed this action on March 9, 2020, seeking to compel CBP to conduct a reasonable search and produce records responsive to her FOIA request. On May 29, 2020, CBP made an initial production and reported that it anticipates making monthly, rolling releases. Ms. Sabra moved for judgment on the pleadings. CBP made additional productions in June, July, and August of 2020. As of August 21, 2020, the court has held Ms. Sabra’s motion for judgment on the pleadings in abeyance pending parties’ discussions regarding additional productions. After holding Ms. Sabra’s motion for judgment on the pleadings in abeyance pending parties’ discussions regarding additional productions, the Court denied the motion on March 2, 2021. On March 10, 2021, the government moved for summary judgment. 

Counsel: Law Office of R. Andrew Free

Contact: R. Andrew Free | (844) 321-3221 | Andrew@ImmigrantCivilRights.com

FTCA Claim by Estate of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez

On November 22, 2019, the siblings of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez and a representative of her estate filed an administrative claim for damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) after Roxsana, a Honduran transgender woman, died in immigration custody.

After fleeing horrific violence in Honduras, Roxsana and seventeen other transgender asylum seekers presented themselves at the U.S. port of entry in San Ysidro, California on May 9, 2018. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers took Roxsana into custody and failed to conduct any medical screening, though she requested to see a doctor for what she described as an infection.

CBP held Roxsana in a processing facility commonly referred to as an “hielera” or “ice box” because of its frigid temperatures. While in CBP custody, Roxsana’s health rapidly deteriorated. She coughed so much that she had difficulty breathing and she vomited regularly. The food CBP officers offered caused her to suffer diarrhea, stomach pain, and further vomiting. CBP officers refused to provide any medical assistance until other asylum seekers stopped eating in protest.

CBP agents brought Roxsana to a hospital, but remained present during her exam and kept her in shackles. Rather than providing a Spanish interpreter, the officers primarily communicated with the doctors themselves. The hospital cleared Roxsana for immigration detention before learning that she was HIV positive.

Until her death on May 25, 2018, Roxsana remained in immigration custody, transferred between facilities as her health continued to deteriorate. By the time Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers brought her to the hospital on May 17, 2018, doctors found her condition “way beyond” their ability to provide meaningful care. An independent autopsy determined the cause of death was “most probably severe complications of dehydration superimposed upon HIV infection, with the probable presence of one or more opportunistic infections.” The doctor also found evidence of physical abuse, with deep tissue bruising.

In the November 2019 claim, and a later supplement, Roxsana’s family and estate charged the United States as liable for wrongful death, negligence, negligent hiring and supervision, failure to provide medical care, medical malpractice, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and loss of chance of survival.

Press Coverage:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/27/us/trans-woman-roxsana-hernandez-ice-autopsy.html

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/adolfoflores/ice-surveillance-video-transgender-asylum-seeker

Counsel: Law Office of R. Andrew Free

Contact: R. Andrew Free | (844) 321-3221 | Andrew@ImmigrantCivilRights.com