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

A.I.I.L. et al. v. Sessions et al.

A.I.I.L. on behalf of herself and her minor children, J.A.H.I. and M.E.H.I., et al., No. 4:19-cv-00481-JAS (D. Ariz., filed Oct. 3, 2019)

This lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of thousands of traumatized children and parents who were forcibly torn from each other under the Trump administration’s illegal practice of separating families at the border.

Leading child welfare organizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and medical professionals have publicly denounced the forced separation of children from their parents, citing the long-lasting, detrimental effects on children’s emotional growth and cognitive development. Separated parents, meanwhile, face an increased risk of developing mental health disorders, with trauma linked to severe anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Plaintiffs cited in the complaint include families from Guatemala and Honduras who were separated along the border in Arizona for up to 16 months. In addition to damages, the lawsuit seeks the creation of a fund to pay for professional mental health services for affected families.

The lawsuit, A.I.I.L. v. Sessions, cites violations of the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable seizure of children); the Fifth Amendment due process clause (fundamental right to family integrity; right to a hearing; right to adequate health care); and equal protection (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin).

Defendants include officials from the Departments of Justice, DHS and CBP, Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Settlement, and the White House.

On February 14, 2020, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint, asserting lack of personal jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, and qualified immunity. Briefing on that motion is complete. On July 22, 2020, Plaintiffs sought leave to amend their complaint to include their administratively exhausted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claims. Defendants requested that the court defer a decision on Plaintiffs’ motion to amend pending the court’s decision on Defendants’ motion to dismiss. On August 31, 2020 the court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to amend and denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss. On September 3, 2020 Plaintiffs filed their amended complaint.

Counsel: Marty Lieberman, ACLU of Arizona; Lee Gelernt, Judy Rabinovitz, Anand Balakrishnan, Daniel Galindo, ACLU Immigrant Rights’ Project; Geoffry R. Chepiga, Jacqueline P. Rubin, Emily Goldberg, Hallie S. Goldblatt, Steven C. Herzog, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; Alexander A. Reinert, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Contact: Marty Lieberman | ACLU of Arizona | 602-650-1854 | mlieberman@acluaz.org

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.”  The federal defendants answered the complaint on October 2, 2019. The Pima County defendants moved to dismiss the case.

On April 17, 2020, the court granted the motion to dismiss in part. Although the court dismissed Bressi’s claim that defendants improperly retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment right not to speak during an immigration stop, Bressi’s Fourth Amendment claims regarding the constitutionality of the checkpoint and his arrest survive. Discovery has now begun.

Counsel: Ralph E. Ellinwood PLLC

Contact: Ralph E. Ellinwood | Ralph E Ellinwood Attorney at Law PLLC | ree@yourbestdefense.com

Resources:

FTCA Administrative Complaints Challenging Abuses from CBP Roving Patrols

FTCA Administrative Complaints Challenging Abuses from CBP Roving Patrols

When conducting enforcement operations within the United States, CBP regularly sends its officers on “roving patrols.” These patrols, conducted many miles away from the U.S. Border, often lead to the detention and interrogation of U.S. citizens without reasonable suspicion of any crime. Many of the U.S. citizens detained by CBP were targeted because of their ethnicity, and CBP officers have subjected citizens to verbal and physical abuse while checking their citizenship status. Collected here are examples of complaints that the ACLU has filed against CBP to address the continued violation of U.S. citizens’ rights at the hands of CBP.

2013 Office of the Inspector General Complaint

On October 9, 2013, the ACLU of Arizona and the ACLU Border Litigation Project  submitted an administrative complaint to the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) concerning unlawful conduct of Border Patrol agents during roving patrols in Southern Arizona.  The complaint was submitted on behalf of 5 U.S. citizens who detail very serious incidents of verbal or physical abuse when their vehicles were stopped without reasonable suspicion by Border Patrol agents.  In at least two of the incidents, young children were traveling in the vehicles.

The complaint calls for the investigation of these incidents; a comprehensive review of complaints involving CBP roving patrols to determine whether Border Patrol agents are complying with their obligations under agency guidelines, the U.S. Constitution, and international law; and recommendations from OIG and CRCL regarding significant changes in CBP training, oversight, and accountability mechanisms necessary to address the problems and prevent further abuses.

2014 Office of the Inspector General Complaint

On January 15, 2014, the ACLU of Arizona and the ACLU Border Litigation Project submitted an administrative complaint to DHS Office of Inspector General and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties concerning abuses committed by Border Patrol agents at interior vehicle checkpoints in southern Arizona.  The complaint was submitted on behalf of 15 U.S. citizens, aged 6-69 years old, and detailed 12 incidents in which their rights were violated when they were stopped at 6 checkpoints over a period of a year and a half.

The complaint calls for the investigation of all of the incidents identified; a comprehensive review of all complaints regarding Border Patrol checkpoints over the past five years; a thorough review of Border Patrol checkpoint policies and practices to ensure that operations are in fact limited to briefly verifying citizenship and that agents are receiving guidance regarding the limits of their authority; and a review of all policies and procedures related to service canines, in light of widespread reports of “false alerts” by the dogs.

2015 Federal Tort Claims Act Administrative Complaint

On May 19, 2015, the ACLU of Arizona filed two claims with the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) on behalf of an Arizona woman seeking monetary damages for egregious and repeated rights violations by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

The first claim arises out of an incident on May 21, 2013, in which Border Patrol agents stopped Clarisa Christiansen and her two young children without cause while the family was driving home from school.  After Ms. Christiansen demanded an explanation, the agents threatened to deploy a Taser and then threatened to cut her out of her seatbelt with a knife.  The agents subsequently slashed a rear tire and left Ms. Christiansen and her children stranded on a hot desert road with a flat tire and no explanation.

In October 2013, the ACLU submitted a complaint to DHS oversight agencies on behalf of Ms. Christiansen and four others who were subjected to unlawful “roving patrol” stops by Border Patrol.  More than a year and a half later, those agencies have yet to respond.

The second claim was filed in response to years of unauthorized and unlawful entries by Border Patrol agents onto the family’s private property west of Tucson.  On a weekly basis, Border Patrol helicopters buzz the family’s home at extremely low altitudes, causing dwellings to shake, and often disrupting the family’s sleep with deafening noise and bright lights.  Agents have also repeatedly entered the Christiansens’ property on foot and on motorized vehicles, despite numerous posted “No Trespassing” signs.

Federal law currently grants Border Patrol authority to enter onto private property within twenty-five miles of the border “to prevent illegal entry.”  Agents are further empowered to conduct interior enforcement within 100 miles of any national boundary, an area that encompasses most of the U.S. population.  As in Ms. Christiansen’s case, agents routinely ignore the legal limits of their authority in the course of these operations.

Counsel: ACLU of Arizona

Cervantes v. United States, et al.

Cervantes v. United States, et al., No. 4:16-cv-00334-CKJ (D. Ariz., filed June 8, 2016) 

On June 8, 2016, Plaintiff, a teenage U.S. citizen, filed a law suit under Bivens, the Federal Tort Claim Act, and 42 U.S.C. 1983 seeking redress for seven hours of abusive and degrading searches and strip searches by Border Patrol agents.  The complaint alleges that Plaintiff was walking home after eating breakfast in Nogales, Sonora when a Border Patrol agent accused her of carrying drugs.  She was then directed to a detention room, handcuffed to a chair, sniffed by dogs, and strip-searched by female agents.   After no drugs were found, CBP agents brought her to Holy Cross Hospital, in handcuffs, where hospital staff subjected her to invasive pelvic and rectal exams while CBP agents observed.

On October 24, 2016, the Government filed their answer to the complaint.

On February 7, 2017, the government filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s Bivens claims against Defendant Patrick F. Martinez, M.D. On February 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant Martinez’s motion to dismiss. Subsequently, Defendant Martinez withdrew his motion to dismiss on February 28, 2017.

On November 10, 2017, Defendant Quantum Plus filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff erroneously brought a negligent hiring claim based solely on a Bivens action against an agent. Several days later, Defendant Holy Cross Hospital moved to join in Quantum Plus’ motion. On February 19, 2018, Defendant Martinez filed a separate motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff could not bring a Bivens action against him because he was privately employed and not acting under claim of federal authority at the time of the medical examination.

The court granted the motions on July 18, 2018, dismissing the complaint with prejudice. With respect to Quantum Plus and Holy Cross Hospitals’ motion, the court reasoned that Plaintiff could not hold Defendants liable on a negligent hiring, training, and supervision claim in a Bivens cause of action. Regarding Defendant Martinez’ motion, the court held that it may not impose Bivens liability because Plaintiff may pursue an alternate state court action.

Counsel: Brian Marchetti, Marchetti Law PLC and Matthew C. Davidson | Law Offices of Matthew C Davidson Limited

Arizona Interior Enforcement Complaint

Arizona Interior Enforcement Complaint

In June 2016, the ACLU of Arizona filed a complaint on behalf of ten individuals with U.S. Department of Homeland Security oversight agencies and the Department of Justice demanding investigations into abuses arising from Border Patrol interior operations.

Most of the incidents described in the ACLU’s complaint arose in the course of Border Patrol checkpoint and “roving patrol” stops.  Several describe agents wrongfully detaining innocent residents for days in filthy, frigid, and overcrowded detention facilities.  Although these individuals were not charged with any crime or immigration violation, their property was confiscated and some had to pay thousands of dollars to recover a vehicle.

In other cases, residents describe facing constant surveillance and harassment on their own property, including frequent incursions by low-flying Border Patrol helicopters.

A copy of the ACLU complaint to CBP and DOJ is available here.

A district court case was filed but was dismissed on February 15, 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

FTCA Administrative Complaint by Immigrant Mothers’ Against DHS/CBP/ICE

FTCA Administrative Complaint by Immigrant Mothers’ Against DHS/CBP/ICE

On August 10, 2015, five immigrant mothers sent administrative complaints to the Department of Homeland Security under the Federal Tort Claims Act for the abuses the women and their children had suffered while detained in ICE custody. These women, who fled their home countries due to endemic violence suffered at the hands of criminal gangs and intimate partners, sought asylum in the United States. After entering the custody of CBP/ICE, they endured deplorable detention conditions, including woefully inadequate medical and mental health care, little to no legal information as to their rights and/or fates, no educational services for the detained children, and lack of access to necessities such as food, water, clothing, and bathing facilities.

Counsel: R. Andrew Free | Barrett, Johnston, Martin & Garrison, LLC

Contact: R. Andrew Free | (615) 244-2202 | Andrew@ImmigrantCivilRights.com

Press coverage:

Rodriguez v. Swartz

Rodriguez v. Swartz, No. 14-02251 (D. Ariz., filed Sept. 8, 2014)

This civil rights case involves the brazen and lawless killing of a sixteen-year-old boy, J.A., by U.S. Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz. On the night of October 10, 2012, J.A., a Mexican national, was peacefully walking along a street in his hometown of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The street on which he was walking, Calle Internacional, runs parallel to the border fence. At approximately 11:30 pm, Agent Swartz, standing on the U.S. side of the fence, opened fire. An autopsy report shows that J.A. was fatally hit with ten bullets. At the time of the shooting, the agents and/or officers were not under threat by J.A. or anyone else standing near him — much less in immediate danger of deadly or serious bodily harm. J.A. death was senseless and unjustified. Plaintiff Araceli Rodriguez filed this Bivens action for monetary damages for the killing of her youngest son, alleging claims under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

On July 10, 2015, the District Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant’s motion to dismiss. Disagreeing with the en banc Fifth Circuit, Chief Judge Raner C. Collins held that Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment claim could proceed and that Agent Swartz was not entitled to qualified immunity.

In mid-September, 2015, the Department of Justice charged Swartz criminally with second degree murder. Following several postponements, the Swartz criminal trial began in Tucson on March 22, 2018.  The jury found Swartz not guilty of second degree murder on April 23, 2018, after hearing several weeks of testimony from Nogales Police Department officers, Border Patrol agents, forensics experts, and Swartz himself.  The same jury failed to arrive at a unanimous decision as to the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter, leaving open the door for a future criminal prosecution of the lower-level offense.  On May 12, 2018 the U.S. Attorney Office in Tucson announced that it would re-try Swartz on the lesser charge, and he was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter on November 21, 2018.

In the civil case, Defendant filed a Notice of Appeal with the Ninth Circuit. Briefing was completed as of June 1, 2016.  On October 21, 2016, the parties argued the case at the Ninth Circuit. The panel indicated its intent to hold its decision pending the Supreme Court’s resolution of Hernandez v. United States, which was decided on June 26, 2017.

On August 7, 2018, the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Kleinfeld with a dissent from Judge M. Smith, affirmed the District Court’s decision denying Defendant qualified immunity, reasoning that “J.A. had a Fourth Amendment right to be free from the unreasonable use of deadly force by an American agent acting on American soil, even though the agent’s bullets hit him in Mexico.” The Court extended a Bivens remedy, finding that Plaintiff had no other adequate alternative remedy and that no “special factors” counseled hesitation in extending such a remedy. The Court did not reach the Fifth Amendment arguments but stated that, in the event the Fourth Amendment does not apply because J.A. was in Mexico, the Fifth Amendment’s “shock the conscience” test may still apply.

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