J.A.M., et al., v. United States of America, et al., No. 3:22-cv-00380 (S.D. Cal., filed Mar. 21, 2022)
The family of a 9-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy filed a damages suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act after the children, both U.S. citizens, were held in custody at the San Ysidro Port of Entry – the boy for more than 12 hours and his sister for more than 30 hours. The complaint recounts how J.A.M. and her brother O.A.M. were falsely imprisoned in San Ysidro and coerced into making false confessions about the girl’s identity. Officers insisted to the children that the girl was actually their cousin, who is not a U.S. citizen.
J.A.M. and her brother O.A.M. were on their way from Tijuana to school in San Diego with a family friend. Though both children presented officers with valid U.S. passports, a CBP officer sent them to secondary inspection, then to a holding area. According to the children, CBP officers interviewed them about other young relatives their age and then pressured them to sign false statements claiming that J.A.M. was actually their cousin. The children said they were told that O.A.M. would be taken to jail for smuggling if they did not sign. CBP allegedly intended to have the Mexican consulate interview J.A.M. to verify her identity, but claimed an appointment was not available until the following morning.
Upon learning her children had not made it out of the port of entry, their mother, Ms. Medina Navarro, left the medical facility where she was awaiting surgery to inquire at the port of entry for her children. At first, officers denied having the children in custody. More than 12 hours after her children were first taken into custody, Ms. Medina Navarro received a call that C.B.P. had her son in custody with a girl who was not her daughter, and was told she could come pick up her son. Though Ms. Medina Navarro took additional documents to prove the identity of her daughter, officers did not release J.A.M. to her mother until after J.A.M.’s interview with the Mexican consulate the following day, 33 hours after she was first taken into custody.
The family filed administrative Federal Tort Claims Act complaints. CBP denied the claims in full on September 29, 2021, and the family filed suit on March 21, 2022. The government filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or motion for summary judgment, which was denied on July 21, 2022, and subsequently filed an answer to the complaint on August 4, 2022.
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