American Civil Liberties Union v. Department of Homeland Security

American Civil Liberties Union v. Department of Homeland Security, 1:20-cv-10083 (S.D.N.Y., filed Dec. 2, 2020).

Many modern cell phone applications routinely gather users’ location information and sell it to third parties, who then use it for marketing and other purposes. In February 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were purchasing location information from private companies and using it to locate and arrest noncitizens. One company, Venntel, appears to be selling access to a large database to DHS, CBP, and ICE. This raises serious concerns that CBP and ICE are evading Fourth Amendment protections by purchasing location information instead of obtaining warrants.

In February 2020, the ACLU filed Freedom of Information Act requests with DHS, CBP, and ICE seeking: (1) records of contracts, letters of commitments, and other agreements concerning government access to or receipt of cell phone location information; (2) all communications with or about Venntel Inc.; (3) policies, guidelines, memoranda, and trainings relating to government access and use of cell phone information purchased from commercial vendors; (4) formal legal analysis concerning access to commercial databases containing cell phone location information purchased from a commercial vendor; (5) records sufficient to show the volume of cell phone location data contained in commercial databases for which DHS, CBP, and ICE have purchased access; (6) records showing how many times each year DHS, CBP, and ICE employees or contractors have accessed such databases; and (7) records concerning the use of commercially purchased cell phone information in any court application, trial, hearing, or other proceeding.

On December 2, 2020, the ACLU filed a complaint seeking to compel CBP, ICE, and DHS to conduct adequate searches for the records they requested through FOIA.

Documents:

Counsel: ACLU Foundation Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project

Contact: Nathan Freed Wessler, ACLU Foundation | (212) 549-2500 | nwessler@aclu.org

Additional links:

• Brian Tau and Michelle Hackman, Federal Agencies Use Cellphone Location Data for Immigration Enforcement, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 7, 2020.

Malik v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Adam A. Malik, et al. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 4:21-cv-00088-P (N.D. Tex., filed Jan. 25, 2021)

Adam Malik is an immigration attorney based in Texas. In January 2021, Mr. Malik returned to the United States from a trip to Costa Rica, during which he had used his phone to contact clients and work on cases in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is an opposing party. When he attempted to reenter the United States through Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Mr. Malik was sent to secondary inspection. After extensive questioning, including about his legal practice, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized Mr. Malik’s phone and informed him that its contents would be searched.

On January 25, 2021, Mr. Malik filed suit against the DHS and CBP in the Northern District of Texas. He claims that the seizure and search of his phone without probable cause or a warrant violates the First and Fourth Amendments. He also claims that CBP Directive 3340-049A, which governs the search of digital devices at ports of entry, is arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), because it fails to adequately protect privileged legal information and impermissibly permits CBP to conduct searches and seizures that violate the First and Fourth Amendments. In addition to the return of his phone and the destruction of information and documents seized by CBP, Mr. Malik seeks injunctive and declaratory relief enjoining enforcement of Directive 3340-049A and declaring it unlawful.

Documents

Counsel: Roy Petty & Associates, PLLC

Contact: Roy Petty, Roy Petty & Associates, PLLC | (214) 905-1420, roy@roypetty.com

Additional links:
• Tim Cushing, Texas Immigration Lawyer Sues DHS, CBP Over Seizure and Search of His Work Phone, TechDirt.com, Feb. 2, 2021.

I.M. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

I.M. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, et al., No. 1:20-cv-3576-DLF (D.D.C., filed Dec. 11, 2020)

I.M. is a sustainable agriculture entrepreneur and founder of a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable farming who came to the United States on a B-1 visa to learn more about sustainable agricultural practices. Despite having been admitted for this purpose in 2019, when he attempted to reenter the country in 2020 on a valid B-1 visa he was detained on erroneous grounds by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, who unilaterally decided to revoke I.M.’s visa and expel him from the country under the expedited removal statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(1)(A)(i). At no point did I.M. have an opportunity to obtain judicial review of CBP’s legally and factually incorrect decisions to detain him, revoke his visa, and deny him admission to the country.

On December 11, 2020, I.M. filed a habeas petition and complaint against federal government defendants, including CBP, seeking vacatur of his removal order and reinstatement of his B-1 visa. I.M. argued that an unappointed CBP employee exercising unreviewed, unilateral discretion to revoke his visa and remove him violated the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, U.S. Const. art. II, § 2, cl. 2. The Appointments Clause requires that federal government officials who exercise significant authority be appointed by the President or, with Congress’s authorization, by a Head of Department or a court of law. I.M. claims that the decisions of CBP employees to unilaterally order removal under the expedited removal statute are void unless those employees were appointed consistent with the requirements of the Appointments Clause.

The government filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and petition on jurisdictional grounds in late February 2021. Briefing was completed in early April and a decision is pending from the District Court.

Counsel: Democracy Forward Foundation, National Immigrant Justice Center, Latham & Watkins

Contact: Mark Fleming, National Immigrant Justice Center, mfleming@heartlandalliance.org

Additional links:
• NIJC, DHS and CBP Sued for Unconstitutionally Allowing Unappointed Border Employees to Deport Immigrants (Dec. 11, 2020).

Grays v. Mayorkas

Johnny Grays, et al. v. Mayorkas, et al., No. 3:21-cv-10526-RHC-KGA (E.D. Mich., filed Mar. 9, 2021)

Johnny Grays, Mikal Williams, and Jermaine O. Broderick, Sr., are all Black Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Michigan, where only four out of 275 CBP officers are Black. They claim that, for over a decade, CBP management at the Port Huron port of entry systematically targeted Black drivers for stops; subjected them to additional scrutiny, including criminal record checks; and treated them in an unprofessional and demeaning fashion. They also claim that as Black CBP officers they were subjected to a hostile, racist work environment in which other CBP officers repeatedly made racist comments and were demeaning.

On March 9, 2021, Grays, Williams, and Broderick, Sr. filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Michigan alleging widespread discrimination against Black travelers and Black CBP officers at the Port Huron, Michigan CBP office.

Counsel: Deborah Gordon Law

Contact: Deborah Gordon, Deborah Gordon Law | (248) 258-2500 | dgordon@deborahgordonlaw.com

Additional Links:

• Zack Linly, 3 Black Border Patrol Officers File Lawsuit Against CBP Alleging Constant Racial Profiling and Harassment of Black Travelers, The Root, Apr. 21, 2021.

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

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

Guan v. Mayorkas

Guan, et al., v. Mayorkas, et al., No. 1:19-cv-06570-PKC-JO (E.D.N.Y., filed Nov. 20, 2019)

In Guan v. Wolf, five journalists were tracked by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and other government agencies, and then detained, and interrogated by CBP officials when attempting to re-enter the United States. In response to this unprecedented coordinated attack on the freedom of the press, Plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit alleging violations of their First Amendment rights on November 20, 2019.

Bing Guan, Go Nakamura, Mark Abramson, Kitra Cahana, and Ariana Drehsler are all U.S. citizen professional photojournalists. Between November 2018 and January 2019, they separately traveled to Mexico to document people traveling north from Central America by caravan in an attempt to reach the U.S.-Mexico border. Border patrol agents referred each journalist to secondary inspection on their return to the United States and questioned them about their work as photojournalists, including their coverage of the caravan, their observations of conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, and their knowledge of the identities of certain individuals. This questioning focused on what each journalist had observed in Mexico in the course of working as a journalist, and did not relate to any permissible immigration or customs purpose. A secret government database leaked to NBC San Diego in March 2019 revealed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had engaged in wide-ranging intelligence collection targeting activists, lawyers, and journalists—including these five journalists—working on issues related to the October 2018 migrant caravan and conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The five journalists filed this action alleging that CBP’s questioning aimed at uncovering their sources of information and their observations as journalists was unconstitutional. They seek a declaratory judgment that such conduct violated the First Amendment. The journalists further seek an injunction requiring the government to expunge any records it retained regarding the unlawful questioning and to inform the journalists whether those records have been disclosed to other agencies, governments, or individuals. On August 14, 2020, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which Plaintiffs have opposed. On March 30, 2021, the District Court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding that Plaintiffs plausibly alleged infringement of their First Amendment rights.

Counsel: ACLU San Diego & Imperial Counties; ACLU; NYCLU

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

Council on American-Islamic Relations-Washington v. CBP

Council on American-Islamic Relations-Washington v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 2:20-cv-217 (W.D. Wash., filed Feb. 12, 2020)

The Council on American-Islamic Relations–Washington (CAIR-WA) filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington challenging CBP’s refusal to reveal the directive issued to CBP officers to detain and interrogate Iranian-Americans, among others, who were returning to the United States in early January 2020. CBP has repeatedly denied that they issued any such directive. In light of CBP’s denials, on January 8, 2020, CAIR-WA filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), asking the agency to produce any directives or instructions provided to CBP officers regarding the detention and interrogation of individuals of Iranian heritage, as well as any responses from CBP headquarters regarding the operation. Because CBP failed to respond pursuant to FOIA, CAIR-WA filed a lawsuit in federal district court seeking to ensure that CBP remains accountable for taking such actions.

The complaint alleges that on January 4, 2020, dozens of persons of Iranian heritage, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, returned to the Unites States after visiting British Columbia. But rather than allowing them to return, CBP officers at the Blaine Port of Entry in Blaine, Washington, detained these individuals based on their Iranian heritage for several hours, and in some cases, through most of the night of January 4 and into the morning hours of January 5, 2020. CBP officials repeatedly denied that they were detaining Iranian-Americans and denied that orders had been given to target such individuals for additional questioning. According to a statement issued by CBP’s press secretary on January 5, 2020, “Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the U.S. because of their country of origin are false. Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a related directive are also false.”

However, dozens of individuals reported their detention at the Blaine Port of Entry, discrediting CBP’s denials that individuals of Iranian heritage were detained. Most recently, media outlets have also reported the existence a leaked memorandum issued by CBP’s Seattle Field Office, which directed officers at the border to detain and question individuals based solely on their place of birth.

Under FOIA, CBP had twenty days to respond to CAIR’s request. Despite the statutory obligation, CBP neglected to provide a response within the timeline, much less provide a copy of the directive that CBP refused to acknowledge. The initial complaint asked the Court to order CBP to immediately provide all documents and records relating to the detention and interrogation that occurred, targeting persons of Iranian heritage (as well as those from Libya and Palestine).

On April 15, 2020, counsel for CBP provided counsel for CAIR a redacted and incomplete FOIA response. On April 30, 2020, counsel for CAIR was provided a supplemental response to the FOIA request, still far short of the responsive records identified by the agency. On May 1, 2020, CAIR amended the complaint to add claims challenging CBP’s continued delay in producing responsive records, and in July 2020, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

On October 5, 2020, the court granted summary judgment in favor of CAIR-WA and ordered defendants to conduct an adequate search of the emails of even the highest level CBP officials. Significantly, the Court ordered CBP to include in its search the email of then-Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan. The Court also required CBP to provide to the Court unredacted copies of additional documents that CBP refused to release, in order to determine whether they must also be released to the public. Those documents include the previously-leaked directive ordering the detention of all Iranians entering at the border, regardless of their lawful status. In doing so, the Court observed that the “release of the directive that mandated the detention of individuals based on national origin may be appropriate” given that exemptions to FOIA “should not shield the disclosure [of] records of illegal activity.” Notably, as the Court observed in its decision, CBP has not contested that its actions in ordering the detention of Iranians at the border was unlawful.

On December 14, 2020, after in camera review of responsive documents, the Court issued an order compelling the disclosure of improperly withheld portions of a directive that had unlawfully directed CBP personnel to detain all Iranians at certain U.S. Ports of Entry along the northern border in January 2020.

The newly released emails unequivocally demonstrate that CBP detained United States citizens, lawful permanents residents, and others based solely on their national origin for many hours at the Blaine Port of Entry.

Press:

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/border-officials-were-overzealous-stopping-iranian-americans-at-washington-canada-border-cbp-chief-says/

https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/immigration/b/outsidenews/posts/emails-reveal-illegal-cbp-actions-at-border

NWIRP Press Release

Counsel: Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

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

ACLU of New Hampshire v. CBP

ACLU of New Hampshire v. CBP, No. 1:19-cv-00977 (D.N.H., filed Sept. 17, 2019)

In early 2019, the ACLU of New Hampshire (ACLU-NH) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after obtaining documents that described plainclothes CBP officers as far as 100 miles from the border in New Hampshire driving in unmarked cars, following people around, and “asking probing questions” without identifying themselves. This practice enabled CBP to apprehend and detain many noncitizens in New Hampshire. ACLU-NH submitted a FOIA request for information pertaining to how CBP officers identified individuals who could potentially be undocumented immigrants in New Hampshire, but CBP did not respond adequately. Therefore, in September 2019, ACLU-NH filed a lawsuit in pursuit of the information detailed in the FOIA request.

Counsel: SangYeob Kim, Gilles R. Bissonnette, Henry R. Klementowicz, ACLU of New Hampshire

Contact: SanYeob Kim | ACLU-NH | 603-333-2081 | sangyeob@aclu-nh.org