FOIA: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 3:22-cv-00149-JRK (N.D. Ohio, filed Jan. 28, 2022)

On March 12, 2021, Plaintiffs Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) and the American Immigration Council (AIC) submitted three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seeking documents related to the Border Patrol’s immigration enforcement activities in Ohio. Specifically, the requests sought policies and communications of the Sandusky Bay Border Patrol Station in Port Clinton, Ohio, as well as various forms documenting apprehensions by the Sandusky Bay Border Patrol Station.

On January 28, 2022, after Defendant failed to adequately respond to the request, Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendant seeking a declaration that Defendant’s failure to disclose responsive records and failure to promptly produce responsive records violates FOIA, as well as an order that Defendant immediately conduct a reasonable search for agency records and immediately produce all responsive agency records.

On March 9, 2022, the Court granted CBP’s motion for extension of time to answer the complaint until April 23, 2022.

Documents:
Complaint

Counsel: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc.; American Immigration Council; Immigrant Legal Defense

Contact:
Mark Heller | mheller@ablelaw.org
Emily Creighton | ECreighton@immcouncil.org
Claudia Valenzuela | claudia@ild.org

Abdulkadir Nur v. Unknown U.S. Customs & Border Protection Agents, et al., No. 1:22-cv-00169-AJT-JFA (E.D. Va., filed Feb. 17, 2022)

Abdulkadir Nur is a 69-year-old U.S. citizen who was born in Somalia but lives in northern Virginia. Mr. Nur is also Muslim. As a business owner and humanitarian, Mr. Nur frequently travels internationally, and every single time he arrives back in the United States after traveling overseas, CBP officers have illegally seized any phone or laptop he has with him.

In September 2008, Mr. Nur was providing logistical support to a United Nations relief program in Somalia when his caravan was raided by local insurgents. Following the event, a United Nations Monitor Group launched an investigation, and ultimately found that Mr. Nur had not done anything improper. However, the investigation drew the attention of the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, who demanded financial records and data from Mr. Nur and his company. Mr. Nur fully complied with the investigation, and both the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office told Mr. Nur that they wouldn’t be looking into the event any further.

However, since that time, Mr. Nur has been the target of increased scrutiny at airports and border crossings, always being subjected to secondary inspection and interrogation. In 2018, the intensity of this scrutiny increased – following every flight Mr. Nur has taken into the United States since then, CBP officers have seized Mr. Nur’s electronic devices and demanded the passwords. Believing he had no choice and not wanting to further prolong his detention, Mr. Nur gave his passwords to the officers, who then left the room with his devices, eventually returning them upon his release. When Mr. Nur eventually began refusing to give officers the passwords, the officers would still take Mr. Nur’s devices, sometimes seizing them and holding them for days or weeks.

Mr. Nur believes that following the incident in Somalia, he was placed on a federal terrorist watchlist known as the “Terrorism Screening Database” for those suspected to have ties to domestic terrorism. However, in order to be placed on the watchlist, the federal government need only have a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is “reasonably suspected” of nefarious activities – a standard far lower than “reasonable suspicion” or “probable cause” that often leads to people being placed on the watchlist merely for being a friend or community member of someone on the watchlist, rendering the list highly over-inclusive. The FBI itself has admitted that it is “not aware of any instance where [the identifying information included on the watchlist] alone prevented an act of terrorism.” Mr. Nur believes that his placement on the watchlist has caused his repeated detention, interrogation, and seizure of his devices. 

On February 17, 2022, Mr. Nur filed a lawsuit alleging that CBP’s searches and seizures of his devices based solely on his inclusion on the watchlist violate the Fourth Amendment and that officers compelling him to provide his device passwords violates his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He also alleges that CBP’s policies of searching and seizing him and other U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents included on the federal watchlist are unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act.

He seeks, among other things, a declaratory judgment that Defendants must have reasonable suspicion apart from watchlist status before performing nonroutine search and seizures of persons on the watchlist or forensic searches of their electronic devices and that Mr. Nur’s placement on the watchlist imposed unlawful consequences on him. He also seeks an injunction prohibiting Defendants from searching someone’s device because of their watchlist status or ordering individuals at the border to provide passwords or other access to their electronic devices, and ordering Defendants to remove Mr. Nur’s watchlist status and expunge records regarding his status and information illegally seized from him. Mr. Nur also seeks damages pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unnamed Agents.

Documents:
Complaint

Counsel: CAIR Legal Defense Fund

Contacts:
Lena Masri | lmasri@cair.com
Gadeir Abbas | gabbas@cair.com
Justin Sadowsky | jsadowsky@cair.com
Kimberly Noe-Lehenbauer | knoelehenbauer@cair.com


Haitian Bridge Alliance, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 1:21-cv-03317 (D.D.C., filed Dec.20, 2021)

Mirard Joseph is a Haitian man who was whipped by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while attempting to bring food to his family in a Texas migrant encampment. Mr. Joseph alleges his wife received only bread and water and a single diaper for their infant daughter each day—conditions that eventually drove him and others to leave the Del Rio encampment and return to Mexico to buy food. When they attempted to reenter the camp with their purchases, they were met by Border Patrol officers who grabbed Mr. Joseph’s shirt, “lashed at him with reins, attempted to drag him back into the water, and nearly trampled him.”

Mr. Joseph and ten other Haitian nationals held in the temporary Border Patrol camp allege that this mistreatment was part of a discriminatory policy by the Biden administration to target Haitians. Plaintiffs allege that the U.S. government differentially applied the Title 42 process—a summary expulsion process purportedly designed to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the government used Title 42 at the Del Rio Port of Entry against Haitian and Haitian-appearing asylum seekers with the purpose of discouraging them from accessing their right to seek asylum. Plaintiffs assert that this Haitian Deterrence Policy diverges from standard practice for asylum seekers and is driven by discriminatory purpose. Despite ample warning that thousands of Haitian migrants were heading toward Del Rio, federal authorities refused to prepare adequate infrastructure to receive them when arrivals started ramping up in September. As a result, a makeshift processing center under the Del Rio International Bridge turned into an encampment, where up to 15,000 people were made to wait for days at a time in temperatures topping 100 degrees without adequate food, water, bedding, or medical attention.

Footage described in the complaint prompted a national outcry in September 2021, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki calling the tape “horrific” during her September 20 press briefing. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas launched an internal investigation into the encounter. While the Secretary initially called for findings to be released by the end of September, results are still pending.

Plaintiffs allege that the Haitian Deterrence Policy did not end with mistreatment in Del Rio. After being processed for admission, the U.S. government placed those Haitian asylum seekers in detention, split up families, and shackled and removed them to Haiti without providing the opportunity to request humanitarian protection in the United States. Plaintiff Wilson Doe testified that DHS officers lied and said his family was being transferred to another detention facility when they were actually being expelled pursuant to Title 42. Officers then beat him when he resisted boarding the plane.

Plaintiffs allege violations of the Fifth Amendment due process clause and the Administrative Procedure Act. They also seek certification for a class of all Haitian or presumed Haitian individuals who were denied access to the U.S. asylum process in or around the Del Rio encampment between September 9 and 24, 2021. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief enjoining the government from subjecting members of the proposed class to the Haitian Deterrence Policy or Title 42 expulsions. They also seek return of those already expelled under Title 42 to allow them to pursue their asylum claims. Plaintiffs filed their complaint on December 20, 2021.

Counsel: Innovation Law Lab; Haitian Bridge Alliance; Justice Action Center.

Contacts:
Taisha Santil | tsaintil@haitianbridge.org
Tasha Moro | tasha.moro@justiceactioncenter.org
Alex Mensing | alexm@innovationlawlab.org

Documents:
Complaint

Press:
Class Action Ties Alleged Whipping To Haitian Discrimination
Haitian Migrants File Lawsuit Protesting Treatment by Border Patrol

Dousa v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 3:19-cv-01255 (S.D. Cal., filed Jul. 8, 2019)

Pastor Kaji Douša sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to stop their unlawful retaliation against her for providing pastoral services to migrants and refugees—a central calling of her Christian faith. In 2018, Pastor Douša helped organize the “Sanctuary Caravan,” a mobile clinic of faith leaders to deliver pastoral services, such as prayer and church-blessed marriage ceremonies, to migrants seeking asylum in the United States. In December 2018, Pastor Douša traveled to Mexico to join the Sanctuary Caravan. But upon attempting to return to the United States, federal officials detained and interrogated her. She later learned that DHS had targeted her for heightened scrutiny and had revoked her clearance for expedited border crossing as part of Operation Secure Line, a DHS intelligence collection operation targeting activists, lawyers, and journalists working on issues related to the October 2018 migrant caravan and conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border. In March 2019, media outlet NBC 7 San Diego revealed existence of a “watchlist” that included the names, photos, and information of fifty-nine individuals purportedly tied to the migrant caravans, including Pastor Douša.

Pastor Douša brought this suit in July 2019, alleging retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, and violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). She seeks declaratory relief and an injunction compelling the government to stop surveilling, detaining, interrogating, or acting unlawfully against her in retaliation for how, when, and where she exercises her religion.

On January 28, 2020, the court denied Pastor Douša’s motion for a preliminary injunction and granted in part the government’s motion to dismiss. The court dismissed Plaintiff’s hybrid First Amendment rights claim, which asserted a Free Exercise claim in conjunction with a free speech and association claim, but allowed her to proceed with her First Amendment free exercise and RFRA claims. The parties have continued to engage in discovery. In December 2021, Pastor Douša moved to sanction DHS for misrepresentations, discovery delays, and failure to correct a false declaration. The hearing on the motion for sanctions is now set for May 12, 2022.

Further information can be found on the Protect Democracy website.

Two other lawsuits related to the unlawful targeting of journalists, attorneys, and advocates as part of Operation Secure Line are Guan v. Mayorkas and Phillips v. CBP.

Documents:

Counsel:
Arnold & Porter LLP; Protect Democracy

Contact:
Stanton Jones | stanton.jones@arnoldporter.com
Christine Kwon | christine.kwon@protectdemocracy.org

Press:
New York Pastor and Immigration Advocate Asks Court to Sanction Federal Officials
Source: Leaked Documents Show the U.S. Government Tracking Journalists and Immigration Advocates Through a Secret Database – NBC 7 San Diego (nbcsandiego.com)

FTCA Administrative Claim of CBP Sexual Assault (filed on June 9, 2021)

Janine Bouey is a U.S. Army Veteran who traveled to Tijuana for a dental appointment. On the way back, she crossed back into the United States through the pedestrian lanes of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. Even though she had a U.S. passport, a male Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer asked her questions in a flirtatious and pushy tone. After Ms. Buoy refused to give him her home address, the officer pulled her out of line. While she was detained at the Port of Entry, female and male CBP officers sexually assaulted her under the pretext of a cavity search. Eventually, CBP released her.

Ms. Bouey filed a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) complaint stating CBP had no reasonable basis to assault, humiliate, and degrade her. The administrative complaint alleges claims for sexual assault, assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, Bane Act violations, Ralph Act violations, equal protection violations, and California Civil Code violations.

Documents:

Complaint

Counsel: Joseph M. McMullen | joe@imm-legal.com
Contact: Kendall Martin | kendall@alliancesd.org | (619) 629-0337
Press:
Abuse, Assault and Impunity at DHS Must Stop: Former LAPD Officer Subjected to Sexual Assault by DHS Sues the Agency

State of Washington v. Greyhound Lines, Inc.

State of Washington v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., No. 20-2-01236-32 (Spokane Cnty. Sup. Ct., consent decree filed Sept. 26, 2021)

In April 2020, the Attorney General of Washington (Bob Ferguson) filed a lawsuit against Greyhound Lines challenging its practice of allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents on its buses to conduct warrantless and suspicionless immigration sweeps. Greyhound failed to warn customers of the sweeps, misrepresented its role in allowing the sweeps to occur on its buses, and subjected passengers to unlawful discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. The case was set for trial on September 27, 2021.

On September 26, 2021, the parties filed a consent decree which requires Greyhound to pay $2.2 million and to enact a number of corporate reforms to end its unlawful conduct. For example, Greyhound must establish and implement a clear policy that denies CBP agents permission to board its buses without warrants or reasonable suspicion in the state of Washington. The Attorney General has stated that the $2.2 million will be used to provide restitution to those passengers who were detained, arrested, or deported as a result of the immigration sweeps on Greyhound buses.

Documents:

Counsel: Lane Polozola, Yesica Hernandez, Brian J. Sutherland, and Emily C. Nelson (Washington State Attorney General’s Office)

Contact: Yesica Hernandez | Washington State Attorney General’s Office | civilrights@atg.wa.gov

Ortega, et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Ortega, et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 1:21-cv-11250-FDS (D. Mass, filed Aug. 2, 2021)

On August 2, 2021, the Boston College Civil Rights Clinic and Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on behalf of Neisa Ortega and her 14-year-old daughter. On multiple occasions over the course of a year, Ms. Ortega and her daughter were separated for hours without explanation and Ms. Ortega subjected to repeated invasive body searches and sexual violations at the hands of CBP officers while travelling through Logan Airport in Boston.

The complaint alleges that CBP subjected Ms. Ortega to illegal and unconstitutional treatment upon her returns from family visits to the Dominican Republic. Beginning in April 2019, CBP officers assaulted, degraded, and humiliated Ms. Ortega on three separate occasions through invasive body cavity searches that contravened CBP’s internal guidelines prohibiting officers from conducting vaginal cavity searches. During these body cavity searches, CBP officers separated Ms. Ortega from her daughter for hours, during which time neither was given information as to the other’s whereabouts. Ms. Ortega and her daughter have been traumatized by their separation from each other, and Ms. Ortega still lives with the trauma of being physically abused and sexually violated. 

On November 5, 2020, Ms. Ortega filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL); CRCL summarily closed the complaint on March 30, 2021. On January 19, 2021, Ms. Ortega filed an administrative claim with CBP on behalf of herself and her daughter under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA); CBP likewise denied the claim in full on June 17, 2021. Having exhausted administrative remedies under the FTCA, Ms. Ortega filed this lawsuit claiming Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as compensatory relief pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) and the FTCA.

On October 15, 2021, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, along with their answer to the complaint, claiming the United States has not waived sovereign immunity to the claims set for by Plaintiffs. On November 24, 2021, Plaintiffs filed a memorandum in Opposition to Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss.

Documents:

Counsel: Boston College Civil Rights Clinic; Lawyers for Civil Rights

Contact: Arielle Sharma, Lawyers for Civil Rights | asharma@lawyersforcivilrights.org; Reena Parikh, Boston College Civil Rights Clinic | reena.parikh@bc.edu


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 (FOIA) 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. Defendants filed their answer on January 27, 2021, and production in response to ACLU’s FOIA request is ongoing as of October 2021.

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 CBP Directive 3340-049A and declaring it unlawful. On March 29, 2021, Defendants filed their answer to Mr. Malik’s complaint.

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).