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

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.

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

Clear, et al. v. CBP

Clear, et al., v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 1:2019-cv-07079 (E.D.N.Y., filed Dec. 18, 2019)

The American Civil Liberties Union and Cuny Law School CLEAR Project filed a lawsuit against CBP in December 2019 over its Tactical Terrorism Response Teams (TTRT), which plaintiffs argue are discriminatory against individuals from the Middle East.

The complaint alleges that CBP is deploying secret teams across at least 46 airports and other U.S. ports of entry which target, detain, and interrogate innocent travelers. Frequently TTRT officers request that travelers unlock their electronic devices and subject them to search. While TTRTs operate largely in secret, CBP has publicly admitted the teams are explicitly targeting individuals who are not on any government watchlist and whom the government has never identified as posing a security risk. Former CBP Commissioner and form acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, has indicated TTRT officers may rely on their “instincts” or hunches to target travelers.

Additionally, the ACLU of Northern California has filed an administrative complaint on behalf of an individual who was detained and interrogated by a TTRT.

 

Public statements by CBP officials about TTRTs:

 

Press:

https://theintercept.com/2019/05/13/customs-border-protection-profiling-airport/

https://www.aclu.org/news/immigrants-rights/a-secret-cbp-team-is-targeting-and-detaining-innocent-travelers-were-suing/

https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/2019/07/16/somali-man-wins-fight-to-join-wife-kids-in-us/1722751001/

Counsel: American Civil Liberties Union

Contact: Scarlet Kim| American Civil Liberties Union Foundation | ScarletK@aclu.org

 

 

Lewis v. Unknown Agents of the Department of Homeland Security

Lewis v. Unknown Agents of the United States Department of Homeland Security, No. 3:19-cv-00600 (S.D. Cal., filed Apr. 1, 2019)

Sams v. Unknown Agents of the United States Department of Homeland Security, No. 3:19-cv-00612 (S.D. Cal., filed Apr. 2, 2019)

These lawsuits arise from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s detention of two individuals who were experiencing withdrawal from opiates and alcohol and were denied medical treatment. The plaintiffs bring claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), alleging violations of their Fifth Amendment Rights.

Mr. Lewis, a U.S. citizen and military veteran, was arrested by DHS at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in February 2019. He alleges that he told the arresting officers of his history of substance abuse, prompting laughter. He began experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal, and instead of being given medical treatment, was transferred back-and-forth between the San Diego Metropolitan Correction Center and DHS custody. Mr. Lewis spent four days in DHS custody experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, unable to move or eat, all the while requesting medical attention which was never given.

The facts of Ms. Sam’s case are similar. In January 2019, DHS officers interrogated and detained her. Despite advising officers of her substance abuse history, she was placed in a small holding cell. She remained in DHS custody for four days, during which time she experienced grave symptoms of withdrawal and repeatedly requested medical attention. Her requests were ignored.

Counsel: Brody McBride, Singleton Law Firm, APC

NBC 7 San Diego v. United States Department of Homeland Security

NBC 7 San Diego et al v. United States Department of Homeland Security et al., No. 1:19-cv-01146 (D.D.C., filed Apr. 22, 2019)

In March 2019, NBC 7 San Diego reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) maintains a secret database of lawyers, journalists, and others who were covering the migrant caravan or advocating for asylum seekers. Several of those in the database reported spending hours in secondary screening, and at least three people reported being barred from crossing into Mexico.

NBC reported that CBP secretly tracks these individuals under the aegis of “Operation Secure Line,” the moniker for its efforts to deter and intimidate caravans of asylum seekers. The agency’s proffered justification for maintaining this secret database is that the people listed were somehow involved with an incident in which a large group of asylum seekers approached the border barrier, leading CBP to respond with tear gas.

The existence of this database attracted the attention of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security, prompting a letter to DHS leadership requesting further information on the tracking of journalists and advocates.

On April 22, 2019, NBC 7 San Diego filed this lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking records that reference “Operation Secure Line” and the secret database. CBP continues to deny the data base sought exists. The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment.

Counsel: The Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press

Contact: Katie Townsend | 202-795-9300 | ktownsend@rcfp.org

Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen

Innovation Law Lab et al. v. Nielsen, No. 3:19-cv-00807 (N.D. Cal., filed Feb. 14, 2019)

On December 20, 2018, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen announced a new government policy, the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” that would force noncitizens seeking admission from Mexico to return to Mexico to await their removal proceedings. The administration voiced its intention to implement the policy “on a large scale basis,” beginning first with San Ysidro Port of Entry in California on January 28, 2019.

A lawsuit challenging this forced return policy (commonly known as “Remain in Mexico”), was brought on behalf of legal organizations that serve asylum seekers and eleven asylum seekers from Central America. Defendants include DHS, CBP, USCIS and ICE. The complaint explains that the individual plaintiffs are particularly vulnerable to, and many have already suffered, serious violence and discrimination while stranded in Mexico. Furthermore, without access to legal representation, information regarding immigration court hearings, or the right to lawfully work in Mexico, these individuals have been effectively deprived of the right to apply for asylum in the United States as a result of the MPP/RIM policy.

The lawsuit explains that procedural deficiencies in the MPP/RIM policy undermine the United States’ domestic and international legal obligations to ensure nonrefoulement of individuals who have expressed a fear of return to Mexico. In addition to alleging that the procedures for determining whether individuals will face persecution or torture in Mexico are unlawful, the complaint specifies the grossly deficient—and at times abusive—practices of CBP officers in implementing the MPP/RIM policy. The complaint recounts cursory interviews during which plaintiffs routinely were not asked about fear of return to Mexico; were not provided explanations of the process to which they were subjected; were coerced into signing documents they did not understand or wish to sign; and were questioned by U.S. government officers who did not speak their language and who verbally abused or threatened them.

MPP/RIM also substantially interferes with legal organizations seeking to serve asylum seekers and other immigrant populations, straining and diverting these organizations’ resources as they scramble to assist asylum seekers stranded in Mexico. The complaint alleges that Defendants’ failure to comply with the notice and comment requirements established under the Administrative Procedures Act is also a violation of law.

On April 8, 2019, the federal district court issued a preliminary injunction blocking MPP/RIM. The government appealed, and on May 7, 2019, the Ninth Circuit granted DHS’s motion for a stay of the preliminary injunction while the appeal remained pending; this permitted MPP/RIM to go back into effect. The Ninth Circuit heard oral argument on the merits of the government’s appeal of the preliminary injunction grant on October 1, 2019.

Counsel: Judy Rabinovitz, Michael Tan, Omar Jadwat, Jennifer Chang Newell, Katrina Eiland, Julie Veroff, Lee Gelernt, Anand Balakrishnan, & Daniel Galindo, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Sean Riordan & Christine Sun, ACLU of Northern California; Melissa Crow, Mary Bauer, Saira Draper, & Gracie Willis, Southern Poverty Law Center; Blaine Bookey, Karen Musalo, Eunice Lee, Kathryn Jastram, & Sayoni Maitra, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

Contact: Judy Rabinovitz | ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project | jrabinovitz@aclu.org
Jennifer Chang Newell | ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project | jnewell@aclu.org

J.I. v. USA

J.I. v. USA, No. 1:18-at-00185 (E.D. Cal., filed March 15, 2018)

In the summer of 2016, J.I., a minor, traveled from Guatemala with her older sister to reunite with their mother in the United States. The sisters became lost in the area near the Presidio, Texas and Ojinaga, Chihuahua border. Afraid and thirsty, the sisters flagged down Border Patrol agents for help. The sisters were then taken into custody.

Once J.I. was in custody, a Border Patrol agent removed her from the cell she was in with her sister and took her to a small room, where he forced J.I. to remove her clothing and expose her breasts and genitalia. He then assaulted and battered J.I.

On March 21, 2017, J.I. submitted an administrative claim to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), as required under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). In a letter dated September 27, 2017, CBP replied on behalf of all named agencies and denied the administrative tort claim in full.

On March 15, 2018, the ACLU of Northern California filed an FTCA lawsuit against CBP alleging assault and battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. The lawsuit also included constitutional claims (violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments). The parties agreed to settle on October 19, 2018, and reached an agreement that includes a $125,000 payment to J.I. It is unclear whether CBP disciplined the agent, Fernando Saucedo III, and whether he is still employed by CBP.

Related Documents:

Counsel: ACLU of Northern California

Contact:  Angélica Salceda | ACLU of Northern California | asalceda@aclunc.org

 

Al Otro Lado v. Wolf

Al Otro Lado et al. v. Wolf et al., Case No. 3:17-cv-02366 (S.D. Cal., filed July 12, 2017)

On July 12, 2017, the American Immigration Council, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Latham & Watkins, LLP, filed a class action lawsuit challenging U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”)’s unlawful practice of turning away asylum seekers who present themselves at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Plaintiffs in the case are Al Otro Lado (a non-profit legal services organization that serves indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees in Los Angeles and Tijuana) and six courageous asylum seekers who experienced CBP’s unlawful conduct firsthand. Their experiences demonstrate that CBP uses a variety of tactics—including misrepresentation, threats and intimidation, verbal and physical abuse, and coercion—to deny bona fide asylum seekers the opportunity to pursue their claims. The complaint alleges that CBP’s conduct violates the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and the doctrine of non-refoulement under international law.

On November 13, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification, which included dozens of declarations from asylum seekers CBP had turned away at the border. On November 28, 2017, the Court granted Defendants’ motion to transfer venue to the Southern District of California and dismissed all pending motions without prejudice. On August 20, 2018, the court denied in part and granted in part the government’s motion to dismiss, allowing the majority of plaintiffs’ claims to go forward. On October 12, 2018, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint highlighting the Trump administration’s specific implementation of the “turnback policy” as well as the administration’s own “zero-tolerance policy.”

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on November 29, 2018, which Plaintiffs opposed. Close to two dozen states filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs’ opposition to the motion to dismiss, as did many members of Congress, Amnesty International, law professors, and nineteen nonprofit immigrant advocacy organizations.

In July 2019, the judge rejected most of Defendants’ claims in the motion to dismiss and ordered the government to file an answer to Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint, which it did in August 2019. In February, the parties completed briefing on certification of a class consisting of all noncitizens who seek or will seek to access the U.S. asylum process by presenting themselves at a POE on the U.S.-Mexico border, and were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process by or at the instruction of CBP officials on or after January 1, 2016, as well as sub-class of those who were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process as a result of metering over the same time period.

Motion for Preliminary Injunction

While this case has been pending, and asylum seekers remain stranded in Mexico under the Turnback Policy, the Trump administration issued an interim final rule (the “Asylum Ban”) barring individuals from asylum eligibility in the United States if they transited through a third country and did not seek protection there first. On September 26, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction and a motion seeking provisional class certification asking the district court to keep Defendants from applying the Asylum Ban to provisional class members, in order to maintain their eligibility for asylum until the court rules on the legality of the Trump administration’s metering policy in this case.

On November 19, 2019, the court provisionally certified a class consisting of “all non-Mexican asylum seekers who were unable to make a direct asylum claim at a U.S. [port of entry] before July 16, 2019 because of the U.S. Government’s metering policy, and who continue to seek access to the U.S. asylum process.” The court also blocked Defendants from applying the Asylum Ban to members of the provisional class and ordered that Defendants apply pre-Asylum Ban practices for processing the asylum applications of members of the class.

On December 4, 2019, Defendants appealed the district court’s order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On March 5, 2020, the Ninth Circuit denied Defendants’ motion for a stay of the order until the appellate court decides the merits of the appeal. In doing so, the Ninth Circuit lifted its previously imposed emergency temporary stay of the order. At this time, the district court’s order is in effect.

Class counsel prepared a Frequently Asked Questions resource to address common questions about the court’s order, class membership, and implementation.  The FAQ resource will be updated with developments and is available here.

 

Press:

Counsel: Mayer Brown LLP | American Immigration Council | Center for Constitutional Rights | Southern Poverty Law Center

Contact: Melissa Crow | Southern Poverty Law Center | Melissa.Crow@SPLCenter.org

Alton Jones v. United States of America, et al.

Alton Jones v. United States of America, et al., No. 3:16-cv-01986-W-WVG (S.D. Cal., filed Aug. 8, 2016)

In August 2014, Alton Jones, a U.S. citizen who served as a Navy SEAL from 1977 to 1990, was assaulted by Border Patrol agents while out for a run at the Border Field State Park / Tijuana Estuary. He was tackled to the ground and then detained, first at the State Park and then at the Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station, where he was held without charge or explanation overnight. All told, he spent seventeen hours in Border Patrol custody before being released. He was never charged with any offense.

On August 8, 2016, the ACLU of San Diego Border Litigation Project filed a federal complaint in the Southern District of California on Mr. Jones’s behalf, alleging violations of Mr. Jones’ Fourth Amendment rights. Additionally, under the Federal Tort Claims Act, Mr. Jones submitted an administrative complaint to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, claiming $3 million in damages for false imprisonment, battery by a peace officer, assault, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the California Bane Act.

On October 20, 2017, CBP denied Mr. Jones’s administrative tort claim. On February 3, 2017, because his administrative claim was denied, the Border Litigation Project filed an amended complaint to add Mr. Jones’s tort claims. On April 7, 2017, Defendants filed an answer to Mr. Jones’s amended complaint. On April 10, 2017, Defendants filed a counterclaim against Mr. Jones, alleging assault.

Discovery commenced in May 2017 and concluded in April 2018. On January 12, 2018, Plaintiff and Counter-Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on the government’s counterclaim, which the government opposed. On May 2, 2018, Defendants filed a combined motion for summary judgment as to all claims brought against them and on their counterclaim against Plaintiff. On May 16, 2018, Defendants, DHS and CBP, filed another motion for summary judgment, this time seeking to dismiss the FOIA claim. Plaintiff opposed both motions. On November 15, 2019, the court dismissed in part and granted in part both motions for summary judgment.

The court dismissed the constitutional claims against the CBP officers, finding that the CBP agents had probable cause to arrest Mr. Jones due to his presence in a restricted area and his failure to heed repeated warnings to leave. The court allowed several of the FTCA claims to proceed. Notably, Jones’ claim for battery survived summary judgment due to Jones’ testimony that officers hit him, supported by documented evidence of injuries. His claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, based on his allegation that the agents locked him in a patrol car with the heat turned on and the windows rolled up (in August desert sun), also was allowed to proceed. The defendants won summary judgment on their counterclaim against Jones for negligence in causing injury to one of the officers.

The parties settled in March 2019, agreeing to drop the claims against each other without either party paying compensation.

Counsel: ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties

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