Lawsuits Filed against CBP Challenging President Trump’s Travel Ban

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” This executive order called for an immediate halt to entry for any immigrant or nonimmigrant from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, as well as an immediate 120-day halt to all entries by refugees and an indefinite suspension with respect to Syrian refugees. Many individuals who were in the air at the time the executive order was signed were detained by CBP upon arrival in the United States, including lawful permanent residents and individuals with valid visas for entry.

Individuals detained by CBP were held for extremely long times (over 24 hours in some cases), denied access to their families, prevented from talking to attorneys, and on some occasions pressured into signing documents renouncing their right to enter the United States and forcibly deported. Large numbers of attorneys soon arrived at airports across the United States to provide assistance, and multiple individuals filed habeas corpus petitions seeking the release of people detained by CBP.

During the weekend of January 28-29, 2017, courts in California, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and Washington issued temporary restraining orders blocking the executive order from going into effect and ordering that CBP release individuals from detention.

Subsequently, numerous other lawsuits were filed challenging the travel ban. Included here are two representative habeas petitions filed immediately following the executive order. For more detailed information on developments immediately following the executive order, as well as three sample habeas corpus petitions for individuals detained at airports, please see Challenging President Trump’s Ban on Entry, a practice advisory published by the American Immigration Council.

Darweesh v. Trump

This habeas petition was filed January 28, 2017, in the Eastern District of New York, following the detention at JFK Airport of numerous residents of New York, as well as individuals holding valid visas to enter. It sought the immediate halt of detentions at JFK, alleging that the executive order violated the constitutional due process rights of detainees, as well as the Immigration and Nationality Act. That evening, a federal judge issued a nationwide temporary restraining order preventing CBP from deporting any individuals pursuant to the executive order.

Aziz v. Trump

This habeas petition was filed on January 28, 2017 in the Eastern District of Virginia following the detention at Dulles Airport of numerous Virginia residents, sought the immediate release of any individual detained at Dulles under the executive order (which included long-time lawful permanent residents). It challenged the executive order as a violation of the due process rights of the people detained at Dulles, as well as a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Following the petition being filed, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order, ordering that lawful permanent residents detained by CBP be released and that all detainees be given access to counsel.

 

Complaint Against CBP Abuses Following President Trump’s Travel Ban

On February 6, 2017, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic filed a letter with the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General (OIG), detailing the systemic abuses and violations of the rights of individuals lawfully entering the United States through airports in the days following the issuance of President Trump’s January 27, 2017 executive order (“Executive Order”). This Executive order suspended entry into the United States for individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The complaint to OIG contains 26 declarations from both noncitizens—including long-term LPRs—and attorneys about abuses at the hands of CBP. As the declarations discuss, both new arrivals with valid visas and long-time U.S. residents were detained for excessive periods, denied access to attorneys even after a court ordered CBP to provide access to counsel, and pressured into giving up their valid visas. The organizations conclude by calling on CBP to end its policy of detaining immigrants without allowing them access to counsel.

Perez, C.Y. v. United States

Perez, C.Y. v. United States, 3:13-cv-01417-WQH (S.D. Cal., Third Amended Complaint filed Dec. 22, 2015)

This case challenges CBP and U.S. Border Patrol’s excessive use of force pursuant to the agency’s “Rocking Policy,” which permits the use of lethal force against persons throwing rocks and other objects in the direction of border patrol agents.  Maria Del Socorro Quintero Perez filed a lawsuit against the United States, DHS, CBP, the Office of Border Patrol, and various Border Patrol supervisors and agents in their individual capacities for the wrongful death of her husband, Jesus Alfredo Yañez Reyes.

On June 21, 2011, Yañez and Jose Ibarra-Murietta crossed the border from Mexico to the United States. Soon thereafter they were apprehended by Border Patrol agents Chad Michael Nelson and Dorian Diaz. While Yañez managed to escape back to the Mexican side of the border through a small hole in a fence, Agent Nelson tackled Murietta to the ground and began to strike him. Yañez climbed a tree that leaned against the Mexican side of the fence near the area where Agent Nelson was beating Murietta.

The events that followed are in dispute. Agents Nelson and Diaz allege that, during Nelson’s struggle with Murietta, Yañez threw one or two rocks in the direction of Agent Nelson, neither of which hit him. They further allege that Yañez threw a nail-studded board that struck Agent Nelson in the head. Murietta, meanwhile, asserts that Yanez never threw anything at Agent Nelson, but instead attempted to stop Nelson’s beating of Murietta by recording to threaten the scene on his cellphone.

In both versions of the event, Diaz then instructed Yañez to come down from the fence. Without any further warning or provocation from Yañez, Diaz shot Yañez directly in the head, killing him. Yañez fell out of the tree on the southern side of the fence, and neither agent attempted to render any assistance to him.  Agent Nelson sustained only minor injuries, none of which originated from rocks or a nail-studded board.

Plaintiffs argue that, regardless of which version of events is accurate, the agents unlawfully used excessive lethal force against Yañez. Both agents admitted that neither of them gave Yañez any verbal command or warning to stop throwing objects. Furthermore, Yañez’s alleged conduct did not create a risk of death or serious injury; the rocks were small, they did not hit the agents, and the allegedly thrown nail-studded board did not cause Agent Nelson any injury. There was no evidence that Yañez was about to throw any other objects in the moments before the shooting.

Yañez’s death was not an isolated event. According to a detailed report by an expert witness in the case, Thomas Frazier, Border Patrol agents along the U.S-Mexico border have regularly used lethal force against persons of perceived Hispanic or Mexican nationality. Plaintiffs allege that Border Patrol supervisors and other various agents within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acquiesced and tacitly approved of the excessive use of force against persons crossing the border. Between January 2010 and October 2012, border patrol agents responded to an alleged thrown rock with deadly force at least twenty-nine times.

Plaintiffs claim that the government’s Rocking Policy violated international peremptory norms against extrajudicial killings, bilateral treaties, and domestic law, including Fourth and Fifth Amendment and a federal regulation that prohibits the police from using deadly force in the absence of a significant risk of death or serious physical injury Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, reasonable attorney fees, and other reasonable relief.

On February 22, 2016, Defendants’ attorneys filed a motion to dismiss and/or to strike portions of the Plaintiffs’ complaint. They seek to strike all causes of action alleged by the Plaintiffs other than their Fourth Amendment excessive force claim against Agents Nelson and Diaz and Chief of the Border Patrol Michael J. Fisher.

On February 22, 2016, Defendants’ attorneys filed a motion to dismiss and/or to strike portions of the Plaintiffs’ complaint, seeking to strike all causes of action alleged by the Plaintiffs other than their Fourth Amendment excessive force claim against Agents Nelson and Diaz and Chief of the Border Patrol Michael J. Fisher. In late March 2016, the judge granted Defendants’ motion in part and denied it in part.

Following the District Court’s decision, on September 22, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a fourth amended complaint. On October 20, 2016, Defendants again moved to dismiss the complaint. As of February 2017, the motion to dismiss remains pending.

Counsel: Singleton Law Firm, APC; Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, LLP; Hilliard & Shadowen, LLP

Contact: Brody McBride | brody@geraldsingleton.com  | (760) 697 1330

Administrative Complaint Against Border Patrol Re: Denial of Food to Asylum Seekers

Administrative Complaint Against Border Patrol Re: Denial of Food to Asylum Seekers Awaiting Processing at San Yisidro Port of Entry, filed by ACLU of San Diego

On March 17, 2016, U.S. citizen and immigration attorney Nicole Ramos escorted her client “M.” to the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where M., a transgender woman with disabilities, waited in line to request asylum. Ms. Ramos had prepared a letter for M. describing her disabilities and special needs. Approximately eight hours after M. had arrived at the port of entry, Ms. Ramos communicated with M. and learned that she had not received any food. She also learned that when M. tried to present the letter to a CBP officer, the officer told her that “the letter doesn’t mean shit.” Ms. Ramos immediately contacted CBP, who told her that individuals awaiting credible fear interviews were fed three times daily. Another ten hours later – more than 18 hours after arriving at the port of entry – M. had still not received any food, despite multiple requests to CBP officers. A CBP officer on duty told M. that she was responsible for bringing her own food to the port.

At 11 AM on Friday, March 18, attorney Ramos returned to the port of entry to bring M. food. At that time, a CBP officer informed Ms. Ramos that individuals in line for asylum processing would be given something to eat “if they asked.” Despite further requests by M. for something to eat that day, she was not given any food. Around 9 PM on Friday, CBP supervisor Chief Knox told Ms. Ramos that CBP “was not obligated to feed people on the Mexican side” of the port of entry, despite the fact that asylum seekers were processed in the U.S. controlled area of the port.

CBP did not provide M. with any food for 34 hours.  This was in direct violation of the Border Patrol’s own detention standards, which require CBP officers to provide individuals awaiting processing at ports of entry food and water at regular intervals. In its complaint letter to CBP, the ACLU of San Diego also alleges that the denial of food and water violated M.’s substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment. Furthermore, the ACLU alleges that the CBP officers’ abusive remarks and apparent lack of knowledge regarding official agency policies reflect CBP’s inadequate training on the humane treatment of asylum seekers.

The ACLU asks that CBP acknowledge the letter, provide the ACLU with copies of all policies relevant to the treatment of asylum seekers at ports of entry, and issue a formal apology for their treatment of Ms. Ramos and M.

In late April, CBP responded to the ACLU’s complaint.

Counsel: ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties

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

 

Salem v. USA, et al.

Salem v. USA, et al. (C.D. Cal. Filed Oct. 9, 2015)

Mr. Salem brought this damages case against the United States, the Los Angeles Fire Department, and unknown CBP officers. Mr. Salem is a U.S. citizen who is also a citizen of Egypt. An accomplished playwright, 75 year old Salem was at the Los Angeles airport to begin his annual trip to Egypt, where he taught a literature class as an adjunct professor at the University of Cairo. He passed through security without incident, handed over his boarding pass and entered the passenger bridge to board his plane. At that point he was pulled over by an officer he believes was with CBP, who asked to see his passport. When he asked why he had been singled out, he was immediately surrounded by three other officers who forcibly grabbed both of his arms. They searched his carry-on luggage and, after finding nothing objectionable, forcibly escorted him to an interrogation room. There he was questioned for several hours, during which time the officers forced his arm behind his back, breaking it in the process. After about 4 hours of questioning, he was released without being charged. He was in great pain, and a bone in his arm was visibly displaced.

Mr. Salem’s suit includes Bivens claims under the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure and use of excessive force) and the Fifth Amendment (equal protection). It also includes FTCA claims for assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.

Counsel: Counsel on American-Islamic Relations, CA l Law Office of Shafiel A. Karim

Contact: Yalda Satar (Civil Rights Attorney), ySatar@cair.com;

Maureen Dadabhoy (Legal Coordinator), mdadabhoy@cair.com

Lopez-Venegas, et al. v. Johnson, et al.

Lopez-Venegas, et al. v. Johnson, et al. No. 13-cv-03972-JAK-PLA (C.D. Cal., filed June 4, 2013)

Filed by the ACLU and Cooley LLP on behalf of eleven Mexican nationals and three immigration advocacy organizations, this class action lawsuit challenged deceptive tactics used by Border Patrol agents and ICE officers to convince noncitizens to accept “voluntary return.” Each individual plaintiff had significant family ties in the United States and lacked any serious criminal history. Thus, they could have asserted strong claims to remain in the United States if they had been granted a hearing before an immigration judge.

The complaint alleged that Border Patrol agents and ICE officers have a pattern and practice of pressuring undocumented immigrants to sign what amount to their own summary expulsion documents. In recent years, this “voluntary return” procedure has been used to summarily expel hundreds of thousands of noncitizens from Southern California. Because of the coercive and deceptive tactics immigration officers employ, voluntary return regularly results in the involuntary waiver of core due process rights. An individual who signs for voluntary return forfeits his or her right to a hearing before an immigration judge and is usually expelled from the United States within a matter of hours.

Through the lawsuit, the individual plaintiffs sought to return to the United States and to receive a fair hearing before an immigration judge. The organizational plaintiffs, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center, and the San Bernardino Community Service Center, sought systemic reforms to the voluntary return process throughout Southern California.

Following more than a year of litigation, including intensive discovery and the deposition of key government officials, the government agreed to significant reforms of the voluntary return system in Southern California. Under a settlement reached by the parties, government officials must:

  • Provide detailed information – in writing, orally, and through a 1-800 hotline – regarding the consequences of accepting voluntary return to noncitizens asked to choose between voluntary return and a hearing before an immigration judge;
  • Cease “pre-checking” the box selecting voluntary return on the forms the immigration agencies provide to noncitizens;
  • Permit noncitizens to use a working phone, provide them with a list of legal service providers, and give them two hours to reach someone before deciding whether to accept voluntary return;
  • Provide lawyers meaningful access to clients detained by Border Patrol or ICE;
  • Cease pressuring or coercing individuals to accept voluntary return;
  • Allow some of the hundreds of thousands of Mexican nationals who have been subject to unlawful voluntary returns to reunite with their families in the United States; and
  • Allow ACLU attorneys to monitor compliance with the settlement agreement for three years.

Applications for class membership will be accepted ONLY between June 27, 2015 and December 23, 2015.  Individuals who believe they may qualify as class members should contact the ACLU of San Diego as soon as possible (via email: avd@aclusandiego.org // via phone: 619.398.4189 (US) 01.800.681.6917 (Mexico)).  Only the ACLU and organizations approved by the ACLU will be authorized to submit class membership applications.  The initial screening, consultation, and application process will be entirely free.

Additional information on the class settlement is available at http://www.misalidavoluntaria.org.

Press:

Danya Bacchus, Settlement Means Potential Relief for Voluntarily Deported Immigrants: ACLU, NBC San Diego, Feb. 27, 2015, available at http://bit.ly/1F5TPgM.

Jennifer Medina and Julia Preston, 9 Mexicans Can Return to Contest Deportations, NY Times, Aug. 27, 2014, available at http://nyti.ms/1eNFT3M.

Richard Marosi, U.S. to allow some immigrant deportees to return under settlement, LA Times, Aug. 27, 2014, available at http://lat.ms/VRPcpl.

Elise Foley, ACLU Sues Border Patrol, Immigration Officials Over Voluntary Departures Program, Huffington Post, June 4, 2013, available at http://huff.to/1AJtecm.

Counsel: ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Cooley LLP

Contacts:

Lead Attorney for Class Claims: Gabriela Rivera | ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties | Email: avd@aclusandiego.org and grivera@aclusandiego.org

Lead Attorney for Monitoring Systemic Reforms: Mitra Ebadolahi | ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties | Email: avd-monitor@aclusandiego.org and mebadolahi@aclusandiego.org

Brown, et al. v. CBP and DHS – FOIA Class Action Against CBP

Brown, et al. v. CBP and DHS, 15-cv-01181-JD (N.D. Cal.)

On March 12, 2015, fourteen plaintiffs, including three immigration attorneys and eleven noncitizens filed a complaint with class allegations in federal district court in the Northern District of California against Defendant U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), seeking redress for CBP’s failure to comply with the statutory timelines under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Plaintiffs challenge a pattern or practice that has resulted in the agency having a backlog of over thirty thousand unanswered requests under FOIA. On April 22, 2015, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint against both CBP and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as a motion to certify a nationwide class.

On May 18, 2015, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs failed to allege any actionable claim under the FOIA, lacked standing, and did not identify a discrete CBP policy or practice. Plaintiffs filed an opposition on June 1, 2015. On September 17, 2015, the court denied CBP’s motion to dismiss in its entirety.

The court held a hearing on the pending motion for class certification on October 7, 2015, but did not rule on the motion. Instead, the court requested that the parties engage in discovery and file amended briefs on class certification following this discovery.

During the course of the lawsuit, CBP implemented new procedures for handling FOIA requests and added staff. In light of this, the parties reached a settlement and, On October 5, 2016, the district court dismissed the case pursuant to this settlement.  At the time of the settlement, CBP’s backlog had been reduced to approximately 3,000 FOIA requests, most of which were complex, and CBP generally was responding to new requests within 20 days. In the settlement, CBP committed to continuing its efforts to timely process FOIA requests.  Additionally, the agency committed to increased transparency about its performance; CBP will now post monthly FOIA statistics to its website, including the total number of FOIA requests pending, how long they have been pending, how many new requests are received each month, and how many are processed.

Contact: Stacy Tolchin | stacy@tolchinimmigration.com

ACLU San Diego et al. v. DHS et al. (SoCal Roving Patrols FOIA)

American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties et al v. Department of Homeland Security et al., No: 8:15-cv-00229-JLS-RNB (C.D. Cal., filed Feb. 20, 2015)

This is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case challenging defendant Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s failure to respond to Plaintiffs’ request for information regarding U.S. Border Patrol’s interior enforcement / “roving patrol” operations in Southern California.

There is little publicly-available information regarding the extent or impact of Border Patrol roving patrol operations, or regarding Border Patrol agents’ respect for regulatory or constitutional limitations on their authority.   In Southern California, Border Patrol agents are present throughout a number of both major metropolitan and rural areas a considerable distance from the U.S.-Mexico border, including Fallbook, CA (seventy miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border) and Laguna Beach, CA (almost ninety miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border).

Because Border Patrol does not release stop data or other information related to roving patrol operations, Plaintiffs filed a FOIA request with Defendants in July 2014, seeking records related to U.S. Border Patrol’s “roving patrol” operations in the San Diego and El Centro Sectors, including relevant agency policies, stop data, and complaint records.

DHS entirely ignored the request.  CBP sent the ACLU a series of contradictory emails, none of which were legally adequate responses under the FOIA itself or DHS regulations. In February 2015, Plaintiffs filed suit in the Central District of California to compel Defendants to release the requested records. On June 23, the Court issued a scheduling order requiring Defendants to produce all responsive records on or before November 2, 2015.

Counsel: ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties | ACLU of Southern California | University of California, Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic

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

The Estate of Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas v. United States

The Estate of Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas v. United States
No. 11-cv-522 L (DHB) (S.D. Cal., Third Amended Complaint filed Mar. 23, 2012)

This case challenges CBP and U.S. Border Patrol’s excessive use of force.  Anastacio Hernandez-Rojas died of a heart attack on May 28, 2010 near the San Ysidro Port of Entry after agents working for the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection beat him and shot him repeatedly with a Taser. Cell phone videos taken by witnesses show Hernandez-Rojas, a Mexican national and long-time San Diego resident, on the ground surrounded by agents and calling out for help.  He was 42 years old.

In this federal lawsuit brought under Bivens, the Federal Torts Claims Act, and the Alien Tort Claims Act, Hernandez-Rojas’s family alleges that his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated when agents beat him after he asked for help, using excessive force. They also allege that their father’s death has deprived his children of their 14th Amendment due process right to associate with their father.

Eight agents and four supervisors are named as defendants in the lawsuit. They have claimed that using force against Hernandez-Rojas was justified because he posed a threat to the officers.

In September 2014, the district court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment.  In his order, U.S. District Court Judge M. James Lorenz wrote: “The sheer number of officers available at the scene demonstrates rather strongly that there was no objectively reasonable threat to the safety of any one other than Anastasio.” That decision is currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit; Plaintiffs have filed a motion in the district court to declare that appeal frivolous. On December 31, 2015, the district court denied that motion, and the matter is stayed pending the resolution of Defendants’ appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

On November 6, 2015 the Department of Justice announced that it would not criminally prosecute the agents involved in his death, a decision that angered his family and border-rights advocates.

Counsel: Iredale & Yoo, APC

Contact: Julia Yoo, (619) 233-1525

Press Coverage:

Osorio v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Osorio v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 8:14-cv-01758-DOC-AN (C.D. Cal. filed Nov. 4, 2014)

On June 6, 2014, Mr. Osorio filed with CBP a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking “any and all records” under his name.  Mr. Osorio sought the information in order to obtain records from an incident at the border several years earlier, which potentially affected his eligibility to apply for lawful permanent resident status.  In general, with some exceptions, the FOIA statute requires agencies to respond to requests within 20 business days.  After having waited five months for CBP to produce his records, Mr. Osorio filed a lawsuit seeking a court order forcing CBP to conduct a search and produce records related to his request.  Immediately after filing, CBP produced the documents. Mr. Osorio and CBP subsequently settled the case and jointly moved to dismiss it, with the government agreeing to pay costs and attorney fees.

Counsel: Stacy Tolchin

Contact: Stacy Tolchin, 213-622-7450, stacy@tolchinimmigration.com