A.F.P. and J.F.C. v. United States of America

A.F.P. and J.F.C. v. United States of America, No. 1:21-cv-780 (E.D. Cal., filed May 14, 2021)

Plaintiff A.F.P. and his fifteen-year-old son J.F.C., both citizens of Honduras, approached Border Patrol agents near McAllen, Texas to seek asylum. Instead, Border Patrol agents separated J.F.C. from his father and detained both in a holding facility, often referred to as a hielera or “ice box” for its freezing cold temperatures. The hielera was cold and cramped, and the food provided was frozen and expired.

The two were only permitted to speak to each other for 30 minutes per day. Three days after the two were taken into custody, A.F.P. was charged with illegal entry and taken to federal criminal court. During A.F.P.’s court hearing, CBP and ICE officers designated J.F.C. as an unaccompanied minor, transferred his custody to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and moved him to a facility in New York. When A.F.P. returned to the detention center, his son was gone. The officers did not advise A.F.P. of the reason or destination of his son’s transfer.

In New York, J.F.C. resided at the Children’s Village facility, where he was not allowed to communicate with his father, was denied medical care, and was subject to emotional abuse. As a result of this neglect, J.F.C. suffers from hearing loss from an untreated ear infection and severe memory problems because of the trauma he experienced.

During this time, A.F.P. was held in ICE detention in Texas, where he had an interview with an asylum officer and was told he had a credible asylum case. After officers at the detention center put A.F.P. in touch with a notary public who led him to believe that pursuing his asylum case would keep him from reuniting with his son, A.F.P. withdrew his asylum application at his hearing in front of an immigration judge. He was then transferred to maximum security prisons and deported a month later. He was separated from his son for almost fifteen months. A human rights organization later helped A.F.P. lawfully re-enter the U.S. and reunite with J.F.C.

Plaintiffs filed suit against the federal government in the Eastern District of California, seeking damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, negligence as to family separation, and negligence. Defendant United States moved to dismiss the claims and moved to transfer the case to the Southern District of Texas. On July 11, 2022, the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action regarding J.F.C.’s time in ORR custody as barred by the independent contractor exception to the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity.  On July 26, 2022, Defendant filed its answer to the remaining claims.

Documents:

Counsel: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P.

Johnson v. United States of America

Carey Johnson v. United States of America, No. 18-cv-2178 (S.D. Cal., filed Sept. 20, 2018)

Carey Johnson is a U.S. citizen and military veteran who resides in Mexico. Johnson has a disability and carries a Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) identification card with a disability designation. He frequently crosses the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego to receive treatment at VA facilities.  On September 22, 2016, Johnson approached Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Otay Mesa SENTRI gate and requested that he be allowed to use the SENTRI gate for expedited crossing as an accommodation for his disability. CBP denied his request, and officers told him he would need to request accommodations each time he crossed the border. After this encounter, the CBP officer wrote up a report that led to Johnson being repeatedly stopped and harassed on several future crossings.

During Johnson’s following border crossings, he attempted to request accommodations to expedite his border crossing. CBP officers repeatedly abused him. On one occasion, CBP officers impounded his car and shackled him to a bench for 3 hours. On another, officers dragged him from his car and tasered him. CBP agents seized his car on at least two occasions, allegedly based on SENTRI lane violations. CBP officers refused to return the car unless Johnson paid a $10,000 fine, which he was unable to afford.

Johnson eventually sued to seek redress for the repeated abuses he suffered. He sought damages under Bivens, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,the Federal Tort Claims Act, and California’s Bane Act. On July 14, 2020, the district court dismissed Johnson’s Bivens claims against the individual CBP officers. On January 25, 2021, the court granted Defendant United States’ motion for summary judgment on the Rehabilitation Act and Bane Act claims.

The case settled and was dismissed pursuant to a joint motion on March 26, 2021.

Documents:

Counsel: Robbins & Curtin, P.L.L.C.
Contact: Joel Robbins | joel@robbinsandcurtin.com

Reyes v. United States, DOE CBP Officers 1-30

Reyes v. United States, DOE CBP Officers 1-30, No. 3:20-cv-01752 (S.D. Cal., filed Sept. 8, 2020)

On August 2, 2018, Marco Reyes was waiting in his car to cross into the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California. Due to an incident in another vehicle lane, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer knocked at Reyes’ car window and asked him to step out of the car. Reyes, who suffered from significant hearing loss from military service, did not immediately hear the officer or comply with his commands. When Reyes realized the officer was speaking to him, he immediately got out of the car and stood behind his vehicle. The CBP officer then began to yell profanities at Reyes and bumped him with his chest, accusing him of not immediately following directions. When Reyes raised his hand to keep the officer from bumping into him, the officer accused him of assault and called for back-up assistance. A larger group of CBP officers arrived, pushed Reyes to the ground, and proceeded to beat him up while he was on the ground, injuring his shoulder and arm and breaking several ribs. After beating Reyes up, the officers arrested him for assault on a federal officer. The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to pursue prosecution of Reyes.

On September 8, 2020, Reyes filed this action, alleging violations of his rights under California’s Bane Act, the federal Rehabilitation Act, and the Federal Tort Claims Act. On February 16, 2021, the district court dismissed Reyes’ Bane Act claims and Rehabilitation Act claims without prejudice and with leave to file an amended complaint. The court also dismissed on consent the FTCA claims against the individual CBP officers.

Reyes proceeded to file two amended complaints. The case settled and was dismissed pursuant to a joint motion to dismiss on January 11, 2022.

Documents:

Counsel: McKenzie Scott, P.C.
Contact: Timothy Scott | tscott@mckenziescott.com

FTCA Suit on Behalf of U.S.-Citizen Child Held by CBP for 30 Hours

J.A.M., et al., v. United States of America, et al., No. 3:22-cv-00380 (S.D. Cal., filed Mar. 21, 2022)

The family of a 9-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy filed a damages suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act after the children, both U.S. citizens, were held in custody at the San Ysidro Port of Entry – the boy for more than 12 hours and his sister for more than 30 hours. The complaint recounts how J.A.M. and her brother O.A.M. were falsely imprisoned in San Ysidro and coerced into making false confessions about the girl’s identity. Officers insisted to the children that the girl was actually their cousin, who is not a U.S. citizen.

J.A.M. and her brother O.A.M. were on their way from Tijuana to school in San Diego with a family friend. Though both children presented officers with valid U.S. passports, a CBP officer sent them to secondary inspection, then to a holding area. According to the children, CBP officers interviewed them about other young relatives their age and then pressured them to sign false statements claiming that J.A.M. was actually their cousin. The children said they were told that O.A.M. would be taken to jail for smuggling if they did not sign. CBP allegedly intended to have the Mexican consulate interview J.A.M. to verify her identity, but claimed an appointment was not available until the following morning.

Upon learning her children had not made it out of the port of entry, their mother, Ms. Medina Navarro, left the medical facility where she was awaiting surgery to inquire at the port of entry for her children. At first, officers denied having the children in custody. More than 12 hours after her children were first taken into custody, Ms. Medina Navarro received a call that C.B.P. had her son in custody with a girl who was not her daughter, and was told she could come pick up her son. Though Ms. Medina Navarro took additional documents to prove the identity of her daughter, officers did not release J.A.M. to her mother until after J.A.M.’s interview with the Mexican consulate the following day, 33 hours after she was first taken into custody.

The family filed administrative Federal Tort Claims Act complaints. CBP denied the claims in full on September 29, 2021, and the family filed suit on March 21, 2022. The government filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or motion for summary judgment, which was denied on July 21, 2022, and subsequently filed an answer to the complaint on August 4, 2022.

Counsel: Law Offices of Joseph M. McMullen

Contact: Joseph Mark McMullen ǀ (619) 501-2000 ǀ joe@imm-legal.com

Press: Lawsuit alleging border officials falsely imprisoned 9-year-old U.S. citizen girl passes legal hurdle

Bouey v. United States of America

Bouey v. United States of America et al., No. 3:22-cv-00442 (S.D. Cal., filed April 4, 2022)

On July 16, 2020, Janine Bouey, a U.S. citizen, visited Tijuana, Mexico for the day for a dental appointment. When she attempted to return to the United States via the pedestrian lanes at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry (OMPOE), a CBP officer pulled her out of line. The CBP officer approached her, flirted with her, and ask her questions about both her trip to Mexico and her personal life. When Ms. Bouey refused to answer the questions about her personal life, the CBP officer retaliated by taking Ms. Bouey to the main building at the OMPOE.

Inside the OMPOE building, CBP performed multiple harmful and invasive searches of Ms. Bouey. On multiple occasions an officer fondled and penetrated Ms. Bouey’s genitalia without her consent and without justification. She was handcuffed to a bench, asked to strip down naked, and then ordered to bend over as an officer shined a flashlight into the areas of her genitalia. CBP officers also used a canine agent to invasively smell several of Ms. Bouey’s orifices. CBP officers never explained the reason for these searches, denied Ms. Bouey’s repeated requests to call an attorney, and failed to acknowledge her U.S. citizenship. The mistreatment by CBP caused Ms. Bouey physical pain and emotional distress, including anxiety, shock, humiliation, apprehension, and anguish. In response, on April 4, 2022, Ms. Bouey filed suit seeking damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and Bivens. The FTCA claims included: (1) negligence, (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (3) battery, and (4) violation of the Bane Act. The Bivens claim sought a remedy for violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. On June 3, 2022, counsel for the U.S. government filed a motion to dismiss, which was denied on July 14, 2022, though the court did grant the government’s request to strike the demand for attorneys’ fees. Defendant United States then filed an answer to the complaint on July 28, 2022.

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

Estrada v. United States, No. 3:22-cv-00373-AJB-BGS (S.D. Cal., filed Mar. 21, 2022)

On May 14, 2021, in Campo, California, a Border Patrol agent attempted to stop a vehicle suspected of being involved in migrant smuggling. The driver of the vehicle, Silvestre Estrada Vargas, who was accompanied by two other individuals, failed to yield before eventually stopping in a gas station parking lot. Without any legal justification or threat to their safety, an unknown number of Border Patrol agents then began shooting at the vehicle. Mr. Estrada, who was unarmed and had one hand on the steering wheel and another holding a cell phone up to his ear, was struck by an unknown number of bullets. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Luckily, the other two occupants of the vehicle, despite being directly in the line of fire, were uninjured.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility had all responded to the scene and began an investigation. However, when Plaintiffs’ investigator spoke to the gas station manager, the manager said that one of the responding agencies had already seized a videotape from the gas station surveillance system and had been advised not to speak to anyone about the incident.

Mr. Estrada’s minor son and mother, as well as the two other vehicle occupants, Francisco Madariaga and Jaime Madariaga-Gonzalez, filed this suit on March 21, 2022, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents alleging wrongful death, excessive use of force, assault and battery, and negligence. On June 27, 2022, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, which Defendant United States answered on July 13, 2022.

Counsel: Keith Rutman Law

Contact:
Keith Rutman | krutmanlaw.com

Press:
Border Patrol Sued Over San Diego Man’s Shooting Death in Campo

Kariye v. Mayorkas

Kariye v. Mayorkas, No. 2:22-CV-01916 (C.D. Cal., filed Mar. 24, 2022)

On March 24, 2022, the ACLU, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and ACLU of Minnesota filed a lawsuit on behalf of three Muslim Americans, Abdirahman Aden Kariye, Mohamad Mouslli, and Hameem Shah, who have all been subjected to intrusive questioning from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) officials about their religious beliefs, practices, and associations in violation of their First and Fifth Amendment rights. On multiple occasions when the three Plaintiffs returned home from abroad, these border officers asked them inappropriate religious questions, including whether they are Muslim, whether they attend a mosque, which mosque they attend, whether they are Sunni or Shi’a, and how often they pray. Border officers then retain the answers in a law enforcement database for up to 75 years.

In the lawsuit, Plaintiffs argue that this questioning by both CBP and HSI violates their First Amendment freedoms of religion and association, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). In addition, because CBP and HSI specifically single out Muslim Americans for this questioning, the lawsuit alleges violations of the First and Fifth Amendments’ protections against unequal treatment on the basis of religion. Plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that border officers’ religious questioning violates the Constitution and RFRA, as well as an injunction barring CBP and HSI from questioning about their faith at ports of entry. The suit also seeks expungement of records reflecting information that border officers obtained about Plaintiffs through their unlawful questioning.

On May 31, 2022, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. On October 12, 2022, the court granted the motion to dismiss without prejudice. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on November 14, 2022.

Documents:

Counsel: ACLU Foundation of Southern California; ACLU Foundation; American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota

Contact:
Mohammad Tajsar, ACLU Foundation of Southern California | mtajsar@aclusocal.org

Press:
ACLU Sues DHS, Says Muslim American Questioned About Faith at Border
Minnesota Imam on Intrusive Religious Questioning by CBP

FOIA: Al Otro Lado v. U.S. Customs & Border Protection

FOIA: Al Otro Lado v. U.S. Customs & Border Protection, et al., No. 2:22-cv-01450-DSF-AFM (S.D. Cal., filed March 3, 2022)

Over the past year, the media has reported multiple incidents of injuries and deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border as migrants cross to seek safety in the United States. In many of those instances, rather than transporting injured migrants to hospitals for medical treatment, both U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have abandoned them at volunteer-run organizations not equipped to provide such medical care; taken them into custody and refused to provide them with medical care; or left them at border crossings without any assistance.

On July 20, 2021, Al Otro Lado submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to both CBP and ICE seeking information related to CBP and ICE’s unlawful treatment and processing of migrants injured falling from the border wall at the southern border. CBP denied Al Otro Lado’s request for expedited processing, and after seven months, neither CBP nor ICE have issued determinations regarding the request and both agencies have failed to produce even a single document in response. On March 3, 2022, Al Otro Lado filed suit seeking to compel CBP and ICE to issue determinations regarding the requests, arguing that the request is critically urgent because Defendants’ failure to adequately provide medical treatment to severely injured migrants and their expulsion of severely injured migrants is ongoing and continues to threaten migrants’ lives and safety. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that CBP and ICE have failed to timely respond to Plaintiff’s request for agency records and grant expedited processing of Plaintiff’s requests, as well as an order that Defendants must conduct a reasonable search for responsive records and produce non-exempt responsive records within twenty days of the Court’s order.

Defendants requested an extension to respond to Plaintiffs’ complaint; their answer is due by January 18, 2023.

Documents:
Complaint

Counsel: Arent Fox LLP

Contacts:
Douglas Hewlett, Jr. | douglas.hewlett@arentfox.com
David Dubrow | david.dubrow@arentfox.com
Andrew Dykens | andrew.dykens@arentfox.com

Dousa v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

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 court heard arguments on the motion for sanctions onMay 12, 2022, and denied the motion that same day. A bench trial was held the week of August 29, 2022, and the parties submitted closing briefs on September 30, 2022. The parties are awaiting a ruling from the court.

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)

Administrative Complaint Series on CBP’s Abuse and Mistreatment of People Detained in its Custody

Administrative Complaint Series on CBP’s Abuse and Mistreatment of People Detained in its Custody

Between January and July 2020, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, in tandem with the ACLU Border Rights Center, prepared and submitted a series of administrative complaints to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) detailing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s abuse and mistreatment of people in its custody. The complaints were based on a series of 103 interviews conducted with individuals recently released from CBP custody between March and July 2019.

Complaint #1 – Mistreatment of Pregnant People

The first complaint, filed January 22, 2020, focused on CBP’s abuse and mistreatment of detained pregnant people. One detained woman who was six months pregnant detailed how a Border Patrol  agent forcibly slammed her face against a chain link fence while other agents looked on and did nothing. Border Patrol then detained her for three days without medical care. Another woman reported her fear of her pregnant belly being kicked while having to sleep on the crowded floor of the holding cell. When she began to experience abdomen pain and other symptoms and asked for medical attention, Border Patrol agents told her she was lying.

The complaint contains numerous reports of pregnant individuals being denied not only medical care, but access to clean clothes and other basic hygienic necessities.

The complaint implores DHS OIG to conduct an immediate review of CBP’s treatment of pregnant people in its custody, including recommending CBP stop detaining pregnant people altogether and adopt explicit policies to ensure for adequate, timely medical care of pregnant individuals.

Complaint #2 – Mistreatment of Sick Children

The second complaint, filed on February 18, 2020, focused on the treatment of sick children in CBP and U.S. Border Patrol facilities. The complaint details how Border Patrol continued to hold a weeks-old infant who experienced significant weight loss while detained in custody against the express and repeated advice of medical professionals. In another case, Border Patrol held a five-year-old child for eight days without providing any medical attention for his persistent fever and diarrhea. The complaint also notes how, as of the time of its filing, at least seven children have died in CBP custody or shortly after being released, many of whom received delayed or no medical care. Finally, the complaint calls on DHS OIG to review CBP’s treatment of sick children in its custody, recommend that CBP prioritize the release of all children, and strictly prohibit continued detention of sick children.  

Complaint #3 – Separation of Families in CBP Processing & Detention

The third complaint, filed on April 15, 2020, focused on CBP’s separation of families during detention and processing and the agency’s refusal to implement a detainee locator system. The complaint noted that despite the supposed halting of DHS’s well-publicized separation of young children from their parents, family separations continue to occur as a result of CBP processing and detention practices. Border Patrol and DHS have adopted a very restrictive definition of “family” that includes only legal guardians accompanied by minor children and gives Border Patrol agents unilateral discretion to decide whether to separate family members, resulting in countless ongoing family separations. The ACLU’s investigation documented the separation of a grandmother and her nine-year-old grandson, a woman and her sister, and a mother and her non-minor son, among countless others. Noting the many ways in which family separations intensify trauma for already vulnerable asylum seekers of all ages and the many extreme barriers to locating and communicating with loved ones who are detained, the complaint calls on DHS OIG to recommend CBP implement a detainee locator system, refrain from detaining family units, and prioritize the prompt release of families. It also recommends adoption of a more expansive definition of “family”.

Complaint #4 – Verbal Abuse of Detained Individuals

The fourth complaint in the series, filed July 7, 2020, focused on U.S. Border Patrol’s verbal abuse of detained individuals. This complaint highlights Border Patrol’s “staggering culture of cruelty” and “systematic mistreatment and dehumanization of vulnerable people.” Detained individuals reported being told “Forget about asylum, we might just take away your daughter,” “Get out of here, what are you doing here if you don’t even speak English, you are worthless,” “If you keep complaining I will put you with the dogs,” “[Y]ou broke the law, you have no rights,” “I am treating you the way illegals should be treated,” and a litany of other abusive slurs. The complaint calls on DHS OIG to recommend CBP strictly prohibit personnel from verbally abusing individuals in its custody, adopt zero-tolerance policies for anti-immigrant and racist employee conduct, and create a new complaint process that allows for timely review and increased transparency.

Documents:

Counsel: ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties; ACLU Border Rights Center

Contact: Shaw Drake | ACLU of Texas | sdrake@aclutx.org