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.

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. Nielsen

Al Otro Lado et al. v. Nielsen 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 December 15, 2017, Defendants again filed a motion to dismiss, and Plaintiffs opposed that motion. On February 5, 2018, Defendants filed a reply to Plaintiff’s opposition. 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 early September 2019, Plaintiffs filed a motion to provisionally certify a class and also for a preliminary injunction. As of October 2019, those motions are still being briefed.

Counsel: Latham & Watkins 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

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.

On January 18, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General released a report following a year-long investigation into the events immediately following the implementation of the first travel ban on January 27, 2017. Although the Office of Inspector General was unable to substantiate any individual claims of misconduct against CBP officers at ports of entry within the United States, the OIG found that CBP had violated two separate court orders when it was “aggressive in preventing affected travelers from boarding aircraft bound for the United States.

Perez, C.Y. v. United States

Perez, C.Y. v. United States, 3:13-cv-01417-WQH (S.D. Cal., Fourth Amended Complaint, filed Sep. 22, 2016); 17-56610 (9th Cir., filed Oct. 19, 2017) 

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 Yañez never threw anything at Agent Nelson, but instead attempted to stop Nelson’s beating of Murietta by threatening to record 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, 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.

On March 3, 2017, the Court granted in part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Fifth Amendment Claims. In addition, the Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s FTCA claims. On April 1, 2017, the remaining two individual defendants filed a motion for summary judgment with respect to the surviving Fourth Amendment claims. On September 21, 2017, the district court entered an order granting the defendants’ motion, declining to find a Bivens remedy for Plaintiffs’ alleged Fourth Amendment violation and also concluding that qualified immunity barred suit. Plaintiffs have filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit.

The parties completed appeal briefing in May 2018, and the case was argued in November 2018. In May 2019, the court withdrew the case from submission pending a decision from the Supreme Court in Hernandez v. Mesa, No. 17-1678 (U.S.), a case that will address the availability of a Bivens remedy for victims of cross-border shootings.

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

Administrative Complaint Re: Extreme Temperatures in CBP Short Term Detention Facilities

Administrative Complaint Re: Extreme Temperatures in CBP Short Term Detention Facilities

On February 2, 2016, NIP/NLG, in collaboration with Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional  and the ACLU of New Mexico, filed an administrative complaint on behalf of persons held by CBP in short-term detention facilities where they are exposed to extreme temperatures. The administrative complaint also challenges the agency standards  addressing temperature controls in short-term facilities, but asserts that the agency fails to abide even by these standards.

Shortly after the complaint was filed, DHS OIG announced that it would inspect short-term detention facilities.

Counsel: Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional (PDIB) | National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild | ACLU of New Mexico

Contact: Trina Realmuto | National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild | trina@nipnlg.org