Youngers v. United States of America, Docket No. 1:21-cv-00620 (D.N.M. filed Jul. 2, 2021), consolidated with Youngers v. Management & Training Corp. et al., No. 1:20-cv-00465-WJ-JHR (D.N.M.)

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.

On July 2, 2021, Joleen Youngers, as the Ms. Hernandez’s estate representative, filed a complaint against the United States Government.

Following case consolidation in December 2021, a Second Amended Complaint was filed in January 2022. Defendants moved to dismiss. On April 1, 2022, the District Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants’ motion to dismiss. On April 15, 2022, Defendants filed an answer to Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint.

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 | Daniel Yohalem | Katherine Murray | Transgender Law Center | Grand & Eisenhofer P.A.

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 FOIA lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (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.

On February 21, 2021, the parties submitted cross-motions for summary judgment on all claims. The motions have been fully briefed and oral argument was held on April 26, 2021. On March 31, 2022, the Court indicated that it would partially grant and partially deny each party’s summary judgment motion. A written order is to be published forthwith.

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

CBP’s Public Statements about TTRTs:

Press:

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.

In April 2020, both cases settled for an undisclosed amount.

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. Defendants have not yet completed their production of responsive records as of April 2022.

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, then-Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen M. Nielsen, announced a new government policy, the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), which would force noncitizens seeking admission from Mexico to return to Mexico to await their removal proceedings. The Trump 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 policy.

The lawsuit alleges that procedural deficiencies in the MPP policy undermine the United States’ domestic and international legal obligations to ensure non-refoulement of individuals who have expressed a fear of return to Mexico. In addition, the complaint specifies the grossly deficient—and at times abusive—practices of CBP officers in implementing the MPP 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 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. 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 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.

On February 28, 2020, the Ninth Circuit denied the government’s appeal. That same day, the government filed an emergency motion requesting a stay of the preliminary injunction pending disposition of a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court or an immediate administrative stay. That evening, the Ninth Circuit granted the government an administrative stay pending briefing by the parties. On March 4, 2020, following briefing, the Ninth Circuit granted the government’s stay motion in part and denied it in part. The stay was denied with respect to the Ninth Circuit’s holding that MPP violated federal law, affirming the Ninth Circuit’s belief in the policy’s illegality. However, the stay was granted in part and denied in part with respect to the injunctive relief. The order permitted enforcement of MPP nationwide through March 11, 2020, but thereafter prohibited MPP from operating only in the Ninth Circuit.

On March 11, 2020, the government applied for a stay of the preliminary injunction to the Supreme Court, which granted a stay pending filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari. If the writ is denied, the stay will terminate automatically. If the writ is granted, the stay will terminate upon judgment of the Court. On April 10, 2020, DHS petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court and on October 19, 2020, the Court granted certiorari.

On January 20, 2021, DHS announced that on January 21, it would stop enrolling people into MPP. On February 11, 2021, DHS then announced a phased winddown of the program. Finally, on June 1, 2021, DHS announced that it was terminating the MPP program altogether. On June 21, 2021, the Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s judgment as moot, given the winddown and termination of the MPP program. Given that the Texas injunction impacts the issues in this case, both parties jointly moved to hold the deadlines in this case in abeyance.

On August 6, 2021, the Court issued an Order to Show Cause to the Plaintiffs to demonstrate why the case should not be dismissed as moot. However, on August 13, 2021, the District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a nationwide injunction in Texas et al. v. Biden requiring the Biden administration to restart the MPP program “in good faith.”

After the Supreme Court declined to stay the injunction on August 24, 2021, DHS issued a statement indicating their intent to appeal the injunction but stating that while the appeals process continues, DHS “will comply with the order in good faith.” However, on October 29, 2021, DHS issued a new memo terminating MPP again. . In the interim, DHS has reimplemented MPP, as of December 2, 2021. The government has also filed a petition for certiorari seeking review of the Fifth Circuit decision affirming the injunction. On January 14, 2022, both parties submitted another request to hold the Order to Show Cause in abeyance until May 2022, which was granted.

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

Contact: Judy Rabinovitz | ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project | jrabinovitz@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. McAleenan

Al Otro Lado et al. v. McAleenan 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.

On July 17, 2020, Plaintiffs filed a motion to clarify the preliminary injunction, asserting that since the Ninth Circuit lifted the temporary stay, Defendants had committed “numerous violations of the preliminary injunction,” including “tak[ing] minimal and insufficient steps to identify class members and to ensure that the Asylum Ban does not impact their eligibility for asylum” and continuing to refuse to produce the written guidance sent to the various government agencies involved in implementing the preliminary injunction. Defendants responded in opposition to the motion on August 3, 2020 and Plaintiffs replied on August 10, 2020.

Class Certification

Oral argument was held on the motion for class certification on July 30, 2020. On August 6, 2020, the District Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, certifying a class consisting of “all noncitizens who seek or will seek to access the U.S. asylum process by presenting themselves at a Class 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.” The court also certified a subclass of “all noncitizens who were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process at a Class A POE on the U.S.-Mexico border as a result of Defendants’ metering policy on or after January 1, 2016.”

Discovery has begun and on September 4, 2020 Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. On September 25, 2020, Defendants filed a cross motion for summary judgment and opposition to Plaintiffs’ motion.

Class counsel have 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 periodically and is available here.

Motion for Summary Judgment

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment in September 2020. On September 2, 2021, the Court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment in part, specifically to Plaintiff’s claim for violations of APA § 706(1) and Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment was granted as to claims based on the ultra vires violations of the right to seek asylum and violation of the Alien Tort Statute. The Court deferred a decision on remedy and asked the parties to submit briefing on remedies in light of the APA § 706(1) finding and considering how Title 42 would affect the implementation of a remedy. The parties submitted supplemental briefs on October 1, 2021. On April 1, 2022, the parties filed a joint status report addressing current issues regarding court oversight and remedies.

Press:

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

Contact: Melissa Crow | Center for Gender and Refugee Studies | crowmelissa@uchastings.edu

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 and Imperial Counties’ 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.

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, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), the U.S. Border Patrol (“USBP”), 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 into 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 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 Rocking Policy violates international peremptory norms against extrajudicial killings, bilateral treaties, and domestic law, including the Fourth and Fifth Amendments 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 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 then- Border Patrol Chief 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 Plaintiffs’ 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 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, a case that addressed the availability of a Bivens remedy for victims of cross-border shootings. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Hernandez limiting th’e availability of Bivens, 140 S.Ct. 735 (2020), the parties submitted supplemental briefing. On August 9, 2021, the case was resubmitted. On August 16, 2021, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion affirming the district court’s dismissal of ATS and FTCA claims and granting summary judgment for Defendants on Plaintiff’s Bivens claims.

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