Santa Fe Dreamers Project v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Santa Fe Dreamers Project v. U.S. Customs & Border Protection, No. 1:20-cv-00490 (D.N.M., filed May 21, 2020)

In response to the Trump Administration’s implementation of a series of new policies designed to dissuade asylum seekers from coming to the United States, an increasing number of immigrants’ rights advocates began representing asylum seekers in the U.S.-Mexico border region. In late 2018 and early 2019, reports emerged that federal law enforcement was surveilling attorneys and immigrants’ rights advocates as a result of this increased human rights work. In mid-December 2018, federal officials subjected El Paso-area advocates to increased questioning and detention while traveling through ports of entry and abroad. In April 2019, the Santa Fe Dreamers Project (SFDP) submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seeking records related to border enforcement and the potential targeting of human rights defenders by border enforcement agencies. SFDP did not receive a single responsive document, nor has CBP conducted a timely search for the records requested.

On May 21, 2020, SFDP filed this FOIA lawsuit seeking to compel CBP to conduct a reasonable search and produce records responsive to their FOIA request. On June 24, 2020, Defendants filed their answer. Per their August scheduling order, Defendants must produce all responsive documents by November 6, 2020.

Documents:

Counsel: Christopher Benoit, The Law Office of Lynn Coyle, PLLC

Contact: Christopher Benoit, The Law Office of Lynn Coyle, PLLC | chris@coylefirm.com

Texas Civil Rights Project v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Texas Civil Rights Project et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 1:20-cv-02389 (D.D.C., filed Aug. 27, 2020)

In March 2020, the Trump Administration began carrying out summary expulsions pursuant to Title 42 § 265 of the U.S. Code and the CDC’s  implementing regulations. The Administration removed noncitizens without travel documents apprehended at the border – including unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers – without any legal process under the ruse of mitigating the spread of COVID-19. In late July 2020, news began breaking that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had been contracting with private contractors to detain immigrant children as young as one in hotels along the U.S.-Mexico border prior to carrying out such summary expulsions, regardless of whether the child had tested positive for COVID-19 or not. While detained in these hotels, children, including unaccompanied minors, were unable to contact family members, denied access to counsel, and denied any legal process before being removed to countries where many feared persecution.

In response, the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) submitted three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), DHS, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to obtain more information about the government’s treatment of unaccompanied children who have crossed the border in recent months. Specifically, the organizations sought records encompassing (1) the standards use to determine whether unaccompanied and undocumented children are immediately expelled or allowed to apply for humanitarian relief; (2) statistics on how many children have been expelled and to where; (3) the secret locations where DHS detains children prior to Title 42 expulsion; and (4) the identity of the companies that DHS had contracted with to transport and detain children. Plaintiffs received no response to their requests.

On August 27, 2020, TCRP and ICAPfiled this suit seeking to compel CBP, ICE, and DHS to conduct a reasonable search and produce records responsive to their FOIA request. 

Documents:

Counsel: Robert D. Friedman, Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, Georgetown University Law Center

Contact: Robert Friedman, Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, Georgetown University Law Center | rdf34@georgetown.edu

Additional Links:

Sabra v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Sabra v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 1:20-cv-00681-CKK (D.D.C., filed Mar. 9, 2020)

On September 11, 2015, Fleta Christina Cousin Sabra—a U.S. citizen and accredited humanitarian worker—traveled with a family of asylum-seeking Syrian refugees and the refugees’ lawful permanent resident relative from Mexico into the United States by way of a U.S. port of entry in Southern California. When Ms. Sabra explained to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer that the family wished to seek asylum, the officer handcuffed all members of the group, including Ms. Sabra. CBP officers detained Ms. Sabra for several hours, during which time they insulted her Muslim faith, pulled off her hijab, and physically assaulted her.

In July 2016, Ms. Sabra submitted a request for agency records pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding the September 11, 2015 encounter, CBP’s subsequent related records, CBP’s investigation, communications regarding the family of Syrian refugees, and other CBP records regarding Ms. Sabra. In response, CBP produced only five pages of records.

Ms. Sabra filed this action on March 9, 2020, seeking to compel CBP to conduct a reasonable search and produce records responsive to her FOIA request. On May 29, 2020, CBP made an initial production and reported that it anticipates making monthly, rolling releases. Ms. Sabra moved for judgment on the pleadings. CBP made additional productions in June, July, and August of 2020. As of August 21, 2020, the court has held Ms. Sabra’s motion for judgment on the pleadings in abeyance pending parties’ discussions regarding additional productions.

Counsel: Law Office of R. Andrew Free

Contact: R. Andrew Free | (844) 321-3221 | Andrew@ImmigrantCivilRights.com

Electronic Frontier Foundation v. Dep’t of Homeland Security

Electronic Frontier Foundation v. Dep’t of Homeland Security, No. 1:19-cv-02578 (D.D.C., filed Aug. 27, 2019)

In United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012), the Supreme Court unanimously held that warrantless GPS tracking violates the Fourth Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional. In a 2018 California criminal case, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) disclosed that it is their policy and practice to install tracking devices on vehicles at the border without a warrant. An ICE official stated in a declaration that the policy did not violate the Jones ruling, but the court disagreed.

Neither agency submitted the actual policy to the court, so the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with ICE and CBP. EFF asked the agencies to produce records pertaining to “[p]olicies and/or procedures regarding the use of GPS tracking devices on vehicles crossing the border” and “[t]raining manuals and/or training materials on the use of GPA tracking devices on vehicles crossing the border.” Four months after EFF made the request, ICE notified EFF that the agency would withhold all relevant documents because of an exemption that protects “law enforcement sensitive information” that might alert people of government agents attempting to place tracking devices on their vehicles at the border. CBP did not take any action in response to the request, so in August 2019, EFF filed a federal lawsuit to enforce the FOIA and obtain the relevant records.

From December 2019 through April 2020, ICE and CBP made a small series of productions. The parties now anticipate that litigation will proceed to cross-motions for summary judgment. Summary judgment motions are due October 23, 2020 (for Defendants) and December 7, 2020 (for Plaintiffs).

Counsel: David L. Sobel, Saira Hussain, Jennifer Lynch, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Contact: David L. Sobel | Electronic Frontier Foundation | 415-436-9333 | sobel@eff.org

American Immigration Council v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et. al.

American Immigration Council v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et. al., No. 1:19-cv-02965 (D.D.C filed Oct. 2, 2019)

This Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeks to uncover information about the government’s troubling new practice of employing U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) officers to screen asylum seekers. The suit, filed on October 2, 2019 on behalf of the American Immigration Council and Tahirih Justice Center, challenges the government’s failure to respond to multiple FOIA requests for records relating to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision to train and utilize CBP officers to conduct asylum screenings known as credible fear interviews (CFIs).

Congress intended that CFIs serve as a safeguard from summary removal. If an asylum seeker passes this initial screening, he or she must be given the opportunity to file an asylum claim before an immigration judge. As threshold screenings, these interviews are not intended to be adversarial but rather function to provide the asylum seeker an opportunity to recount details of their feared persecution in their country of origin. Asylum seekers often describe instances of physical and sexual violence and other trauma to explain why they seek protection in the United States during a CFI. For decades, these interviews have been conducted by a corps of asylum officers employed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), trained specifically to adjudicate asylum claims, including the handling of sensitive matters.

According to reports, DHS has begun to replace trained USCIS asylum officer with officers from CBP—a law enforcement agency with a history of abuse of and misconduct towards asylum seekers—in the credible fear screening process. Despite the significance of this change, there are no publicly available records documenting this shift in functions.

In response to this lawsuit, CBP has produced a single document. DHS has produced hundreds of pages of entirely redacted records. USCIS continues to produce approximately 500 pages per month.

Counsel: Claudia Valenzuela, Emma Winger, American Immigration Council

Contact: Claudia Valenzuela | American Immigration Council | 202-507-7540 | cvalenzuela@immcouncil.org

ACLU of New Hampshire v. CBP

ACLU of New Hampshire v. CBP, No. 1:19-cv-00977 (D.N.H., filed Sept. 17, 2019)

In early 2019, the ACLU of New Hampshire (ACLU-NH) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after obtaining documents that described plainclothes CBP officers as far as 100 miles from the border in New Hampshire driving in unmarked cars, following people around, and “asking probing questions” without identifying themselves. This practice enabled CBP to apprehend and detain many noncitizens in New Hampshire. ACLU-NH submitted a FOIA request for information pertaining to how CBP officers identified individuals who could potentially be undocumented immigrants in New Hampshire, but CBP did not respond adequately. Therefore, in September 2019, ACLU-NH filed a lawsuit in pursuit of the information detailed in the FOIA request.

Counsel: SangYeob Kim, Gilles R. Bissonnette, Henry R. Klementowicz, ACLU of New Hampshire

Contact: SanYeob Kim | ACLU-NH | 603-333-2081 | sangyeob@aclu-nh.org

AIC v. DHS

American Immigration Council et al. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security et al., No: 1:17-cv-02142 (D.D.C., filed Oct. 17, 2017)

This lawsuit involves the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) failure to conduct an adequate search for and disclose records responsive to Plaintiffs’ 2012 and 2017 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which sought documents pertaining to DHS’ policy and/or practice of permitting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to provide interpretation services to local law enforcement and to respond to 9-1-1 calls. Most documents that Defendants did produce in response to the FOIA requests were unjustifiably redacted.

Due to Defendants’ deficient and unlawful FOIA responses over a five-year period, on October 17, 2017, Plaintiffs filed suit against DHS under the FOIA seeking to compel the production of records concerning (1) the use of CBP personnel to provide interpretation and/or translation services to local, state, or other federal law enforcement agencies, and (2) the participation of CBP personnel in 911 dispatch activities.

Ultimately, the parties reached settlement on the merits and on attorneys’ fees and the case was dismissed in June 2019. Records available at link below.

Counsel: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP | American Immigration Council | Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

Contact: Kristin Macleod-Ball | AIC | kmacleod-ball@immcouncil.org

Records available at:

DHS Family Separations FOIA

DHS deliberately separates families in an extreme measure to discourage asylum seekers and other individuals from coming to the United States. Hundreds of immigrant children have been taken from family members at the U.S.-Mexico border, detaining them in separate facilities.

The American Immigration Council, in collaboration with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, National Immigrant Justice Center, Kids in Need of Defense, Women’s Refugee Commission and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, filed requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552.

The requests ask for policies, guidelines, or procedures followed or used by the governmental agencies to address the processing and treatment of families at the U.S.-Mexico border and specifically, the separation of adult family members from minor children and the criminal prosecution of adult family members. Requests were filed with the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Health and Human Services and relevant sub-agencies.

FOIA Requests:

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, et al., vs. United States Department of Homeland Security, and United States Customs and Border Patrol

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, et al., vs. United States Department of Homeland Security, and United States Customs and Border Patrol, No. 2:16-cv-14192 (E.D. Mich. filed November 30, 2016)

Citing concerns over potential Constitutional violations, the ACLU of Michigan, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, and researchers filed a federal lawsuit against DHS and CBP in 2016 for the agencies’ failure to provide information related to its “100-mile zone” policy—which CBP claims authorizes agents to engage in warrantless vehicle searches within 100 miles of any international border or waterway.

8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(3) grants CBP authority to conduct warrantless vehicle searches and detentions within a “reasonable distance” of the border solely for the purpose of preventing illegal entry into the United States. 8 C.F.R. § 287.1(b) defines “reasonable distance” as 100 miles. The Great Lakes are considered the “functional equivalent” of an international border, and therefore the entire state of Michigan is within this “100-mile zone.”

To shed light on the 100-mile zone policy in Michigan, advocates and researchers submitted a FOIA request to DHS and CBP in 2015. Neither agency provided a legally adequate response. Instead, a few heavily-redacted documents were released. These documents underscored the need for greater public access to information about Border Patrol’s roving patrols operations and CBP’s claims that agents may search any motorist anywhere in the state without a warrant.

The requesters filed a federal lawsuit on November 30, 2016, in the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on July 28, 2017. On February 14, 2018, Defendants moved for summary judgment. On March 28, 2018, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment and opposition to Defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment. Oral arguments were heard on the motions, and on September 7, 2018, the parties reached an agreement whereby the government would provide city-level information in apprehension reports about where apprehensions occur. Plaintiffs received these reports on a rolling three-month schedule through the end of 2018.  Plaintiffs moved for sanctions in January of 2020 based on Defendants’ failure to comply with production deadlines.

In March 2020, the parties stipulated that no disputes remained regarding Defendants’ production of documents and the case was dismissed with prejudice. On September 21, 2020, the court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions.

Contact: Miriam Aukerman | maukerman@aclumich.org

American Immigration Lawyers Association v. DHS, et al.

American Immigration Lawyers Association v. DHS, et al., No. 1:16-cv-02470 (D.D.C. filed Dec. 19, 2016)

On July 10, 2013, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), submitted a FOIA request to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), seeking records relating to the issuance and implementation of the Officers’ Resource Tool (ORT) and how it has come to replace the Inspector’s Field Manual (IFM). The ORT replaced the IFM, which previously provided guidance regarding the inspection and admission of individuals into the United States at U.S. ports of entry. CBP failed to produce any responsive records and did not respond to AILA’s administrative appeal.

In December 2016, the American Immigration Council, in cooperation with Foley and Lardner, LLP, filed the lawsuit on AILA’s behalf seeking to compel CBP to release the ORT. On June 7, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court denied on March 30, 2018. After continued delays in production, the plaintiffs filed a second motion for summary judgment in December, 2018. The court denied that motion without prejudice, but ordered the government to produce documents by May 31, 2019.

In November 2019, Defendants filed a renewed motion for summary judgment, and in January 2020, Plaintiffs filed their opposition, as well as a cross-motion for summary judgment. On March 10, 2020, Defendants filed their reply to Plaintiffs’ opposition and their opposition to Plaintiffs’ cross-motion for summary judgment. On July 22, 2020, the District Court ordered additional, unredacted production from Defendants.

Counsel: Emily Creighton | American Immigration Council | ecreighton@immcouncil.org
Kristin Macleod-Ball | American Immigration Council | kmacleod-ball@immcouncil.org
Naikang Tsao | Foley & Lardner LLP | ntsao@foley.com