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.

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 criminal case in California, 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.

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 will 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.  A dispute continues about the remaining documents, and plaintiffs are waiting to get a production schedule from defendants. Plaintiffs moved for sanctions in January of 2020.

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.

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

 

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee v. CBP

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 1:17-cv-00708 (D.D.C. filed April 18, 2017)

In March 2017, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with CBP seeking agency records relating to Global Entry System (GES) revocations, suspensions, terminations, confirmations, and policy practices. ADC alleged that after the November 2016 presidential election, and significantly accelerating following President Trump’s attempted travel ban implementation, CBP began revoking—without explanation—Global Entry System approval for Arabs and Muslims who previously had been approved for Global Entry. ADC further alleged that the revocations were not isolated incidents but rather part of a wider pattern in which CBP singled out travelers with Arab or Muslim names or ancestries and revoked their GES approval without any accompanying material change in circumstance or security risk. Those singled out for revocation included doctors, bankers, students, and businesspeople. These revocations also corresponded with inexplicably heightened scrutiny by CBP agents towards Arab and Muslim travelers in the wake of the travel ban.

Through its FOIA request, ADC specifically sought agency records relating to each revocation, suspension, or termination of GES participation beginning November 9, 2016, as well as additional records that would show a pattern of CBP’s singling out Arab and Muslim travelers from whom to revoke GES approval, including agency records created on or after November 9, 2016, relating to the operation or functioning of the GES program and containing the words or phrases “Muslim,” “Arab,” “ban,” “Muslim ban,” or “travel ban.”

CBP failed to disclose the requested records within the designated timeframe. In April 2017 ADC sought declaratory and injunctive relief to compel DHS to produce the requested records.

After two years of litigation, the parties settled on their disputes on the merits and with respect to attorneys’ fees, and the case was voluntarily dismissed in July 2019.

Co-Counsel: R. Andrew Free | Law Office of R. Andrew Free

Co-Counsel: Gregory H. Siskind | Siskind Susser, PC

Contact: R. Andrew Free | andrew@immigrationcivilrights.com | 844-321-3221

Murphy v. CBP

Murphy v. CBP, No. 3:15-cv-00133-GMG-RWT (N.D.W.V., filed Dec. 4, 2015)

Acting pro se, a former armed security guard under federal contract at the CBP Training Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against CBP on December 4, 2015.  The complaint alleged that CBP unlawfully redacted or withheld over 80% of the responsive documents that Plaintiff sought in conjunction with an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint he filed alleging that CBP unlawfully terminated him due to his race and his wife’s race and religion.

After initially moving to dismiss the complaint due to insufficient service, which the district court denied, CBP moved for summary judgment.  Plaintiff opposed the motion, cross-filed for summary judgment, and filed a motion to compel as well as for in camera review of the documents.  After the completing of briefing, on August 5, 2016, the district court denied CBP’s motion for summary judgment, holding that CBP failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that documents responsive to the Plaintiff’s FOIA request were withheld pursuant to a recognized FOIA exemption under FOIA.  The court further established a schedule for the filing of a Vaughn index and for additional briefing from the parties. The court also denied without prejudice Plaintiff’s motion for in camera review of the responsive documents.

On August 8, 2015, CBP filed its answer to the complaint.

On June 13, 2017, the court denied Defendant’s third motion for summary judgment, granted Plaintiff’s cross motion for summary judgment, and ordered Defendant to reimburse Plaintiff for the expenses he incurred in bringing the suit.