NYLAG v. DHS

New York Legal Assistance Group, Inc., v. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 1:22-cv-05928 (S.D.N.Y., filed Jul. 12, 2022)

New York Legal Assistance Group, Inc. (NYLAG), a not-for-profit civil legal services organization in New York, New York, filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failed to produce responsive records to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to the deployment of federal law enforcement personnel in New York City during protests related to the killing of George Floyd in 2020.

In June 2020, at a New York City protest against police brutality, a protestor was violently arrested on the Upper West Side by an officer identified as an agent for ICE or Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). After the identification of the officer, organizations like NYLAG raised concerns questioning the authority of the federal government to deploy federal agents to monitor local protests and surveil immigrant protestors.

NYLAG submitted an administrative FOIA request on September 29, 2020, requesting records from May 25, 2020, through the date of filing the request. Following their administrative request, NYLAG received some communications from DHS, ICE, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Secret Service (USSS), and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), indicating that responsive records existed and were identified. However, after nearly two years, the agencies failed to produce to NYLAG any of the documents they identified as responsive to the FOIA request, prompting NYLAG to file suit.

Counsel: New York Legal Assistance Group | Cooley LLP

Contact: Danielle Tarantolo | NYLAG | (212) 613-5000
Marc Suskin | Cooley LLP | (212) 479-6000

Related Links: https://nylag.org/nylagvdhs/

Davis Wright Tremaine v. CBP

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP v. United States Customs and Border Protection, No. 2:19-cv-00334 (W.D. Wash., filed Mar. 6, 2019)

A Seattle-area law firm filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against CBP after the agency refused to respond to a FOIA request for information concerning CBP’s widely publicized policy and practice of denying entry to noncitizens due to their involvement with the legal cannabis industry in Canada. Individuals subjected to the policy in the past have been detained and at times even told they are banned for life from entering the United States. In one instance cited in the complaint, the executive commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations, Todd Owen, was quoted as claiming, “If you work for the [cannabis] industry, that is grounds for inadmissibility.” Owens also claimed that CBP had the authority to permanently ban from entering the U.S. even those who only invested in legal cannabis business.

The firm which filed the suit, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, sought access to records to assess whether CBP’s actions are within the scope of the authority granted to it by Congress, whether CBP was acting pursuant to any policies or procedures, and whether it promulgated any such policies or procedures consistent with the procedures Congress has required for agency rulemaking.

On June 16, 2020, plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment was granted in part and denied in part, and CBP’s motion for summary judgment was denied. The court found CBP’s production in response to the FOIA request inadequate, and the parties submitted periodic status reports on the agency’s ongoing production. Chief among the documents produced was a 2018 CBP Information Guide which acknowledged that foreign nationals who work in legal foreign cannabis industries are not inadmissible, assuming their visit to the United States is unrelated to domestic or cross-border cannabis operations – a policy which contradicts statements and actions by CBP in the past regarding Canadian citizens associated with the industry. The parties stipulated to dismiss the case in 2022.

Counsel: Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Contact:
Bruce Johnson | brucejohnson@dwt.com
Caesar Kalinowski | caesarkalinowski@dwt.com

Transgender Law Center v. Immigration & Customs Enforcement

Transgender Law Center v. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, No. 3:2019-cv-03032 (N.D. Cal., filed May 31, 2019) and No. 20-17416 (9th Cir., filed December 15, 2020)

On May 25, 2018, Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman, died in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE refused to provide her medical treatment. Roxsana entered the United States approximately two weeks before her death, seeking protection after fleeing persecution in her home country of Honduras, and also persecution she experienced in Mexico, due to her gender identity. Roxsana, who was suffering from untreated HIV, suffered from several physical ailments including frequent vomiting, diarrhea, persistent fever, severe weight loss and a cough in which she spat up bloody phlegm. She disclosed her condition no later than May 11, 2018, and requested medical attention multiple times. ICE refused and instead shuttled her to various holding, processing, and detention facilities, depriving her of food, water, sleep, and opportunities to relieve herself. She finally received treatment on May 17, 2018. The treatment did not come soon enough, and she died in the hospital on May 25, 2018.

On January 29, 2019, Plaintiffs Transgender Law Center and Jolene K. Youngers filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties for any documents pertaining to Roxsana. On April 19, 2019, Defendant ICE acknowledged the FOIA request and assigned it a tracking number. On May 31, 2019, after not receiving any records responsive to the FOIA request, the Plaintiffs filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief.

On November 24, 2020, the district court granted in part and denied in part motions for summary judgment from both the Plaintiffs and the Defendants. The case was argued on appeal on November 16, 2021. On May 12, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, vacated, and remanded this case to the district court. The court of appeals held that ICE and DHS had failed to meet their burden to show that their search for records was adequate “beyond material doubt,” failed to support their withholding of responsive documents—including by relying on mere boilerplate justifications—and failed to adequately segregate responsive, non-exempt records.

Documents:

Counsel: Grant & Eisenhofer P.A.; Transgender Law Center; Law Office of R. Andrew Free

Contact: Dale Melchert | Dale@transgenderlawcenter.org

FOIA: Black Alliance for Just Immigration et al. v. U.S. Customs & Border Protection, No. 1:20-cv-05198 (E.D.N.Y., filed Oct. 28, 2020)

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by Minnesota police officers, triggering mass protests in cities across the United States calling for racial justice and police reform. These protests were met with heightened police presence as local law enforcement agencies throughout the country deployed additional officers to protests and gatherings. In early June 2020, media outlets began reporting that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel and aerial surveillance, along with other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and federal agency personnel, had been deployed to the protests. A leaked CBP document later revealed that requests from law enforcement agencies across the country resulted in 326.5 hours of federal aviation assets deployed and 2,174 agency personnel.

After then-President Trump issued Executive Order No. 13933, “Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statutes and Combating Recent Criminal Violence,” DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) began taking steps to implement the directive, including by creating roving teams of federal law enforcement officers to disperse to protests. These deployments only served to exacerbate tensions and violence, drawing criticism from elected officials – especially given CBP’s track record of abusive policing tactics and use of excessive force.

Following these deployments, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the American Immigration Council, the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking records of requests for assistance to CBP by other entities regarding the deployment of CBP personnel to U.S. cities; policies, protocols, and directives outlining CBP’s legal authority to police and surveil protests; communications sent or received by CBP personnel relating to the deployments; and data regarding the total number of CBP personnel deployed, individuals apprehended or arrested by CBP, and the statutory basis for CBP’s enforcement action.

When CBP failed to respond to the request, Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction ordering Defendant to conduct a search for responsive records and timely produce those records to Plaintiffs, as well as a declaration that Defendant’s conduct violated the FOIA. On January 6, 2021, Defendant filed its answer. Production of responsive records is currently underway.

Documents:
FOIA Request
Complaint
Answer

Counsel: Immigrant Legal Defense; American Immigration Council; ACLU Foundation of Texas

Contact:
Claudia Valenzuela | Immigrant Legal Defense | claudia@ild.org
Shaw Drake | ACLU Foundation of Texas | sdrake@aclutx.org

Press:
U.S. Watched George Floyd Protests in 15 Cities Using Aerial Surveillance

FOIA: Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington v. U.S. Customs & Border Protection, No. 1:22-cv-00496-TSC (D.D.C., filed Mar. 2, 2022)

In October 2021, the chief records officer of the National Archives and Records Administration, Laurence Brewer, wrote a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials expressing concern about CBP’s use of Wickr, an Amazon-owned encrypted messaging platform known for its ability to automatically delete messages, which then become unrecoverable after a predetermined period of time. In the letter, Brewer wrote that he was “concerned about agencywide deployment of a messaging application that has this functionality without appropriate policies and procedures governing its use.” Public records have revealed that CBP – which has been widely criticized for its secrecy – has spent more than $1.6 million on Wickr since 2020 and is using the platform across all CBP components. However, little is known about how the agency has deployed the app. Its auto-deletion feature, in particular, has raised concern among both government record keepers and advocates, who worry that Wickr allows CBP officials to sidestep government transparency requirements and litigation obligations, especially considering the agency’s poor track record in complying with record-keeping laws.

In September 2021, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to CBP, seeking all records and communications relating to CBP’s use of Wickr for official agency business. After CBP failed to respond to the request, CREW filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that CBP is violating the FOIA and injunctive relief requiring CBP to immediately process and release the requested records. On April 4, 2022, Defendant filed its answer.

Documents:
Complaint
Answer

Counsel: The George Washington University Law School Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics; Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Contact:
Jeffrey Gutman | The George Washington University Law School | jgutman@law.gwu.edu
Nikhel Sus | Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington | nsus@citizensforethics.org

Press:
Customs and Border Protection to Use Encrypted App Wickr Widely
Border Patrol’s Use of Amazon’s Wickr Messaging App Draws Scrutiny
CREW Submits FOIA Request to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Regarding Use of Wickr
CREW Sues for Records on CBP Contract with Wickr, “Auto-Burn” Encrypted Messaging App

FOIA: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 3:22-cv-00149-JRK (N.D. Ohio, filed Jan. 28, 2022)

On March 12, 2021, Plaintiffs Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) and the American Immigration Council (AIC) submitted three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seeking documents related to the Border Patrol’s immigration enforcement activities in Ohio. Specifically, the requests sought policies and communications of the Sandusky Bay Border Patrol Station in Port Clinton, Ohio, as well as various forms documenting apprehensions by the Sandusky Bay Border Patrol Station.

On January 28, 2022, after Defendant failed to adequately respond to the request, Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendant seeking a declaration that Defendant’s failure to disclose responsive records and failure to promptly produce responsive records violates FOIA, as well as an order that Defendant immediately conduct a reasonable search for agency records and immediately produce all responsive agency records.

On March 9, 2022, the Court granted CBP’s motion for extension of time to answer the complaint until April 23, 2022.

Documents:
Complaint

Counsel: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc.; American Immigration Council; Immigrant Legal Defense

Contact:
Mark Heller | mheller@ablelaw.org
Emily Creighton | ECreighton@immcouncil.org
Claudia Valenzuela | claudia@ild.org

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

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

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

Documents:
Complaint

Counsel: Arent Fox LLP

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

National Immigration Litigation Alliance et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

National Immigration Litigation Alliance et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 1:2021-cv-11094 (D. Mass., filed July 1, 2021)

Since 2019, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has engaged in the practice of expelling from the United States migrants who recently gave birth, along with their U.S. citizen infants, often without birth certificates. CBP has even expelled individuals from the United States who were in active labor. The National Immigration Litigation Alliance, Al Otro Lado, and the Haitian Bridge Alliance (Plaintiffs) submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on March 18, 2021 to CBP seeking records relating to policies, guidance, or statistics regarding the treatment of pregnant people in CBP custody, people in CBP custody who have given birth within the United States within the last six months, U.S. citizen children in CBP custody who are under the age of six months, and non-U.S. citizen children of parents in CBP custody while their parent is giving birth at a U.S. hospital or other medical facility. Plaintiffs sought these records to better understand the scope and extent of CBP’s practice of expelling migrant parents and their infant children without considering the merits of their asylum applications.

When CBP failed to produce any responsive records or provide any other substantive response to the request, Plaintiffs filed suit on July 1, 2021. CBP filed their answer on August 13, 2021. CBP produced documents in August, October, and November 2021. The case was dismissed on May 4, 2022.

Documents:

Counsel: Proskauer Rose LLP; National Immigration Litigation Alliance; Al Otro Lado; Haitian Bridge Alliance

Contact: Trina Realmuto, National Immigration Litigation Alliance | trina@immigrationlitigation.org

Additional Links:

Llamas et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et al.

Llamas et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et al., No. 6:2021-cv-01169 (M.D. Fla., filed July 18, 2021)

After the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, civil unrest and protests spread across the United States. In response to the protests, the federal government deployed officials from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the United States Marshals Service (USMS), among others, to different U.S. cities and engaged in aerial surveillance of those participating in the protests.

In January 2021, Noelle Llamas and Ken Klippenstein, respectively a college student and a reporter for The Intercept, submitted six Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to CBP, ICE, FBI, USMS, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking records related to emails sent from specific officials during the period of May 25, 2020 to August 15, 2020 in an attempt to learn more about the messaging related to each federal agency’s deployment of law enforcement officials during this period of time. In particular, the requests sought records concerning each agency’s internal messaging and responses to news media inquiries about the deployments.

Although the agencies acknowledged receipt of each request, Llamas and Klippenstein did not receive a final determination on any of them. On July 18, 2021, they filed suit against the agencies for the records sought in their FOIA requests. Defendants filed their answer on September 20, 2021. A scheduling order was entered in December 2021.

Documents:

Counsel: Elizabeth E. Bourdon, B.C.S.

Contact: Elizabeth (Beth) Bourdon | bbourdon@me.com

Moore v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement

Moore v. U.S. Immigr. & Customs Enf’t, No. EP-19-CV-00279-DCG, (W.D. Tex., filed Oct. 1, 2019)

From June 2018 to March 2019, Plaintiff Robert Moore, a journalist, submitted five Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), seeking critical records related to border enforcement, fundamental shifts in the treatment of people seeking asylum, and operation of immigration detention facilities in El Paso. Among other requests, Mr. Moore asked that CBP release any and all directives, emails, text messages and other communications from CBP officials regarding the handling of people seeking asylum at ports of entry when port facilities are at “capacity.” He also requested information related to CBP’s use of a “field force demonstration” in a community next to the border on the day of mid-term elections in November 2018. When the three agencies failed to timely produce responsive records, Mr. Moore filed a lawsuit on October 1, 2019, to compel the agencies to conduct searches and produce responsive records.

On December 18, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Court stayed the motion and set a production schedule.

In a series of motions, the parties have litigated the speed at which CBP must review and produce responsive records, notwithstanding the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 8, 2020, Plaintiff moved for the Court to lift the stay and to enter a finite production schedule. The Court allowed the stay to remain in place, in light of the global pandemic, but ordered a finite production schedule.  On November 19, 2020 (the day before the production deadline), at 4:56 p.m., CBP filed a motion for a new stay of proceedings pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(C) and Open America v. Watergate Special Prosecution Force, 547 F.2d 605 (D.C. Cir. 1976), and to extend the deadline under the finite production schedule.

On January 12, 2021, the Court denied CBP’s request for an Open America stay. The Court ordered Defendants to respond to Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, ordered the parties to confer regarding a revised finite production schedule, and ordered CBP to produce weekly status reports to the Court for the duration of the case. The Court explained that the weekly reports, accompanied by a declaration, “SHALL detail CBP’s progress and developments in processing both Plaintiff’s FOIA requests and track the specific number of files/records/documents and total amount of pages reviewed that week and how many are outstanding for each individual FOIA request. Any incomplete, late, or seemingly cloned (‘copied-and-pasted’) submissions SHALL not be deemed to comply with this Order.”

The case was set for a bench trial on September 15, 2021, related to the withholding of information from CBP’s FOIA production. On September 14, 2021, CBP rolled back certain redactions from its production, resolving the issues that were to be presented at trial. The parties submitted a joint motion to retain the case while fees are resolved.

On November 17, 2021, the parties entered into a settlement agreement. Consequently, on December 15, 2021, the parties agreed to a stipulation of dismissal.

Counsel: Law Office of Lynn Coyle, PLLC

Contact: Christopher Benoit | chris@coylefirm.com | (915) 532-5544