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 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.

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

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Ortega, et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Ortega, et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 1:21-cv-11250-FDS (D. Mass, filed Aug. 2, 2021)

On August 2, 2021, the Boston College Civil Rights Clinic and Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on behalf of Neisa Ortega and her 14-year-old daughter. On multiple occasions over the course of a year, Ms. Ortega and her daughter were separated for hours without explanation and Ms. Ortega subjected to repeated invasive body searches and sexual violations at the hands of CBP officers while travelling through Logan Airport in Boston.

The complaint alleges that CBP subjected Ms. Ortega to illegal and unconstitutional treatment upon her returns from family visits to the Dominican Republic. Beginning in April 2019, CBP officers assaulted, degraded, and humiliated Ms. Ortega on three separate occasions through invasive body cavity searches that contravened CBP’s internal guidelines prohibiting officers from conducting vaginal cavity searches. During these body cavity searches, CBP officers separated Ms. Ortega from her daughter for hours, during which time neither was given information as to the other’s whereabouts. Ms. Ortega and her daughter have been traumatized by their separation from each other, and Ms. Ortega still lives with the trauma of being physically abused and sexually violated. 

On November 5, 2020, Ms. Ortega filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL); CRCL summarily closed the complaint on March 30, 2021. On January 19, 2021, Ms. Ortega filed an administrative claim with CBP on behalf of herself and her daughter under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA); CBP likewise denied the claim in full on June 17, 2021. Having exhausted administrative remedies under the FTCA, Ms. Ortega filed this lawsuit claiming Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as compensatory relief pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) and the FTCA.

Documents:

Counsel: Boston College Civil Rights Clinic; Lawyers for Civil Rights

Contact: Arielle Sharma, Lawyers for Civil Rights | asharma@lawyersforcivilrights.org; Reena Parikh, Boston College Civil Rights Clinic | reena.parikh@bc.edu


Merchant v. Mayorkas (formerly Alasaad v. Nielsen)

Merchant v. Mayorkas (formerly Alasaad et al. v. Nielsen et al., No. 1:17-cv-11730-DJC  (D. Mass., filed Sept. 13, 2017), Nos. 20-1077, 20-1081 (1st Cir., filed Jan. 28, 2020), No. 20-1505 (Sup. Ct., filed Apr. 23, 2021)

On September 13, 2017, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with the ACLU and the ACLU of Massachusetts, brought suit against Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), challenging those agencies’ practices of seizing travelers’ electronic devices without a warrant or individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. The organizations filed on behalf of 10 U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident who had smartphones and other electronic devices seized when they arrived at the U.S. border. Many of the plaintiffs had their devices confiscated for extended periods of time. Plaintiffs seek the return of their devices, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the government to seek a warrant or have probable cause that a crime was committed prior to seizing a traveler’s cellphone. On December 15, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss.

On May 9, 2018, the court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding that Plaintiffs plausibly alleged that the government’s digital device search policies substantially burden travelers’ First Amendment rights.

Defendants filed an answer on June 1, 2018. Since then, the parties have been proceeding through the discovery process. In Spring 2019, the parties cross-moved for summary judgment, with plaintiffs arguing that CBP’s policy authorizing warrantless, suspicionless searches of electronic devices violates the First and Fourth Amendments and are seeking an injunction. Oral argument was held in July 2019. In November 2019, the court denied Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court allowed in part and denied in part Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, denying the request for injunctive relief but allowing the request for declaratory relief. The district court then entered a judgment stating that border authorities may only search a traveler’s electronic device if they have reasonable suspicion that the device contains digital contraband. Defendants appealed the order, and Plaintiffs cross-appealed in January of 2020. Briefing on the cross-appeals was ongoing through July, and in August 2020, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, the Brennan Center for Justice, Constitutional Accountability Center, The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Knight First Amendment Institute, and a number of other civil rights, immigration, privacy, and free speech organizations filed briefs as amicus curiae.

On February 9, 2021, the First Circuit issued its decision, holding that neither a warrant nor reasonable suspicion are required for CBP agents to conduct a basic search of electronic devices, and that neither a warrant nor probable cause is required to conduct an advanced search. It also held that CBP agents can retain an electronic device after a traveler crosses the border.

On April 23, 2021, Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, asking the Court to clarify what level of suspicion (i.e., probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or none) is required to search a traveler’s electronic devices, and the scope of that search. The petition further asks the Supreme Court to impose a minimum requirement of reasonable suspicion for any such search conducted at the border. The Constitutional Accountability Center, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Brennan Center for Justice, and TechFreedom submitted amicus briefs in support of the Plaintiff-Petitioners. On June 29, 2021, the Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari.

Documents:

Counsel:  Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Massachusetts