Leonel Ruiz o/b/o E.R. v. U.S., No. 1:13-cv-01241 (E.D.N.Y., filed Mar. 8, 2013)
On March 11, 2011, E.R., a four-year-old U.S. citizen, was detained by Customs and Border Protection following her arrival at Dulles Airport. E.R. was returning home to New York from a vacation in Guatemala with her grandfather, when her flight was diverted from JFK to Dulles airport due to bad weather. While E.R. was admitted with her U.S. passport, her grandfather was directed to secondary inspection due to an issue with his immigration paperwork. CBP detained E.R. with her grandfather for the next 20 plus hours, gave her only a cookie and soda during the entire time, and provided her nowhere to nap other than the cold floor.
Although CBP officers had the phone number of E.R’s parents, they failed to contact them for nearly 14 hours, and repeatedly refused her grandfather’s requests to be allowed to call them. E.R.’s father was frantic with worry this entire time. When CBP eventually did contact E.R.’s father, the officer promised to send E.R. to JFK as soon as arrangements could be made to do so, but also asked for identifying information about her parents. Hours later, CBP called again, and this time claimed that CBP could not return E.R. to “illegals.” The CBP officer gave E.R.’s father an hour to decide whether she should be sent back to Guatemala or to an “adoption center” in Virginia. Fearing that he would otherwise lose custody of his daughter, E.R.’s father decided that the only viable option was for her to return to Guatemala. CBP officers put E.R. and her grandfather on the next flight to Guatemala. E.R. was finally able to return home nearly three weeks later, after her father hired a local attorney to fly to Guatemala to retrieve her.
Back in the United States, E.R. was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a child psychologist, who concluded that the PTSD was a result of her detention, her separation from her parents, and her perception that she had been deported because her father did not pick her up from the airport. E.R.’s father seeks damages on her behalf for her unlawful treatment.
In March 2013, the girl’s father filed a lawsuit on behalf of his daughter alleging that CBP officers at Dulles Airport in Virginia unlawfully detained a U.S. citizen child for more than twenty hours, deprived her of contact with her parents, and then effectively deported her to Guatemala. On October 30, 2013, the government moved to dismiss the case on the basis that the actions of the CBP officers fell within the discretionary function exception of the FTCA, and that the court thus lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Alternatively, the government alleged that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiff had failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The government also moved to transfer the case to the Eastern District of Virginia. Counsel for the girl’s father opposed the motions.
On September 18, 2014, the court found that the CBP officers’ actions did not fall within the discretionary function exception. The court also found that CBP’s treatment of the girl violated the settlement agreement in Flores v. Reno regarding the detention of minors and CBP’s internal policies promulgated to comply with the Flores agreement. However, the court granted the government’s request to change venue and transferred the case to the Eastern District of Virginia. In June 2015, the case settled for $32,500. Because the case involved a minor, the Court reviewed and approved the final settlement.
Counsel: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, LLP | American Immigration Council
Contact: Melissa Crow | AIC | 202.507.7523 | firstname.lastname@example.org