Leonel Ruiz o/b/o E.R. v. U.S.

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.

Press:

Counsel: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, LLP | American Immigration Council

Contact: Melissa Crow | AIC | 202.507.7523 | mcrow@immcouncil.org

FTCA Administrative Complaints Against the United States

FTCA Administrative Complaints Against the United States (filed Mar. 12, 2013)

On various dates in early 2013, four women were apprehended at the United States Texas border by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.  After being apprehended, they were taken by CBP to what the agents called a “hielera,” which is Spanish for “icebox” or “icemaker.”  The hieleras are holding cells which agents often maintain at very low temperature.  The women all describe cells in which dozens of detainees were crowded together.  The cells had no beds, no chairs and each had only a single toilet and sink sitting in the open in the corner.  The women were kept in the cells for as long as 13 days.

The cells were so cold that the women’s fingers and lips turned blue.  They often were fed only one meal a day consisting of a single sandwich, which frequently was frozen. They received nothing to drink other than water, which they had to retrieve from the sink, using their hands or a single cup shared by everyone in the cell.  They were not given blankets or pillows.  Sleeping on the freezing cold floor was next to impossible.  Pregnant women and women with children were present in the cells.

Two of the women are diabetics whose prescriptions were confiscated at the time they were apprehended and never returned.  Both suffered medical problems after their medication was taken from them.  One of them passed out twice and finally was taken to the local hospital’s emergency room.

None of the women were afforded access to a shower or a bath.  Two of them had their menstrual cycles while detained but had no access to a bathroom for bathing.  There was no soap, no change of underwear, and no toothbrushes or toothpaste.

CBP agents regularly asked each of the women to sign documents printed in English, which the women could not read and did not understand.  Agents threatened that they would be kept in the holding cell until they signed these documents.  These agents also referred to them in demeaning ways, including calling them “bitches.”  Only one of the women was asked whether she had a fear of returning to her country of origin, as required, though several of them do.  Eventually, most of the women signed the documents in order to end their suffering in the cold holding cells.  Though they did not understand it at the time, they had signed expedited removal orders. Each of the women was subsequently transferred to a Texas jail and then to a detention facility in Florida while awaiting removal.  All the women filed administrative complaints for damages against the United States for the suffering they endured at the hands of CBP agents. One of these women, Alba Quinonez Florez, subsequently sued the U.S. government in federal court based on the abuses described above.

The government failed to respond to the administrative complaint within the six-month deadline. None of the claimants decided to file a federal complaint.

Counsel: Americans for Immigrant Justice

Contact: Jennie Santos | AI Justice | jsantos@aijustice.org

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FTCA Administrative Complaint Regarding ‘Citizenship Checkup’ of US Citizen

FTCA Administrative Complaint Regarding ‘Citizenship Checkup’ of US Citizen (filed Mar. 12, 2013)

Lucy Rogers is a naturalized American citizen of Mexican descent. She lives in Chateauguay, NY with her husband and infant son. In her work as a medical interpreter for immigrant farmworkers, a program funded by the federal government, Ms. Rogers travels to New York farms to pick up farmworkers, drive them to medical appointments, and serve as their interpreter.

On December 28, 2011, Ms. Rogers was driving toward the U.S./Canada border with two farmworkers of apparent Latino descent when a Border Patrol agent pulled her over without any reasonable suspicion. The agent told Ms. Rogers that he was conducting a “citizenship checkup” and asked her and her passengers whether they were U.S. citizens. Ms. Rogers replied that she was a U.S. citizen and provided the agent with her New York State drivers’ license. Because the two farmworkers traveling with her were unable to immediately provide proof of their immigration status, Ms. Rogers was arrested and searched, under the suspicion that she was trafficking undocumented immigrants in an attempt to escape inspection upon entry into the U.S.

After several hours of being interrogated in a nearby station, CBP employees agreed that there was no proof that Ms. Rogers was engaged in trafficking. Yet they insisted that Ms. Rogers provide them with the GPS device that she kept in her car. She understood that, if she refused to do so, she would remain indefinitely in CBP custody. Consequently, she felt compelled to give it to them. Ms. Rogers did not receive it back for more than seven months. Now, after this frightening and humiliating experience, Ms. Rogers feels afraid that living near the border means that she could be stopped at any time without any reason— simply because of her race and ethnicity.

Ms. Rodgers filed an administrative complaint under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  CBP denied the complaint. The case is now closed.

Press:

Counsel: New York Civil Liberties Union | Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic, Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School

Contact: NYCLU Press Office | 212-607-3372
Rebecca Engel | rengel@nyclu.org
Betsy Ginsberg | betsy.ginsberg@yu.edu