Al Otro Lado, et al. v. John Kelly, et al.

Al Otro Lado, et al. v. John Kelly, et al., Case No. 2:170cv05111 (C. D. Cal. filed July 12, 2017)

On July 12, 2017, the American Immigration Council, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Latham and Watkins, LLP, filed a class action lawsuit challenging Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) unlawful practice of turning away asylum seekers who present themselves at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The plaintiffs in the case are Al Otro Lado, a non-profit legal services organization that serves indigent deportees, migrants and refugees in Los Angeles and Tijuana, along with six courageous asylum seekers who experienced CBP’s unlawful conduct firsthand.  Their experiences demonstrate that CBP uses a variety of tactics – including misrepresentation, threats and intimidation, verbal abuse and physical force, and coercion – to deny bona fide asylum seekers the opportunity to pursue their claims.  The Complaint alleges that the government’s refusal to allow asylum seekers to pursue their claims violates the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and the doctrine of non-refoulement under international law.

Counsel: Latham & Watkins LLP | American Immigration Council | Center for Constitutional Rights

Contact: Manuel A. Abascal | Latham & Watkins LLP | manny.abascal@lw.com | 213-485-1234

FTCA Administrative Complaint Against Border Patrol Re: Two Sisters Sexually Assaulted by CBP Officer in Texas

FTCA Administrative Complaint Against Border Patrol Re: Two Sisters Sexually Assaulted by CBP Officer in Texas

In July 2016, two sisters — then 19 and 17 years old — lost their way while traveling to the United States from Guatemala, and encountered CBP officers after crossing the Texas-Chihuahua, Mexico, border. They asked for help and were taken to a CBP field office in Presidio, Texas. Once there, the sisters were led by a federal officer into a closet-like room one at a time, told to remove all their clothes, and sexually assaulted. The victims report that they continue to suffer severe emotional distress as a result of the assault.

The sisters reported the abuse shortly after it occurred to another CBP officer in the field office where they were held, and an investigation was launched by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. The sisters were interviewed twice and asked to draw a depiction of the closet. Federal authorities have not pursued criminal charges against the officer, nor is it clear whether the officer has faced any disciplinary actions for his assaults on the sisters.

On March 22, 2017, the ACLU of Northern California filed two administrative claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act with the federal government on behalf of each of the sisters.

Media:

Counsel:  ACLU of Northern California

Contact: Angélica Salceda | asalceda@aclunc.org | (415) 621-2493

Maria Fernanda Rico Andrade v. United States of America, et al.

Maria Fernanda Rico Andrade v. United States of America, et al., No  2:15-cv-00103 (S.D. Texas, filed Feb. 27, 2015)

On November 3, 2011, Gerardo Lozano Rico, an unarmed Mexican national, was driving along a rural road in Texas when his car was pulled over by two United States Border Patrol agents. After being pulled over, several passengers in Mr. Lozano’s car began to flee and the two Border Patrol officers attempted to apprehend them. After one agent smashed the driver’s side window of the car with a baton, Mr. Lozano attempted to drive away from them. In response, the two agents fired approximately 15 shots into the vehicle, killing Mr. Lozano. The two agents who fired the shots claimed that they had fired in self-defense because the vehicle was coming in their direction.

In June 2014, Maria Fernanda Rico Andrade, Mr. Lozano’s mother, filed an administrative complaint against the Border Patrol, which was denied in August 2014. On February 27, 2015, Ms. Rico filed a lawsuit in the District Court of Texas. The complaint alleges an unconstitutionally excessive use of force and a pattern and practice of border patrol agents who, by placing themselves in front of moving vehicles, intentionally expose themselves to additional risk which creates a justification for the use of deadly force. The complaint also alleges the fatal shots fired by the agents were from the side and the rear, occurring after the car had already passed them and making the decision to use force unreasonable. On October 6, 2015, the government filed a motion to dismiss. Following additional briefing from both parties, the motion is currently pending in front of the District Court.

On March 27, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. On April 19, the Court granted Plaintiff’s Motion to Continue Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment.

Counsel: Robert C. Hilliard | Singleton Law Firm, APC; Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, LLP

Contact: Robert C. Hilliard | bobh@hmglawfirm.com | (361) 882-1612

Gallegos v. United States of America, et al

Gallegos v. United States of America, et al., (S.D. Texas, Amended Complaint filed June 23, 2015)

This case challenges the actions of two U.S. Border Patrol agents, who shot dead an unarmed man on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2012. Nora Lam Gallegos, on behalf of herself and her minor children, brought a lawsuit against the United States and various Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in their individual capacities for the wrongful death of her husband, Guillermo Arevalo Pedraz (“Arevalo”).

On September 3, 2012, Arevalo and his family were celebrating his birthday in a park in Mexico bordering the Rio Grande when a U.S. Border Patrol airboat pulled beside a man swimming in the river. The two agents, Matthew Lambrecht and Christopher Boatwright, were responding to a report that three people had swum over to the Texas border. Witnesses allege that the man in the river was swimming back to Mexico in order to evade capture. One of the border agents on the boat attempted to catch the swimmer using a long boat hook. A crowd gathered on the Mexican shore as onlookers shouted at the two agents to leave the man alone. Arevalo ran toward the crowd. The agents in the airboat later reported that about 20 people on the Mexican shore began throwing rocks at the boat, but Mexican witnesses vehemently denied this. One of the agents on the boat aimed and fired at least five shots at the crowd, which included children. Two bullets hit Arevalo. He was rushed to a hospital but was pronounced dead after an unsuccessful attempt to revive him.

A complaint filed by Plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleges that the agents unlawfully used excessive force. Multiple eyewitnesses directly contradict Border Patrol’s assertion that Arevalo was throwing rocks before he was killed. The plaintiffs assert that, even assuming arguendo that Arevalo was throwing rocks, the agents’ response was grossly excessive; a cellphone video of the incident demonstrates that when the agents opened fire, they were beyond the distance at which any thrown rock could pose a risk of death or serious bodily injury, and in any case, the agents could have shielded themselves by moving the boat further from the Mexican shore.

The Plaintiffs allege that the agents were acting pursuant to the Border Patrol’s “Rocking Policy,” which permits the use of lethal force against persons throwing rocks and other objects in the direction of border patrol agents. The Plaintiffs also assert that, despite condemnation from the Mexican government and international human rights organizations, high-ranking DHS and CBP officials have acquiesced to the Rocking Policy.

Plaintiffs allege that the Rocking Policy violates various international treaties as well as the sovereignty of Mexico by permitting Border Patrol agents to fire their weapons into Mexico’s sovereign territory. They also claim that the Rocking Policy violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, reasonable attorney fees, and other reasonable relief.

The case currently is stayed pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Hernandez, et al. v. United States.

Counsel: Robert C. Hilliard | Singleton Law Firm, APC; Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, LLP

Contact: Robert C. Hilliard | bobh@hmglawfirm.com | (361) 882-1612

Complaint Against CBP Over Failed Policies Regarding Return of Belongings

Complaint Against CBP Over Failed Policies Regarding Return of Belongings

On April 6, 2016, the New Mexico ACLU Center for Border Rights, along with the Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional and other partners, filed a complaint with DHS which documented 26 cases in which belongings—including important identity documents, money, and irreplaceable personal items—were confiscated by Border Patrol agents from individuals they apprehended and never returned at the time that the individuals were deported.  The reported cases highlight the devastating consequences that can flow from the loss of critical documents and money.  These 26 incidents are illustrative of the serious systemic problems with respect to CBP’s policies on return of belongings, including the ability for individual agent’s to abuse the system.

Counsel: Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional, ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights, ACLU Foundation of Texas, American Immigration Council, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild

Contact: Kristin Love | klove@aclu-nm.org | (505) 266-5915 extension 1007

Administrative Complaint Re: Extreme Temperatures in CBP Short Term Detention Facilities

Administrative Complaint Re: Extreme Temperatures in CBP Short Term Detention Facilities

On February 2, 2016, NIP/NLG, in collaboration with Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional  and the ACLU of New Mexico, filed an administrative complaint on behalf of persons held by CBP in short-term detention facilities where they are exposed to extreme temperatures. The administrative complaint also challenges the agency standards  addressing temperature controls in short-term facilities, but asserts that the agency fails to abide even by these standards.

Shortly after the complaint was filed, DHS OIG announced that it would inspect short-term detention facilities.

Counsel: Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional (PDIB) | National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild | ACLU of New Mexico

Contact: Trina Realmuto | National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild | trina@nipnlg.org

FTCA Administrative Complaint by Immigrant Mothers’ Against DHS/CBP/ICE

FTCA Administrative Complaint by Immigrant Mothers’ Against DHS/CBP/ICE

On August 10, 2015, five immigrant mothers sent administrative complaints to the Department of Homeland Security under the Federal Tort Claims Act for the abuses the women and their children had suffered while detained in ICE custody. These women, who fled their home countries due to endemic violence suffered at the hands of criminal gangs and intimate partners, sought asylum in the United States. After entering the custody of CBP/ICE, they endured deplorable detention conditions, including woefully inadequate medical and mental health care, little to no legal information as to their rights and/or fates, no educational services for the detained children, and lack of access to necessities such as food, water, clothing, and bathing facilities.

Counsel: R. Andrew Free | Barrett, Johnston, Martin & Garrison, LLC

Contact: R. Andrew Free | (615) 244-2202 | Andrew@ImmigrantCivilRights.com

Press coverage:

FTCA Administrative Complaint of Honduran Family Denouncing the Hieleras (dated July 18, 2015)

John Doe and Jane Roe v. United States, 3:16-cv-856 (Mid. Dis. Nash. Filed May 12, 2016)

Claimants—a husband and wife—fled to the United States from their native Honduras in 2013 in an attempt to escape severe violence. In the six months preceding their trek north, Claimant Wife’s family had been targeted by a criminal organization, which murdered her brother outside the family business, beat her mother into a coma, and raped her 12-year-old cousin. Fearing for their safety, Claimant Wife (then nearly eight months pregnant) and Claimant Husband fled for the United States, taking their two-year-old son with them. After crossing the border, the family turned themselves in to CBP officers at the Weslaco Station in the Rio Grande Valley Sector and requested asylum. In July 2015, they filed an administrative complaint against the United States for the serious mistreatment they suffered while in CBP custody. They raise claims of negligence, gross negligence, invasion of privacy, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The family was taken to a detention center referred to as a “hielera” (“freezer” or “icebox”), where they were stripped of extra layers of clothing and their baby supplies (including diapers) were confiscated. The cell was so cold that Claimant Wife’s fingers turned color and her teeth chattered. Claimant Wife and the couple’s toddler were placed in a female-only cell with about 65 other people, including about 40 children ranging in age from newborn to 18. They were fed cold burritos and bologna sandwiches, but the youngest children could not eat them as they could not yet eat adult food. Claimants’ toddler son developed severe diarrhea but Claimant Wife was not provided with adequate supplies to clean him, such that the diarrhea leaked through the boy’s diapers.

CBP failed to provide Claimant Wife, her son, and the rest of the women and children in their cell with a bed, warm clothes, blankets, adequate edible food and potable water, and enough toilet paper or other cleaning supplies. The lights were on the entire time the family was in detention. Those who requested even the slightest accommodation were ridiculed, mocked, and even yelled at by CBP officers. As a result of these conditions, Claimant Wife and her child were unable to sleep more than a few minutes at a time. Children cried incessantly about the cold and lack of food and water.

Experiencing severe stomach pain and concerned about having to give birth in those filthy conditions, Claimant Wife begged for medical treatment. She was eventually taken to a nearby hospital, where the medical staff determined that she was in the process of dilation and informed CBP in writing that Claimant Wife was not medically able to travel. The staff also instructed Claimant Wife and (upon information and belief) CBP staff that she should be released from detention so as to prevent preterm labor and minimize the risk of medical harm to her and the baby, but CBP returned Claimant Wife to detention instead.

Over the next day, the family attempted to obtain information about their release and were only released after successfully convincing a CBP officer to check the doctor’s release order. Previously, CBP officers had told Claimant that she should not have her baby in detention, threatening her with prolonged detention and her husband’s deportation back to Honduras if she did so. When Claimants asked for medical treatment for their young son, who was visibly ill and dehydrated form diarrhea, they were told that if the officers took him to get medical attention, it would take longer for the family to be released. The officers also made clear to the family that they did not qualify and could not apply for asylum.

After nearly 72 hours in the freezing hielera without access to adequate food, water, hygiene, necessities, blankets, bedding, warmth, sleep, and medical care, CBP released the family by leaving them at a bus station in the middle of the night.

Claimants filed an administrative FTCA complaint on July 18, 2015, and suit in federal district court in May 2016. On August 19, 2016, the government filed a motion to dismiss the case. As of April 2017, the motion to dismiss is still pending.

Counsel: R. Andrew Free | Barrett, Johnston, Martin & Garrison, LLC

Contact: R. Andrew Free | (615) 244-2202 | Andrew@ImmigrantCivilRights.com

Alba Quinonez Flores v. United States of America

Alba Quinonez Flores v. United States of America
No. 1:14-cv-03166 (E.D.N.Y. Filed May 20, 2014)

Filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, this suit seeks damages for the physical and psychological injury Ms. Quinonez Flores suffered at the hands of CBP while she was detained in holding cells, known as hieleras (iceboxes), in CBP’s Rio Grande Valley Sector. The complaint alleges that CBP negligently placed Ms. Quinonez Flores in detention conditions that they knew or should have known posed a substantial risk of harm, failed to oversee the agents who managed the day-to-day operations of the detention facilities, and that their acts and omissions constituted the intentional infliction of emotional distress. For more information regarding this case, see Texas, FTCA Administrative Complaints. Defendants moved to transfer venue, arguing that venue was not proper in the E.D.N.Y. because Plaintiff was not lawfully present in the United States. The District Court denied Defendants’ motion on June 12, 2015.

On February 4, 2016, after Plaintiffs accepted the settlement offer of $80,000.00, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of the FTCA action against CBP.

Counsel: Law Office of David K.S. Kim, PC; Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger; Americans for Immigrant Justice

Contact: Ira Kurzban | Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger | 305-444-0060 | ira@kkwtlaw.com

Arreaga v. United States of America

Arreaga v. United States of America, 5:16-cv-00007 (S.D. Texas, Complaint filed January 19, 2016)

The complainant, a United States citizen, stopped at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Texas at approximately 11 a.m. on September 4, 2014. He told the agents that he was a United States citizen and showed them his citizenship card. The agents incorrectly believed that he was carrying drugs in his vehicle. They detained and questioned him and disassembled his truck. No drugs were found. Without probable cause, they continued to detain him for a total of approximately 17 hours, finally releasing him at about 4 a.m. the morning following his initial stop. In January 2016, Plaintiff Julio Adolfo Arreaga filed a complaint in the S.D. Tex. Discovery concluded as of December 2016.

The parties have agreed to Court-hosted mediation on May 16, 2017 at 9:00 AM.

Counsel: Javier Maldonado

Contact: Javier Maldonado | (210) 277-1603 | jmaldonado.law@gmail.com