A.F.P. and J.F.C. v. United States of America

A.F.P. and J.F.C. v. United States of America, No. 1:21-cv-780 (E.D. Cal., filed May 14, 2021)

Plaintiff A.F.P. and his fifteen-year-old son J.F.C., both citizens of Honduras, approached Border Patrol agents near McAllen, Texas to seek asylum. Instead, Border Patrol agents separated J.F.C. from his father and detained both in a holding facility, often referred to as a hielera or “ice box” for its freezing cold temperatures. The hielera was cold and cramped, and the food provided was frozen and expired.

The two were only permitted to speak to each other for 30 minutes per day. Three days after the two were taken into custody, A.F.P. was charged with illegal entry and taken to federal criminal court. During A.F.P.’s court hearing, CBP and ICE officers designated J.F.C. as an unaccompanied minor, transferred his custody to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and moved him to a facility in New York. When A.F.P. returned to the detention center, his son was gone. The officers did not advise A.F.P. of the reason or destination of his son’s transfer.

In New York, J.F.C. resided at the Children’s Village facility, where he was not allowed to communicate with his father, was denied medical care, and was subject to emotional abuse. As a result of this neglect, J.F.C. suffers from hearing loss from an untreated ear infection and severe memory problems because of the trauma he experienced.

During this time, A.F.P. was held in ICE detention in Texas, where he had an interview with an asylum officer and was told he had a credible asylum case. After officers at the detention center put A.F.P. in touch with a notary public who led him to believe that pursuing his asylum case would keep him from reuniting with his son, A.F.P. withdrew his asylum application at his hearing in front of an immigration judge. He was then transferred to maximum security prisons and deported a month later. He was separated from his son for almost fifteen months. A human rights organization later helped A.F.P. lawfully re-enter the U.S. and reunite with J.F.C.

Plaintiffs filed suit against the federal government in the Eastern District of California, seeking damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, negligence as to family separation, and negligence. Defendant United States moved to dismiss the claims and moved to transfer the case to the Southern District of Texas. On July 11, 2022, the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action regarding J.F.C.’s time in ORR custody as barred by the independent contractor exception to the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity.  On July 26, 2022, Defendant filed its answer to the remaining claims.

Documents:

Counsel: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P.

Anibowei v. Morgan

Anibowei v. Morgan, No. 20-10059 (5th Cir., appeal filed Jan. 17, 2020); Anibowei v. Wolf, Civil Action No. 3:16-CV-3495 (N.D. Tex., filed Dec. 23, 2016)

Anibowei filed a lawsuit to challenge the actions of the CBP officers—and the underlying CBP and ICE directives—as violative of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). He sought damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents as well as injunctive and declaratory relief. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. On February 14, 2019, the court dismissed Anibowei’s claims under Bivens as improperly pled, with leave to replead. On March 14, 2019, Anibowei filed a second amended complaint, and shortly thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment and for a preliminary injunction. On January 14, 2020, the district court denied Anibowei’s motions for partial summary judgment and a preliminary injunction. 

George Anibowei—a U.S. citizen and licensed attorney based in Dallas, Texas—was repeatedly stopped and questioned by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers when returning to the United States from international travel. On several such occasions, CBP officers also searched Anibowei’s cellphone and copied the cellphone’s contents without a warrant. CBP conducted these nonconsensual searches of Anibowei’s cellphone in accordance with CBP and ICE internal directives that permit the search of electronic devices at the border without individualized suspicion.

On January 17, 2020, Anibowei appealed the district court’s decision, asking the Fifth Circuit to rule on whether searching a cellphone without exigent circumstances or a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment, even if said search is conducted at the U.S. border. On December 3, 2020, the Fifth Circuit heard oral argument in this case. No opinion has been issued.

Documents

Counsel: Arnold & Porter
Contact: Andrew Tutt | Andrew.tutt@arnoldporter.com

Haitian Bridge Alliance, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 1:21-cv-03317 (D.D.C., filed Dec. 20, 2021)

Mirard Joseph is a Haitian man who was whipped by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while attempting to bring food to his family in a Texas migrant encampment. Mr. Joseph alleges his wife received only bread and water and a single diaper for their infant daughter each day—conditions that eventually drove him and others to leave the Del Rio encampment and return to Mexico to buy food. When they attempted to reenter the camp with their purchases, they were met by Border Patrol officers who grabbed Mr. Joseph’s shirt, “lashed at him with reins, attempted to drag him back into the water, and nearly trampled him.”

Mr. Joseph and ten other Haitian nationals held in the temporary Border Patrol camp allege that this mistreatment was part of a discriminatory policy by the Biden administration to target Haitians. Plaintiffs allege that the U.S. government differentially applied the Title 42 process—a summary expulsion process purportedly designed to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the government used Title 42 at the Del Rio Port of Entry against Haitian and Haitian-appearing asylum seekers with the purpose of discouraging them from accessing their right to seek asylum. Plaintiffs assert that this Haitian Deterrence Policy diverges from standard practice for asylum seekers and is driven by discriminatory purpose. Despite ample warning that thousands of Haitian migrants were heading toward Del Rio, federal authorities refused to prepare adequate infrastructure to receive them when arrivals started ramping up in September. As a result, a makeshift processing center under the Del Rio International Bridge turned into an encampment, where up to 15,000 people were made to wait for days at a time in temperatures topping 100 degrees without adequate food, water, bedding, or medical attention.

Footage described in the complaint prompted a national outcry in September 2021, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki calling the tape “horrific” during her September 20 press briefing. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas launched an internal investigation into the encounter. While the Secretary initially called for findings to be released by the end of September, results are still pending.

Plaintiffs allege that the Haitian Deterrence Policy did not end with mistreatment in Del Rio. After being processed for admission, the U.S. government placed those Haitian asylum seekers in detention, split up families, and shackled and removed them to Haiti without providing the opportunity to request humanitarian protection in the United States. Plaintiff Wilson Doe testified that DHS officers lied and said his family was being transferred to another detention facility when they were actually being expelled pursuant to Title 42. Officers then beat him when he resisted boarding the plane.

Plaintiffs allege violations of the Fifth Amendment due process clause and the Administrative Procedure Act. They also seek certification for a class of all Haitian or presumed Haitian individuals who were denied access to the U.S. asylum process in or around the Del Rio encampment between September 9 and 24, 2021. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief enjoining the government from subjecting members of the proposed class to the Haitian Deterrence Policy or Title 42 expulsions. They also seek return of those already expelled under Title 42 to allow them to pursue their asylum claims. Plaintiffs filed their complaint on December 20, 2021. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on June 10, 2022.

Documents:
Complaint
Motion to Dismiss

Counsel: Innovation Law Lab; Haitian Bridge Alliance; Justice Action Center.

Contacts:
Taisha Santil | tsaintil@haitianbridge.org
Tasha Moro | tasha.moro@justiceactioncenter.org
Alex Mensing | alexm@innovationlawlab.org

Press:
Class Action Ties Alleged Whipping To Haitian Discrimination
Haitian Migrants File Lawsuit Protesting Treatment by Border Patrol

Villalobos et al. v. United States

Villalobos et al. v. United States, No. 0:21-cv-02233 (D. Minn., filed Oct. 11, 2021)

Plaintiff Kerlin Sanchez Villalobos and her younger sister are suing the United States for the severe abuse and mistreatment they suffered while they were held in immigration custody. In June 2019, they entered the United States seeking safety from violence and persecution in Honduras, and were arrested by CBP agents. At the time, Kerlin was sixteen and her sister was fourteen. After their arrest, Kerlin and her sister were taken to a CBP detention facility in Clint, Texas and held there for nine days, after which they were forcibly separated and transferred to different group homes operated by Southwest Key Programs, Inc.

At the facility in Clint, Texas, CBP officers and government contractors mistreated Plaintiffs in a variety of ways, including physically assaulting them, depriving them of adequate food and water, denying them access to necessary medical care and medication, forcing them to watch the mistreatment of other children, and forcing them to care for younger children. Officers forced the girls to lift their shirts to be searched in a non-private setting, and threw away medicine one of the sisters brought with her to treat a recent injury. According to the siblings, officers ordered them to control the younger children who were crying because they were separated from their families. One of the sisters was injured by an officer who kicked her repeatedly. Additionally, the Clint facility was reported to have subpar sanitation for the number of children held there, and an MSNBC video from 2019 revealed children caged like animals. According to an ABC news report, staff had no training on caring for children.

In spite of initially assuring the sisters they would not be separated, officers traumatically separated the sisters without explanation and transported them to separate group homes. Despite prior reports of abuse at the Texas group homes where the sisters were held, the U.S. government has continued to place children there. In total, Kerlin spent twenty days in detention, and her sister spent twenty-nine days. Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages for negligence, negligent undertaking, battery, and assault under Texas law via the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Plaintiffs filed their complaint in October 2021 and the United States answered in January 2022. After engaging in discovery, the parties reached a settlement, which was reviewed and approved by the court with regards to the minor plaintiff. The case was dismissed pursuant to a stipulation of dismissal by the parties.