Gonzalez Recinos et al. v. McAleenan et al.

Gonzalez Recinos et al. v. McAleenan et al., No. 1:19-cv-00138 (S.D. Tex. filed Aug. 16, 2019).

This lawsuit was brought as a writ of habeas corpus by individuals detained by CBP in various facilities within the Rio Grande Valley Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol.

The lawsuit alleges that CBP has subjected petitioners to inhumane treatment and harsh conditions in these facilities by: packing them into overcrowded cells for lengthy periods, where they are denied adequate food, water, medical attention, and sanitation facilities, providing inadequate food and water, unsanitary toilets, showering and bathing facilities, and no access to phones, beds, or medical assistance. Petitioners are also alleging that it is CBP’s pattern or practice to deny access to family members and legal counsel.

Plaintiff-petitioners filed an amended petition on July 20, 2019, and a motion for preliminary injunction on August 12. The district court held a hearing on that motion on September 6, 2019. In October of 2019, the court denied plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction under the rationale that granting the requested relief would impose a substantial burden on CBP. The parties then stipulated to dismiss the case.

Counsel: Elisabeth (Lisa) Brodyaga, Refugio del Rio Grande; Jaime M. Diez, Jones and Crane; Thelma O. Garcia, Law Office of Thelma Garcia; Luis Campos, John Becker & Wesley D. Lewis, Haynes and Boone, LLP; Efrén C. Olivares, Texas Civil Rights Project

Contact: Lisa Brodyaga | Refugio del Rio Grande | 956-421-3226 | LisaBrodyaga@aol.com

Blanca Gomez Arellano v. United States

Blanca Gomez Arellano v. United States, No. 2:19-cv-00141 (S.D. Tex., filed May 13, 2019).

This is a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a mother whose son died trapped in a tractor-trailer container while the vehicle was impounded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). On October 13, 2017, CBP officers detained a tractor-trailer for inspection and discovered an undocumented individual inside. CBP then took the driver and undocumented individual into custody and impounded the truck. Three days later, CBP officers noticed a foul smell and liquid leaking from the truck, and they contacted the local sheriff’s department, who found a decomposing body.

The complaint alleges claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act for negligence, gross negligence, assault and battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A policy manual currently in effect directs CBP officers that “all closed containers must be opened and their contents inventoried” upon the impounding of a vehicle. The compartment in which the victim’s body was found was clearly marked as a “Liftable Lower Bunk.” The complaint alleges that the officers acted negligently or recklessly to cause the victim’s death. The government moved to dismiss the complaint in May of 2019. The case was consolidated with a related case filed by the decedent’s widow, Ramirez v. Garcia, No. 2:18-cv-446 (S.D. Tex.).

On October 30, 2019, the court dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ FTCA claims on the basis that the customs-duty exception to the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity applied and barred recovery. The court then remanded the remaining state law claims to the 92nd Judicial District of Hidalgo County, Texas.

Counsel: Texas Civil Rights Project

Contact: Efrén C. Olivares | efren@texascivilrightsproject.org

Gomez Vincente v. United States of America & Barrera

Gomez Vincente, et al., v. United States of America, et al., No. 5:20-cv-00081 (S.D. Tex., filed May 12, 2020)

On May 24, 2018, Border Patrol agent Romualdo Barrera shot and killed Claudia Patricia Gómez González, a twenty-year-old Guatemalan woman, several hundred yards from the U.S.-Mexico border in Rio Bravo, Texas. Claudia was walking through Rio Bravo with a few other people when Agent Barrera confronted the group. Although several members of the group began running, Claudia remained where she was. Agent Barrera drew his weapon, and when Claudia – a petite woman who was not carrying anything that could even remotely be perceived to be a weapon – took a step forward, the agent aimed at her, pulled the trigger, and shot her in the head.

Following the shooting, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a press release claiming that members of Claudia’s group had attacked the agent with “blunt objects” and that Claudia was one of the assailants. It later retracted that statement and issued a new one, removing any references to the blunt objects or allegations that Claudia had assaulted the agent.

On May 23, 2019, Claudia’s family filed an administrative claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for Claudia’s wrongful death, seeking substantial damages and hoping to ensure accountability for the officials’ unlawful acts. When more than six months passed after filing the claim without any action by the agencies, Claudia’s family filed a federal suit against the United States for common law battery, negligence, gross negligence, and reckless conduct pursuant to the FTCA, and against the agent who killed Claudia for excessive, unreasonable force and deprivation of due process in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

On May 13, 2020, the Plaintiffs filed an emergency motion to expedite discovery, which the court granted in part and denied in part on May 19, 2020. On September 9, 2020, Defendants filed their answer. On September 29, 2020, Defendant Barrera filed a motion to dismiss the Bivens claims against him. On December 1, 2020, the court granted the U.S.’s motion to stay the case pending an FBI investigation of Claudia’s death.

The stay was lifted on July 8, 2021. On July 19, 2021, Magistrate Judge John Kazen issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R) recommending the district court dismiss all Bivens claims. On August 2021, Plaintiffs filed their objections to the R&R. On September 29, 2021, United States District Judge Diana Saldaña adopted the Magistrate Judge’s R&R in part and dismissed all Bivens claims.

The parties settled the remaining FTCA claims for an undisclosed amount. The case was dismissed pursuant to a stipulation of dismissal.

Counsel: Kirkland & Ellis LLP; ACLU of Texas; ACLU Immigrant Rights Project

Contact: Edgar Saldivar | ACLU of Texas | esaldivar@aclutx.org

FTCA Administrative Complaint on behalf of US Citizen deported by CBP

FTCA Administrative Complaint on behalf of US Citizen deported by CBP

In September of 2018, Julio Cesar Ovalle filed an administrative complaint against the Department of Homeland Security under the Federal Tort and Claims Act for being unlawfully seized and wrongfully deported last June. Mr. Ovalle, 24, is a U.S. citizen who was born in Los Angeles.

Ovalle, a resident of San Antonio, was stopped by a Border Patrol agent on June 11, 2018 while walking along Portanco Road toward his neighborhood. The agent asked for his “papers,” and refused to believe Ovalle’s assertions of his citizenship. Ovalle told the officer he had a passport and other documentation at home, but the agent did not listen and instead took Ovalle’s phone and transported him to the Border Patrol station in Cotulla. Ovalle was deported the next day to Nuevo Laredo.

In Mexico, Ovalle was kidnapped by cartel members and held for ransom with a group of about 80 other immigrants, including recent deportees. Ovalle’s family called Laredo police, who referred them to the FBI. Ovalle was eventually released at one of the international bridges in Nuevo Laredo, and returned to the U.S.

Counsel: Javier Espinoza Garcia | Espinoza Law Firm, PLLC

Press coverage:

Nwaorie v. CBP, et al.

Nwaorie v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, et al., No: 4:18-cv-1406 (S.D. Tex., filed May 3, 2018)

On May 3, 2018, the Institute for Justice filed a class-action lawsuit challenging U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) policy or practice of demanding that owners of seized property sign “hold harmless” agreements for the return of their property, and thereby waive certain constitutional and statutory rights.

On October 31, 2017, CBP seized approximately $40,000 cash from the named Plaintiff, Anthonia Nwaorie, a U.S. citizen, while she was trying to board an international flight to Nigeria. Ms. Nwaorie intended to use more than $30,000 of the funds she had saved up from her work as a nurse to start a medical clinic in Nigeria for women and children.

In December 2017, Ms. Nwaorie, in compliance with the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), submitted a claim, requesting judicial forfeiture proceedings. When CBP failed to file a forfeiture complaint within 90 days, it became statutorily required to return the seized property.

However, instead of doing so, in April 2018, CBP mailed Ms. Nwaorie a letter, which conditioned the return of her seized cash on her signing a hold harmless agreement. If she did not sign the agreement to waive her statutory and constitutional rights and to indemnify the government for any claims brought by others related to the seized property, CBP threatened to initiate forfeiture proceedings against her. After filing the lawsuit, CBP finally sent her a check in the amount confiscated.

On July 23, 2018, Defendants moved to dismiss all claims, arguing that they are moot and barred by sovereign immunity. On August 27, Plaintiff filed her opposition to Defendants’ motion. Defendants filed a reply in support of their motion on September 4, and Plaintiff filed a surreply on October 3. As of October 2018, the motion is pending.

In May 2019, a magistrate judge recommended dismissal, finding that sovereign immunity barred the claims, and alternatively, the government’s return of Ms. Nwaorie’s money rendered her claims moot. The magistrate judge also recommended dismissal of Nwaorie’s constitutional claims, finding that CBP had a rational basis to subject her to additional searches because of the large amount of money she was carrying.

The plaintiff filed an objection to the magistrate’s memorandum and recommendations. • Unfortunately, the district court judge affirmed the magistrate judge’s recommendations and dismissed the case in August 2019.

Press Releases:

Counsel: Institute for Justice

Contacts: 

Dan Alban | Institute for Justice | dalban@ij.org

Anya Bidwell | Institute for Justice | abidwell@ij.org

J.I. v. USA

J.I. v. USA, No. 1:18-at-00185 (E.D. Cal., filed March 15, 2018)

In the summer of 2016, J.I., a minor, traveled from Guatemala with her older sister to reunite with their mother in the United States. The sisters became lost in the area near the Presidio, Texas and Ojinaga, Chihuahua border. Afraid and thirsty, the sisters flagged down Border Patrol agents for help. The sisters were then taken into custody.

Once J.I. was in custody, a Border Patrol agent removed her from the cell she was in with her sister and took her to a small room, where he forced J.I. to remove her clothing and expose her breasts and genitalia. He then assaulted and battered J.I.

On March 21, 2017, J.I. submitted an administrative claim to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), as required under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). In a letter dated September 27, 2017, CBP replied on behalf of all named agencies and denied the administrative tort claim in full.

On March 15, 2018, the ACLU of Northern California filed an FTCA lawsuit against CBP alleging assault and battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. The lawsuit also included constitutional claims (violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments). The parties agreed to settle on October 19, 2018, and reached an agreement that includes a $125,000 payment to J.I. It is unclear whether CBP disciplined the agent, Fernando Saucedo III, and whether he is still employed by CBP.

Related Documents:

Counsel: ACLU of Northern California

Contact:  Angélica Salceda | ACLU of Northern California | asalceda@aclunc.org

 

R.M.H. v. Lloyd

On October 30, 2017, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, the ACLU of Texas, and Washington Square Legal Services, Inc. filed suit against the Office of Refugee Resettlement and CBP following the arrest and detention of 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez, who came to the United States when she was three months old and who suffers from cerebral palsy. On October 24, 2017, Rosa Maria was on her way to a children’s’ hospital for gall bladder surgery when the vehicle she was in, driven by a U.S. citizen, was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint. Despite being told that she was on her way to the hospital for an imminent surgery, Border Patrol agents detained her for thirty minutes before allowing her to depart.

Agents then followed her to the hospital, went inside, and tracked her movements up to and during the time that she was in surgery. When attorneys for the hospital told the agents that they had to leave, the agents refused to do so, telling the hospital that they intended to arrest Rosa Maria and deport her when she was released from the hospital. When she was discharged the day after her surgery, the agents arrested her directly from her hospital bed and forcibly took her to an Office of Refugee Resettlement Shelter for unaccompanied minors.

On October 30, 2017, counsel for Rosa Maria filed a lawsuit alleging that the Border Patrol’s actions violated Rosa Maria’s statutory and constitutional rights, and sought a temporary restraining order seeking her immediate release. On November 3, 2017, the government released her to the care of her family. The case was voluntarily dismissed the same day. On January 8, 2018, the Border Patrol announced that it would take steps to expedite emergency medical vehicles through checkpoints.

Serrano v. CBP

Serrano v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et al., Nos. 2:17-cv-00048 (W.D. Tex., filed Sept. 6, 2017) and 18-50977 (5th Cir., filed Nov. 21, 2018)

On September 6, 2017, the Institute for Justice brought a class action suit against Customs and Border Protection over the agency’s practice of engaging in civil forfeiture of vehicles at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border. The plaintiff, Gerardo Serrano, was detained in 2015 when crossing into Mexico at the Eagle Pass, Texas port of entry. After CBP officers found a small amount of pistol ammunition in his truck, they seized the vehicle. CBP held his truck for over two years without ever filing a civil forfeiture action in court against him, despite requiring him to post thousands of dollars for a bond purportedly to allow him to challenge the seizure. Because the agency never filed a forfeiture action, Mr. Serrano was given no opportunity to have his day in court and challenge CBP’s seizure.

His complaint alleges that CBP seizes hundreds of vehicles owned by American citizens each year and refuses to hold prompt post-seizure hearings at which the owners can challenge the seizure. The class action suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring CBP to hold prompt post-seizure hearings, as well as compensation for Mr. Serrano. In October 2017, CBP returned Mr. Serrano’s truck without subjecting it to a forfeiture action. On December 13, 2017, Defendants moved to dismiss the suit. The parties completed briefing on January 19, 2018.

On July 23, 2018, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which he advised granting Defendants’ motions to dismiss.

On September 28, 2018, the district court adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendations and issued an order denying class certification and granting all motions to dismiss. Mr. Serrano appealed the district court decision to the Fifth Circuit on November 21, 2018.

In April 2019, the plaintiff filed his opening brief with the Fifth Circuit. Several amicus briefs were filed in support. The government’s answering brief was filed in August 2019. As of October 2019, those briefs are still pending. The government filed a notice of supplemental authority regarding Cantu v. Moody 933 F.3d 414 (5th Cir. Aug. 5, 2019) on January 28, 2020. The court heard oral argument on February 4, 2020. On February 26, 2020, the plaintiff filed a notice of supplemental authority regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in Hernandez v. Mesa.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision on September 16, 2020, holding (1) that CBP’s seizures of property without prompt judicial hearings on remission do not violate the Due Process Clause and (2) that Serrano failed to state a Bivens claim, as his complaint did not plausibly allege that CBP agents violated clearly establish law by seizing his truck and keeping it for 23 months without providing him with a post-seizure hearing.

On December 1, 2022, Plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court for a Writ of Certiorari. On March 2021, Respondent filed a brief in opposition and Petitioners filed their reply. On April 19, 2021, the Supreme Court denied the cert petition.

Fifth Circuit Pleadings:

Supreme Court:

Counsel: Anya Bidwell & Robert Everett Johnson | Institute for Justice

Al Otro Lado v. Wolf

Al Otro Lado et al. v. McAleenan et al., No. 3:17-cv-02366 (S.D. Cal., filed July 12, 2017), No. 22-55988 (9th Cir., filed Sept. 21, 2022), and No. 22-56036 (9th Cir., filed Nov. 4, 2022)

On July 12, 2017, the American Immigration Council, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Latham & Watkins, LLP, filed a class action lawsuit challenging U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s 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) and 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 and physical abuse, and coercion—to deny bona fide asylum seekers the opportunity to pursue their claims. The complaint alleges that CBP’s conduct 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.

On November 13, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification, which included dozens of declarations from asylum seekers CBP had turned away at the border. On November 28, 2017, the Court granted Defendants’ motion to transfer venue to the Southern District of California and dismissed all pending motions without prejudice. On August 20, 2018, the court denied in part and granted in part the government’s motion to dismiss, allowing the majority of plaintiffs’ claims to go forward. On October 12, 2018, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint highlighting the Trump administration’s specific implementation of the “turnback policy” as well as the administration’s own “zero-tolerance policy.”

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on November 29, 2018, which Plaintiffs opposed. Close to two dozen states filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs’ opposition to the motion to dismiss, as did many members of Congress, Amnesty International, law professors, and nineteen nonprofit immigrant advocacy organizations.

In July 2019, the judge rejected most of Defendants’ claims in the motion to dismiss and ordered the government to file an answer to Plaintiffs’ second amended complaint, which it did in August 2019. In February, the parties completed briefing on certification of a class consisting of all noncitizens who seek or will seek to access the U.S. asylum process by presenting themselves at a POE on the U.S.-Mexico border, and were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process by or at the instruction of CBP officials on or after January 1, 2016, as well as sub-class of those who were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process as a result of metering over the same time period.

Motion for Preliminary Injunction

While this case has been pending, and asylum seekers remain stranded in Mexico under the Turnback Policy, the Trump administration issued an interim final rule (the “Asylum Ban”) barring individuals from asylum eligibility in the United States if they transited through a third country and did not seek protection there first. On September 26, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction and a motion seeking provisional class certification asking the district court to keep Defendants from applying the Asylum Ban to provisional class members, in order to maintain their eligibility for asylum until the court rules on the legality of the Trump administration’s metering policy in this case.

On November 19, 2019, the court provisionally certified a class consisting of “all non-Mexican asylum seekers who were unable to make a direct asylum claim at a U.S. [port of entry] before July 16, 2019 because of the U.S. Government’s metering policy, and who continue to seek access to the U.S. asylum process.” The court also blocked Defendants from applying the Asylum Ban to members of the provisional class and ordered that Defendants apply pre-Asylum Ban practices for processing the asylum applications of members of the class.

On December 4, 2019, Defendants appealed the district court’s order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On March 5, 2020, the Ninth Circuit denied Defendants’ motion for a stay of the order until the appellate court decides the merits of the appeal. In doing so, the Ninth Circuit lifted its previously imposed emergency temporary stay of the order. At this time, the district court’s order is in effect.

On July 17, 2020, Plaintiffs filed a motion to clarify the preliminary injunction, asserting that since the Ninth Circuit lifted the temporary stay, Defendants had committed “numerous violations of the preliminary injunction,” including “tak[ing] minimal and insufficient steps to identify class members and to ensure that the Asylum Ban does not impact their eligibility for asylum” and refusing to produce the written guidance sent to the various government agencies involved in implementing the preliminary injunction. Defendants responded in opposition to the motion on August 3, 2020 and Plaintiffs replied on August 10, 2020.

Class Certification

Oral argument was held on the motion for class certification on July 30, 2020. On August 6, 2020, the district court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, certifying a class consisting of “all noncitizens who seek or will seek to access the U.S. asylum process by presenting themselves at a Class A [POE] on the U.S.- Mexico border, and were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process by or at the instruction of [CBP] officials on or after January 1, 2016.” The court also certified a subclass of “all noncitizens who were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process at a Class A POE on the U.S.-Mexico border as a result of Defendants’ metering policy on or after January 1, 2016.”

Discovery began and on September 4, 2020 Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. On September 25, 2020, Defendants filed a cross motion for summary judgment and opposition to Plaintiffs’ motion.

Class counsel have prepared a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) resource to address common questions about the court’s order, class membership, and implementation.  The FAQ resource will be updated periodically and is available here.

Motion for Summary Judgment

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment in September 2020. On September 2, 2021, the court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment in part, specifically to Plaintiff’s claim for violations of APA § 706(1) and Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment was granted as to claims based on the ultra vires violations of the right to seek asylum and violation of the Alien Tort Statute. The court deferred a decision on remedy and asked the parties to submit briefing on remedies in light of the APA § 706(1) finding and considering how Title 42 would affect the implementation of a remedy. The parties submitted supplemental briefs on October 1, 2021. On April 1, 2022, the parties filed a joint status report addressing current issues regarding court oversight and remedies.

On August 5, 2022, the court issued two decisions. First, the judge converted the preliminary injunction to a permanent injunction and granted in part, but denied in part, Plaintiffs’ motion to clarify the preliminary injunction order. Second, she issued a decision with respect to remedies on summary judgment. The court concluded that it could not enter any injunctive relief, relying on the Supreme Court’s decisions in Garland v. Aleman Gonzalez, 142 S. Ct. 2057 (2022). Instead, the court entered declaratory judgment, declaring that “absent any independent, express, and lawful statutory authority, Defendants’ refusal to deny inspection or asylum processing to noncitizens who have not been admitted or paroled and who are in the process of arriving in the United States at Class A Ports of Entry is unlawful regardless of the purported justification for doing so.”

The parties have cross-appealed the final judgment to the Ninth Circuit.

Counsel: Mayer Brown LLP | American Immigration Council | Center for Constitutional Rights | Southern Poverty Law Center | Center for Gender and Refugee Studies

Contact: Melissa Crow | Center for Gender and Refugee Studies | crowmelissa@uchastings.edu

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