Texas and Missouri v. Biden

Texas & Missouri v. Biden, No. 2:21-cv-00067-Z (N.D. Tex., filed Apr. 13, 2021)

Within hours after President Biden’s inauguration, the Biden administration suspended new enrollments into the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program (also known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols” or “MPP”), which forcibly returned certain people seeking asylum at the southern U.S. border to Mexico, where they had to survive dangerous conditions during the pendency of their immigration proceedings in U.S. immigration courts. The program was notoriously a humanitarian disaster – as a result of the policy, people seeking asylum were murdered, raped, kidnapped, extorted, and compelled to live in squalid conditions. They also faced significant procedural barriers to meaningfully presenting their legal claims for protection.

On April 13, 2021, the states of Texas and Missouri (Plaintiffs) filed suit in the Northern District of Texas, arguing that the Biden administration’s January 2021 statement suspending new enrollments into MPP “functionally end[ed] the MPP” program and was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) given the “huge surge of Central American migrants, including thousands of unaccompanied minors, passing through Mexico in order to advance meritless asylum claims at the U.S. border.” Plaintiffs also argued that the Biden Administration’s decision to suspend MPP violated both the Constitution and an agreement between Texas and the federal government.

On May 14, 2021, Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction. However, before the briefing was complete, DHS issued a new memo on June 1, 2021 formally terminating MPP. The Court concluded that the June 1 memorandum mooted Plaintiffs’ original complaint (which had focused on the January 2021 pronouncement), but allowed Plaintiffs to amend their complaint and file a new motion seeking to enjoin the June 1 memo. Plaintiffs did so. On June 25, 2021, Defendants filed their response to Plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction motion, and Plaintiffs filed their reply on June 30, 2021.

On July 22, 2021, the Court held a consolidated hearing and bench trial on the merits, and the parties then filed supplemental briefs on the scope of relief available to Plaintiffs. On August 13, 2021, the Court issued an order concluding that Plaintiffs were entitled to relief on both their APA and statutory claims and issued a nationwide injunction permanently enjoining Defendants from implementing or enforcing the June 1 memo, vacating the June 1 memo in its entirety, and ordering Defendants “to enforce and implement MPP in good faith until such a time as it has been lawfully rescinded in compliance with the APA and until such a time as the federal government has sufficient detention capacity to detain all [noncitizens] subject to mandatory detention under Section 1255 without releasing any [noncitizens] because of a lack of detention resources.”

The Court’s reasoning was rooted in a mistaken understanding of 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(2)(A) and its determination that MPP “demonstrated operational effectiveness” — a finding based on Trump Administration statements and flawed data analysis and which ignored hundreds of pages of record evidence detailing the dangers MPP respondents had experienced in Mexico.

The Court stayed its order for seven days to allow the federal government time to seek emergency relief from the Fifth Circuit. On August 16, 2021, the Biden administration sought an additional stay from the District Court, which the District Court summarily denied two days later. The Biden administration then appealed to the Fifth Circuit. The American Immigration Council, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, Human Rights First, and Southern Poverty Law Center, filed an amicus brief in support of the government, asking the Fifth Circuit to prevent the reinstatement of MPP and arguing that the District Court’s order rests on inaccurate facts about the purported effectiveness of MPP in deterring migration and reducing meritless asylum claims. The brief also explains the ways in which the MPP program has been a humanitarian catastrophe. The ACLU and ACLU of Texas filed a separate amicus brief in support of the government primarily focusing on the District Court’s misinterpretation of 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(2)(A).

On August 19, 2021, the Fifth Circuit denied the government’s request for a stay in a published decision that wholly adopted as true the Trump administration’s claims about the effectiveness of MPP in deterring migration and ignored the mountainous evidence refuting such claims. The decision, however, stated that the administration does not have to restart MPP at any particular time, just “in good faith” (without defining the term) and clarified that the government “can choose to detain” someone in accordance with § 1225, so long as the government does not “simply release every [noncitizen] described in § 1225 en masse into the United States.”

On August 20, 2021, the Biden administration filed an application to stay the District Court’s injunction and for an emergency administrative stay with the Supreme Court. That same day – just minutes before the injunction was to go into effect – Justice Alito granted an emergency stay of the injunction until 11:59 pm EDT on August 24, 2021, to allow the full Court to consider the application. On August 23, 2021, the ACLU and ACLU of Texas filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in support of the stay application, again addressing the lower courts’ deeply flawed premise that the federal government must subject all people seeking asylum apprehended at the border to mandatory detention or return them to Mexico under MPP.

On August 24, 2021, the Supreme Court denied the government’s stay request in a 6-3 decision, stating that “[t]he applicants have failed to show a likelihood of success on the claim that the memorandum rescinding the Migrant Protection Protocols was not arbitrary and capricious.” The decision, however, did not endorse the states’ incorrect claims that the government is actually required to return people to Mexico under the immigration statutes. That same day, DHS issued a statement saying that the Department “respectfully disagrees with the district court’s decision,” have appealed that order, and “will continue to vigorously challenge it.” However, the Department stated that “[a]s the appeal process continues . . . DHS will comply with the order in good faith.”

Documents:

Counsel for Amicus: ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; ACLU Foundation of Texas; American Immigration Council; Center for Gender & Refugee Studies; Human Rights First; Southern Poverty Law Center

Two Vermont residents challenge legality of warrantless search by Border Patrol in Vermont state court

On August 12, 2018, Brandi Lena-Butterfield and Phillip Walker-Brazie were stopped by Border Patrol agents conducting a “roving patrol” in a Vermont town near the Canadian border. The agents asked for consent to conduct a search of the vehicle, which Lena-Butterfield and Walker-Brazie denied. The agents then conducted a search of the vehicle anyway, believing they had probable cause to proceed, and encountered small amounts of marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms that they believed to be in excess of state limits. They called the Vermont State Police, and charges were bought against both individuals by the Orleans County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Vermont’s constitution provides stronger protections for individual privacy than federal law and calls for a warrant or probable cause with urgent circumstances in order for law enforcement to conduct searches. As the Border Patrol agents did not comply with Vermont state protections, counsel for plaintiffs argue that the evidence seized cannot be used in state-level criminal prosecution.

The ACLU-VT is appealing the criminal charges against Walker-Brazie and Lena-Butterfield to the Vermont Supreme Court. In November 2019, a superior court judge in Orleans County ruled in favor of ACLU-VT’s request to file an interlocutory appeal, which allows them to ask for a ruling from the Supreme Court before the lower court case is complete. The justices heard arguments on December 15, 2020.

Press:

Counsel: American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont

Contact: Jay Diaz | ACLU-VT

Father and Son File FTCA Administrative Claims and Subsequent Lawsuit Based on Nine Months of Family Separation

E.L.A. and O.L.C. v. United States of America, No. 2:20-cv-1524, (W.D. Wash., filed Oct. 10, 2020)

On October 9, 2019, an asylum-seeking father, Mr. L.A., and his son, O.L., filed administrative claims for six million dollars in damages for the trauma they suffered when torn apart under the Trump administration’s family separation policy. The family endured nine months of forced separation in 2018 while the father was unlawfully deported to Guatemala, in spite of expressing a credible fear of persecution in that country. On October 15, 2020, after the government neglected to make a final disposition on the administrative claims, Mr. L.A. and his son filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Washington, having exhausted all possible administrative remedies.

While in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), at a youth facility called Lincoln Hall in New York, then-17-year-old O.L. was medicated without his parent’s consent in order to “calm” him and dissuade thoughts of escaping from the facility. A Lincoln Hall staff member physically assaulted and insulted O.L.; rather than discipline the offending staff member, facility staff simply transferred O.L. to a different part of the facility. Additionally, Lincoln Hall was in an abusive and sexualized environment. On two separate occasions, staff completed an ORR Serious Incident Report or “Sexual Abuse SIR,” listing O.L. as a victim of sexualized staff actions. During one incident, a staff member showed O.L. and other children in the facility a pornographic video on his phone. In another incident, a staff member dropped a nude photo of herself in front of O.L.

Both Mr. L.A. and his son endured dehumanizing conditions while being held in a hielera prior to and immediately after separation. Mr. L.A. reported freezing temperatures, very limited food, and limited access to drinking water other than from a bathroom sink. At one point, he was packed in a cell with fifteen other men, with no beds and a shared toilet without privacy. As the men were not permitted to shower or brush their teeth, the smell in the cell was horrible. Officers left bright fluorescent lights on at all times, conducted roll-calls even at nighttime, and provided only Mylar emergency blankets for sleeping; as a result, Mr. L.A. reports experiencing sleep deprivation.

Mr. L.A. and his son spoke briefly on the phone only twice while they were detained and before Mr. L.A. was deported. Mr. L.A. was devastated to learn his son had been transported across the country to New York, while he remained detained in Texas. After being detained separately for more than one month, Mr. L.A. received word from officers that he would be reunited with his son. However, they were not reunited; and Mr. L.A. was instead put on a plane and deported to Guatemala.

Both Mr. L.A. and his son report prolonged and lasting effects from their forced separation. Mr. L.A. still experiences nightmares, anxiety, and depression, and also survived an attempt on his life once removed to the country from which he sought asylum. O.L. reports experiencing anxiety and depression in the wake of his detention and time spent separated from his father.

The claim letter charges the government with intentionally inflicting emotional pain on the family and punishing them for seeking asylum in the United States. The claims were filed against the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. They are brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue the United States for injuries resulting from unlawful conduct of federal officers.

On January 19, 2021, Defendant moved to transfer the case to the Southern District of Texas and to dismiss two of Plaintiffs’ four claims (abuse of process and negligence). On February 8, 2021, Plaintiffs filed their response and on February 12, 2021, Defendant filed its reply. On July 9, 2021, the Court granted a stipulated motion to hold the case in abeyance while settlement negotiations take place.

As of August 2021, individuals who were subject to the Trump administration’s family separation policy in 2018 who have not yet filed claims or complaints based on their family separation may still be eligible to do so. Please contact Sydney at sydney@nwirp.org if you know of an individual who has not yet filed a claim based on family separation, but who was subject to the 2018 policy.

Documents:

Counsel: Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Morgan, Lewis, & Brockius, LLP

Contact: Matt Adams | Northwest Immigrant Rights Project | 206.957.8611 | matt@nwirp.org

Mohanad Elshieky v. USA

Mohanad Elshieky v. United States of America, No. 2:20-cv-00064 (E.D. Wash., filed Feb. 14, 2020)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials unlawfully seized and detained Mr. Elshieky, an asylum recipient lawfully present in the United States, aboard a Greyhound bus in January 2019. Shortly after Mr. Elshieky boarded a Greyhound bus in Spokane, Washington, CBP officials entered the bus and began questioning and detaining people of color. A CBP official approached Mr. Elshieky and asked him to produce identification and to confirm his citizenship status. When Mr. Elshieky presented his valid Oregon driver’s license and valid USCIS employment authorization card, officers ordered him off the bus. Although Mr. Elshieky explained his immigration status—that he had been granted asylum recently—the officers accused him of possessing a forged employment authorization card and refused to believe him, saying “we’ve heard all this before” and “illegals say that all the time.” The officials continued to detain him and accused him of being unlawfully present as they confirmed his immigration status.

Mr. Elshieky filed an administrative complaint under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) on April 25, 2019, seeking $250,000 in damages for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment. CBP issued a final disposition denying the claim on September 11, 2019. On February 14, 2020, Mr. Elshieky filed a complaint in federal district court under the FTCA. On June 23, 2020, the court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss Mr. Elshieky’s claim of discrimination under the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

After the court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss as to Mr. Elshieky’s discrimination claim, Defendants filed their answer. Discovery is now beginning, and a bench trial has been postponed due to the pandemic. After a bench trial was postponed due to the pandemic, the case was referred to mediation and all deadlines were vacated. In March 2021, the government reached a settlement with Mr. Elshieky which included an award for damages. 

Counsel: Northwest Immigrant Rights Project | American Civil Liberties Union of Washington | Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

Contact: Matt Adams | 206-957-8611 | Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

Lisa Nowlin | 206-624-2184 | ACLU Washington

Lewis v. Unknown Agents of the Department of Homeland Security

Lewis v. Unknown Agents of the United States Department of Homeland Security, No. 3:19-cv-00600 (S.D. Cal., filed Apr. 1, 2019)

Sams v. Unknown Agents of the United States Department of Homeland Security, No. 3:19-cv-00612 (S.D. Cal., filed Apr. 2, 2019)

These lawsuits arise from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s detention of two individuals who were experiencing withdrawal from opiates and alcohol and were denied medical treatment. The plaintiffs bring claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), alleging violations of their Fifth Amendment Rights.

Mr. Lewis, a U.S. citizen and military veteran, was arrested by DHS at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in February 2019. He alleges that he told the arresting officers of his history of substance abuse, prompting laughter. He began experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal, and instead of being given medical treatment, was transferred back-and-forth between the San Diego Metropolitan Correction Center and DHS custody. Mr. Lewis spent four days in DHS custody experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, unable to move or eat, all the while requesting medical attention which was never given.

The facts of Ms. Sam’s case are similar. In January 2019, DHS officers interrogated and detained her. Despite advising officers of her substance abuse history, she was placed in a small holding cell. She remained in DHS custody for four days, during which time she experienced grave symptoms of withdrawal and repeatedly requested medical attention. Her requests were ignored.

In April 2020, both cases settled for an undisclosed amount.

Counsel: Brody McBride, Singleton Law Firm, APC

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 who 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.

Counsel: Texas Civil Rights Project

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

DHS Family Separations FOIA

DHS deliberately separates families in an extreme measure to discourage asylum seekers and other individuals from coming to the United States. Hundreds of immigrant children have been taken from family members at the U.S.-Mexico border, detaining them in separate facilities.

The American Immigration Council, in collaboration with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, National Immigrant Justice Center, Kids in Need of Defense, Women’s Refugee Commission and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, filed requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552.

The requests ask for policies, guidelines, or procedures followed or used by the governmental agencies to address the processing and treatment of families at the U.S.-Mexico border and specifically, the separation of adult family members from minor children and the criminal prosecution of adult family members. Requests were filed with the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Health and Human Services and relevant sub-agencies.

FOIA Requests:

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, et al., vs. United States Department of Homeland Security, and United States Customs and Border Patrol

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, et al., vs. United States Department of Homeland Security, and United States Customs and Border Patrol, No. 2:16-cv-14192 (E.D. Mich. filed November 30, 2016)

Citing concerns over potential Constitutional violations, the ACLU of Michigan, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, and researchers filed a federal lawsuit against DHS and CBP in 2016 for the agencies’ failure to provide information related to its “100-mile zone” policy—which CBP claims authorizes agents to engage in warrantless vehicle searches within 100 miles of any international border or waterway.

8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(3) grants CBP authority to conduct warrantless vehicle searches and detentions within a “reasonable distance” of the border solely for the purpose of preventing illegal entry into the United States. 8 C.F.R. § 287.1(b) defines “reasonable distance” as 100 miles. The Great Lakes are considered the “functional equivalent” of an international border, and therefore the entire state of Michigan is within this “100-mile zone.”

To shed light on the 100-mile zone policy in Michigan, advocates and researchers submitted a FOIA request to DHS and CBP in 2015. Neither agency provided a legally adequate response. Instead, a few heavily-redacted documents were released. These documents underscored the need for greater public access to information about Border Patrol’s roving patrols operations and CBP’s claims that agents may search any motorist anywhere in the state without a warrant.

The requesters filed a federal lawsuit on November 30, 2016, in the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on July 28, 2017. On February 14, 2018, Defendants moved for summary judgment. On March 28, 2018, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment and opposition to Defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment. Oral arguments were heard on the motions, and on September 7, 2018, the parties reached an agreement whereby the government would provide city-level information in apprehension reports about where apprehensions occur. Plaintiffs received these reports on a rolling three-month schedule through the end of 2018.  Plaintiffs moved for sanctions in January of 2020 based on Defendants’ failure to comply with production deadlines.

In March 2020, the parties stipulated that no disputes remained regarding Defendants’ production of documents and the case was dismissed with prejudice. On September 21, 2020, the court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions.

Contact: Miriam Aukerman | maukerman@aclumich.org

Gabriel Gomez Maciel v. Mylissa Coleman, in her official and individual capacities; City of Spokane

Gabriel Gomez Maciel v. Mylissa Coleman, in her official and individual capacities; City of Spokane, No. 2:17-cv-00292 (E.D. Wa. filed August 21, 2017)

On August 24, 2014, Gabriel Gomez Maciel was driving to church when his pickup truck was struck by a minivan. Mylissa Coleman, who at the time was working as a police officer for the City of Spokane, arrived at the scene of the accident to investigate, and contacted the Border Patrol to ask whether the agency had any interest in Gomez. Coleman contacted the Border Patrol solely on the basis of Gomez’s race and ethnicity.

Even though Gomez had been injured in the accident, Coleman did not ask if he needed medical assistance. Even after she completed her investigation of the accident and cited the minivan driver, Coleman continued to detain Gomez Coleman’s continued detention of Gomez was not justified by reasonable suspicion, much less probable cause. Eventually, Border Patrol agents arrived and transferred Gomez to the Tacoma immigration detention center, where he remained for one month until he was able to post bond.

On August 21, 2017, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a complaint in the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Washington against Mylissa Coleman and the City of Spokane pursuant to42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Article 1, § 7 of the Constitution of the State of Washington. Gomez alleges that he suffered substantial physical, emotional, and economic harm as a result of his unlawful detention.

On November 13, 2017, the parties notified the Court that the case had settled. As part of the settlement agreement, the parties agreed to a number of conditions. The City of Spokane agreed to modify its policies to clarify that police officers “shall not contact, question, delay, detain, or arrest an individual [because] s/he is suspected of violating immigration laws.” The City has also agreed to provide training to City police officers regarding the policy change. As part of the settlement, the City also agreed to pay a total of $49,000 in damages and fees.