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.

Amadei, et. al. v. Nielsen

Amadei, et al. v. Nielsen, et al., No. 1:17-cv-05967 (E.D.N.Y., filed Oct. 12, 2017)

On October 12, 2017, the ACLU, along with Covington & Burling, LLP, filed suit against Customs and Border Protection over the February 22, 2017 search by CBP of passengers of a Delta Airlines flight that arrived at JFK. After the flight landed, CBP officers stood outside the plane and required every disembarking passenger to provide identification, even though the flight was a domestic flight. The ACLU brought suit on behalf of passengers on the plane who allege that this demand for identification violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment. The plaintiffs seek declaratory relief that the February 22, 2017 search was unconstitutional, as well as injunctive relief preventing CBP from conducting similar searches of passengers disembarking from domestic flights.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the agency action was not final and that Plaintiffs lacked standing. The parties completed briefing on the motion on April 20, 2018. On December 13, 2018, the court denied the government’s motion and allowed the case to proceed. Following discovery, the parties agreed to settle the case.

Under the terms of the settlement, CBP will circulate a new policy directive to ports of entry nationwide clarifying that CBP does not have a policy or practice of checking the identification of deplaning domestic passengers. If CBP officers do seek to conduct document checks of deplaning domestic passengers in the future, they must make clear through their words and actions that participation is voluntary and request that airline personnel announce over the airplane’s public address system that participation in voluntary. The officers must also provide an unimpeded path for passengers to exit the airplane and explain, if asked, that passengers who decline to participate will face no law enforcement consequences as a result.

Press: