The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law today filed a complaint challenging the unlawful, racially motivated arrest of an American citizen by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in New York’s North Country.
The complaint was filed on behalf Lucy Rogers, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Mexican descent who was pulled over, arrested and detained for several hours by CBP agents even though she had committed no crime. It is among 10 damages cases filed today by a coalition of immigrants' rights advocates alleging unlawful CBP conduct in northern and southern border states. These cases are the latest illustration of a pattern of rampant misconduct by Border Patrol agents against both immigrants and U.S. citizens.
"This was a humiliating and frightening experience," Ms. Rogers said. "I should be able to go to work or go to the gym without having to constantly worry about being stopped by Border Patrol agents simply because of the color of my skin. I shouldn’t have to prove my citizenship just to go about my business."
Border Patrol agents often operate without regard for the constitutional rights of those living in border communities. People in those communities are often stopped by Border Patrol while simply going about their daily lives. Not only do these stops often lack a legal basis, they are often based on what appears to be race alone.
"The Border Patrol takes an extremely broad view of its mission that would disturb most Americans, who expect to be able to go about their daily lives without having to prove their citizenship status to armed government agents," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. "These ‘show me your papers’ tactics don’t belong in the world’s oldest and most vibrant democracy."
On Dec. 28, 2011, Ms. Rogers was driving toward the U.S./Canada border near Heuvelton, NY while transporting two Latino farmworkers to dentist appointments. She works for a regional health care network, providing transportation and interpretation services to Spanish-speaking farmworkers who need medical treatment or consultation. Her job is partially funded by a federal grant.
She was observing all traffic laws when she passed a Border Patrol agent who was parked on the roadside. The agent started pursuing Ms. Rogers, following her for one to three minutes before pulling her over. When the agent approached her driver’s side window, he told Lucy that he was conducting a “citizenship checkup” and asked her and her passengers whether they were U.S. citizens.
Ms. Rogers provided the agent with her New York State drivers' license. Because the two farmworkers traveling with Lucy were unable to immediately provide proof of their immigration status, Lucy was arrested and searched, under the suspicion that she was trafficking undocumented immigrants in an attempt to escape inspection upon entry into the country. However, Ms. Rogers was not aware that her passengers were undocumented. She is not in the practice of inquiring about the immigration status of her clients.
Ms. Rogers was handcuffed and detained in the back of a CBP patrol car for about an hour. Then she was taken to the U.S. Border Patrol station at Ogdensburg where she was searched, interrogated and placed in a cell for several hours. Border Patrol agents confiscated her car’s GPS device and coerced Ms. Rogers into allowing them to keep and search it. She spent more than three hours in custody. She was never charged with any crime. The Border Patrol retained possession of her GPS device for nearly seven months before allowing her to retrieve it.
"Ms. Rogers' case demonstrates the disturbing extent to which the CBP abuses its authority," said NYCLU Policy Counsel Rebecca Engel, an attorney on the case. "Anyone in the North Country who appears to be of Latino descent risks being stopped, arrested and subjected to a lengthy detention without any basis other than their skin color. The CBP must be held accountable for this unconstitutional racial profiling."
The complaint, filed with CBP under the Federal Tort Claims Act, include claims for false arrest and imprisonment, assault and battery, and conversion of property.
Joining Engel on the case are NYCLU Staff Attorney and Statewide Advocacy Coordinator Andrea Callan, as well as Betsy Ginsberg, assistant clinical professor in the Immigration Justice Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; Lindsay Nash, a fellow at the clinic; and law students Jackie Pearce, Britany Nunez and Sarah Telson.