U.S. Settles With 4-Year-Old U.S. Citizen They Wrongfully Deported

Written by on July 2, 2015 in Enforcement, Immigration Courts with 10 Comments

15328480419_d314260d1b_kSome say the wheels of justice turn slowly; however, when justice is finally delivered it is sweet. After more than two years of litigation, the U.S. government has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Leonel Ruiz on behalf of his minor daughter, alleging that in 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detained and deported his then 4-year-old U.S. citizen daughter.

The lawsuit alleges that when the child arrived at Dulles Airport in Virginia she was detained and deprived of any contact with her parents—held for twenty hours in CBP custody with her grandfather and given nothing to eat other than a cookie and soda and nowhere to nap other than the cold floor—and then deported back to Guatemala as her parents awaited her arrival in New York.

After her deportation, the child’s father hired a local attorney to fly to Guatemala to retrieve her. Once home, three weeks later, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a child psychologist, who concluded that this was a result of her detention and her separation from her parents. The lawsuit, filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), sought damages for the harm she suffered as a result of this ordeal. In June, the government agreed to pay her family $32,500 in order to settle the case.

In the course of the proceedings, the government moved to dismiss the case, arguing that, among other things, the actions of the CBP officers fell within the “discretionary function exception” to the FTCA—in other words, the government argued that CBP officers had discretion to detain, barely feed and place a 4-year-old in a bedless cell for 20 hours. The court subsequently rejected this argument, finding that, taking the allegations in the complaint as true, there were no public policy considerations that would justify the CBP officers’ behavior. The court also found that CBP’s alleged treatment of the child violated the settlement agreement in Flores v. Reno regarding the detention of minors, as well as CBP’s internal policies developed to comply with the Flores agreement.

This is the latest indictment of an agency that treats the individuals they encounter with little regard, humanity or decency. This small measure of justice is a victory, but much more has to be done to hold CBP accountable for the way it treats individuals in its custody.

Photo by Travis Swan.

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  • Lina

    I celebrate the settlement!

    • ProfitOverLife

      You do? Even though it should have been 10 to 100 times larger? Even though it isn’t a deterrent to this happening again and again? Even though it doesn’t include the perpetrators getting fired and banned from government jobs? Even though the money comes out of YOUR pocket???

      • Lina

        I concur with your assessment. However, settlements are imperfect.

      • Martin Brooks

        It doesn’t matter what travel documents the child had. It’s a child . Is that how we treat children . Embarrassing.

  • Rochelle Ealey

    This story is missing a lot of information. Did the grandfather ever say that the 4 year old was a U.S. citizen? What travel document if any did the child have? Where the parents ever contacted regarding the child’s citizenship? Too many wholes in the story to side with the child or the CBP officer.

    • Hassan Ahmad

      If you read the lawsuit, which is linked to the story, you’ll see that the child was traveling on a valid US passport, which was inspected immediately upon her arrival at Washington-Dulles. Thus, CBP knew from the very beginning that she was a US citizen, but detained and deported her anyway. It really doesn’t matter who else knew or was told about the child’s citizenship.

      • RetiredINS

        Thank you, I missed the link. Many years ago two Border Patrol Agents were fired for deporting a U.S. citizen child to Haiti. That boy was a teenager. This is much worse. To deport anyone you need at least two things: (1) evidence the person is not a U.S. citizen; and (2) evidence of another nationality.

        In this case you have a U.S. Passport for the child. It sounds as if the child was accompanied by the grandfather and the grandfather may have been denied entry. In such a case they may have decided to send the child back with the grandfather, but it would not be considered a deportation. However, many questions are left unanswered. What efforts were made to contact the child’s parents in the United States? Why wasn’t the child fed a proper meal?

        I spent 39 years with immigration. Aliens in detention were always fed. There is no limit to the number of phone calls that can be made by a detained person to get assistance.

    • Martin Brooks

      It’s a child. Good lord . The officer an adult. Think about it again!!!

  • david Rodriguez

    I agree. Settlement should have been larger this is a child and for the most case US laws are very protective of children. Someone had to be fired and banned from working with children ever again this is considered child abuse. Let’s not forget this was probably racial profiling

    • RetiredINS

      This was not racial profiling. I spent 39 years with immigration and the first lesson I learned was how to tell legal Hispanics from illegal Hispanics. You don’t do it by the color of their skin. You observe how they are dressed, how the talk, and how they act. An agent who uses racial profiling to make arrests will not last beyond the probationary 1st year of employment. I used the same techniques in Washington DC to distinguish between Africans and American Blacks. The only time I considered skin color was when I met someone from Africa whose skin color was so deep and rich you could tell the person’s ancestors had never intermingled with whites. This was not very often and most of these Africans were here legally. The point is, you cannot tell where someone was born by his or her skin color. Sure, you can often tell by looking at a person if the ancestors were from Ireland, but that doesn’t mean the person was born in Ireland. Racial profiling is stupid and is only used by the most inept agents.

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