February 7, 2017, New York – A complaint documenting the systematic deprivation of rights at airports around the country over the past ten days in connection with Donald Trump’s January 27, 2017 Muslim Ban executive order was submitted last night by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Twenty-six accounts of these abuses were submitted as part of a formal complaint to the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is conducting an investigation.
The accounts in this complaint show how Customs and Border Protection refused to allow attorneys and clients to communicate amid widespread turmoil and rights violations, meaning that long-time residents and others with valid visas were intimidated and coerced into waiving their rights, unable to obtain medical treatment, and deported in violation of court orders.
Among the declarations included in the complaint is one by Suha Amin Abdullah Abushamma, a citizen of Sudan and a doctor of internal medicine at the Cleveland Clinic with a valid H-1B visa issued in April 2016, who returned from a short visit to family in Saudi Arabia and was detained at JFK Airport. “The United States is my home,” she said. “My apartment with all my things except what I packed for my vacation, my car, my job, and my fiancé all are in the United States.” She was threatened and coerced into signing a document agreeing to deportation, and then sent back to Saudi Arabia. CBP repeatedly denied her requests to call her immigration attorney and lied to her: a “supervisor then told me that an order that would allow me to stay in the United States would need to come from the Supreme Court, and that this would not happen. They told me that my lawyers could not do anything to help me in my situation and so I should just sign the form. I now know that what they told me was not true.”
The complaint calls on DHS and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to implement a system for ensuring that individuals detained in these airport inspection facilities have access to counsel to ensure that similar abuses do not occur.
Said attorney Lindsay Nash, a visiting professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, “These accounts show that CBP’s policy of refusing to let attorneys and clients communicate led to exactly the types of harms that the assistance of counsel should prevent: unlawful detention and deportations, and coercion of people who did not understand their legal rights. To prevent widespread rights violations like this in the future, CBP must ensure that individuals detained in airports have access to counsel.”
Said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy, “The chaos and legal uncertainty created by Trump’s reckless, punitive orders is a broader sign of the times and underscores the need for law and lawyers to protect the thousands of people who have been and will again be made vulnerable by Trump’s actions.”
The Inspector General is conducting a comprehensive review of abuses at airports such as those documented in this complaint and is expected to complete a report in the coming months.
Read the complaint and more individual stories here.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.