Filed October 16, 2019 by the ACLU of Arizona, ACLU of Southern California, and the law firm Kirkland & Ellis filed on behalf of three migrant rights activists surveilled, detained, searched, and interrogated at the Arizona-Mexico border by the federal government. One of the Plaintiffs, Ana Adlerstein — a journalist by training and long-time humanitarian activist — accompanied an asylum seeker to a port of entry in Southwest Arizona, and U.S. border officials arrested her. They threw her in a jail cell and accused her of illegally smuggling people, even though there is nothing wrong with observing someone try to lawfully claim asylum. In the case of the two other activist Plaintiffs, Jeff Valenzuela and Alex Mensing, the government repeatedly detained and interrogated them when they attempted to cross the border. The experiences of these three activists shows that the Trump Administration isn’t satisfied attacking vulnerable families trying to migrate to the United States. The government’s cruelty extends to those who dare provide migrants with basic humanitarian assistance. These arrests and interrogations at the border are illegal. The government filed a Motion to Dismiss the case and the Court heard oral arguments on August 4, 2020. The Court granted in part the Motion on October 1, 2020. The First and Fourth Amendment claims involving the Plaintiffs and the Privacy Act claims remain pending in this matter. The Court also provided Plaintiffs with 30 days from the date of the Order to file an Amended Complaint.
Courts have said the government can briefly detain people, search them, or search their bags at the border (think TSA security gates or brief questions by CBP officers when you land from an international flight) so long as the purpose of these intrusions is to verify travelers’ identities, regulate the entry of goods, and look for contraband that may be smuggled in. But the government does not have the right to detain and interrogate people at the border, without suspicion, just to conduct criminal investigations (or worse, to retaliate against them for their humanitarian activities). That’s true both at the border and inside the country: no cop can walk up to you on the street, without suspecting you of doing anything wrong, and arrest you, take you to an interrogation cell, and question you.
By this litigation, the three activists hope to restore the rule of law at the border, which border officials have increasingly flouted under this Administration.