The Santa Fe Dreamers Project has filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection, accusing the agency of failing to hand over public records the nonprofit requested.
Allegra Love, executive director of the Dreamers Project, which provides free legal services for immigrants, says in her complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court the group sought documents related to immigration advocates being questioned at checkpoints between the U.S. and Mexico in 2018 and 2019.
The complaint says “journalists and lawyers working on border issues in the fall of 2018 faced intrusive seizure and questioning by both U.S. and Mexican authorities.”
Border Patrol agents detained Héctor Ruiz, an El Paso-based staff attorney for the Dreamers Project, on the bridge between Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso one night in December, the complaint says. He had been returning to the U.S. after having dinner with friends in Juárez when authorities detained him and held him for four hours, “unlocking his telephone and scrolling through his contacts against his will,” according to the complaint.
Taylor Levy, then a legal coordinator for Annunciation House — an El Paso organization that provides food, shelter and support for immigrants — was detained at the Paso del Norte Port of Entry for three hours in January 2019, during which time her wallet and phone were taken from her and she was asked whether she “coaches” migrants to “lie,” the lawsuit says.
Love says in the complaint that she, too, was detained by agents for about an hour at the Douglas Port of Entry in Arizona in December 2018, and again at the bridge between El Paso and Juárez in July 2019, “with no explanation.”
In addition to records regarding the incidents, Love says in her complaint, she sought records “regarding the overall efforts by law enforcement agents to surveil human rights advocates” on the border. “Her requests were met with obtuseness and obstruction for a year,” the complaint says. “She still has not received a single document from any agency in response to this urgent request.”
Love is asking the court to declare the federal agency’s withholding of records unlawful and to order it “to conduct a prompt and adequate search for all responsive records” and release them to her.
She also is seeking an award to cover costs associated with bringing the lawsuit.
A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in an email Friday the agency does not comment on pending litigation.