Lawsuit Demands Information on CBP’s Role in Racial Justice Protests

Lawsuit Demands Information on CBP’s Role in Racial Justice Protests

October 28, 2020

WASHINGTON—Civil and immigrants’ rights organizations filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit today in the Eastern District of New York against U.S. Customs and Border Protection demanding information about the federal agency’s involvement in domestic policing at protests, demonstrations, and gatherings across the United States following the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minnesota.

The lawsuit—filed by the American Immigration Council, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas—seeks government records to further public understanding of CBP’s participation in law enforcement efforts during the domestic protests. The legal challenge also seeks data to understand the impact of CBP policing on individuals in the form of apprehensions, arrests, deportations, or other legal action.

CBP has failed to disclose critical information about the deployment of its personnel and surveillance assets, and any records outlining the agency’s purported legal authority to police and surveil racial justice protests across U.S. cities.

Floyd’s killing sparked massive nationwide protests, triggering robust law enforcement presence at these gatherings. Later, the public learned that various agencies under the Department of Homeland Security, including CBP, were deployed to these protests. Members of Congress, local officials, and the public have expressed concerns about CBP’s presence and questionable actions—especially given the agency’s track record of abusive policing tactics and use of excessive force.

The lawsuit challenges CBP’s failure to disclose information in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted in July 2020.

“CBP's xenophobic language and actions have long made this agency a threat to Black migrants. CBP's expanded law enforcement role policing Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests places the larger U.S. public in danger as additional targets of its racist, sexist, and homophobic abuse. BAJI stands with Black people and immigrants in this country demanding transparency and accountability for CBP's ongoing abuses,” said Tsion Gurmu, legal manager at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

“Peaceful demonstrations against police brutality should not be met with the presence of federal law enforcement agencies with a history of abuses and misconduct. The growing role of CBP participation in law enforcement efforts throughout the country is deeply troubling and should alarm us all, but most importantly warrants close public scrutiny and oversight,” said Claudia Valenzuela, FOIA senior attorney at the American Immigration Council.

“We should all ask ourselves why a federal agency whose purported role involves border enforcement is deployed to police peaceful protests in U.S. cities nationwide. There is an urgent need to ensure that the American public understands CBP’s mission creep and role in repressing Americans’ constitutional rights,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

“CBP is a rogue agency with a long history of abuse and violent impunity. For years, they have employed damaging tactics—such as surveillance and excessive use of force—in border communities. The agency has no place in U.S. cities, where they’ve already proven willing to flout the law and gone as far as to plan for the use of deadly force during peaceful gatherings. We must hold CBP accountable for its actions, and transparency is the first step,” said Shaw Drake, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas Border Rights Center.

A copy of the complaint is here.

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Maria Frausto, Senior Communications Manager 

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