After more than two years of litigation, justice has finally been served. 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.
When the child arrived at Dulles Airport in Virginia, she was deprived of any contact with her parents and held for twenty hours in CBP custody with her grandfather and given nothing to eat other than a cookie and soda. The government provided her nowhere to sleep other than the cold floor and she was then deported back to Guatemala rather being allowed to reunite with her parents who awaited her arrival in New York.
After the 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 sought damages for the harm the girl suffered as a result of this ordeal. In June, the government agreed to settle the case for $32,500.
Earlier, 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 and 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 rejected this argument, finding that the Plaintiff stated valid claims as there were no public policy considerations that would justify the CBP officer's’ behavior.
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.