(CN) – Delta passengers represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday, claiming they were forced to show IDs to be allowed off a flight from San Francisco to New York City.
On Feb. 22, 2017, a flight attendant informed surprised passengers of Delta Airlines Flight 1583 from San Francisco to New York that everyone would have to show their ID in order to deplane, according to the lawsuit filed in Brooklyn federal court by attorneys with the ACLU and New York City firm Covington & Burling.
After landing on the tarmac at JFK International Airport, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents blocked the doors of the plane and demanded to see each passenger’s ID before allowing them to pass into the airport.
In a blog post, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Cecillia Wang said Thursday that the search was conducted in “police-state fashion,” and that lead plaintiff Kelley Amadei was subject to additional hostility from CBP officers because her son has noticeably darker skin than she does.
“The CBP agent said nothing, but his cold gaze added to the already coercive atmosphere. Frightened and angry, Kelley broke the silence and said, ‘He’s 7 years old. He doesn’t carry an ID,’” Wang wrote.
Amadei and eight other passengers sued the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs official on Thursday over the unusual search, arguing it violated their Fourth Amendment rights.
“The officers did not ask for the passengers’ consent,” the 21-page complaint says. “They made it clear, through their own conduct and by directing pre-arrival announcements by the flight crew, that compliance was not voluntary and that passengers would not be permitted to disembark until they showed their identification documents.”
CBP agents did not have a warrant to search any of the passengers or individualized suspicion that any passenger on board had committed a crime in order to justify a stop, according to the complaint.
In response to subsequent press inquires about the incident, the agency said the search was a “routine” matter performed at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which was searching for a particular individual who turned out not to be on board the flight.
“Thus, according to CBP’s own repeated statements, under its policies and ‘routine’ practices, other domestic air passengers are subject to search and seizure in the same circumstances that occurred on Delta Airlines Flight 1583 on February 22, 2017,” the lawsuit states.
The ACLU seeks an injunction preventing another search like the one endured by passengers of Flight 1583.
Homeland Security Deputy Press Secretary Tyler Houlton declined to comment on the pending litigation.