ICE Agents May Be Liable for Woman’s Death

     BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) – Immigration agents who deported a woman to Mexico despite her fear of an ex-boyfriend who killed her there may be liable for due process violations, a federal judge ruled.
     Maria S. sued six U.S. immigration agents in Federal Court in June 2013, on behalf of the three minor sons of her late daughter, Laura S.
     Maria S. claims that after a Texas state trooper found her daughter did not have papers during a traffic stop near Pharr, he turned her over to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
     During their ride to the immigrant processing center in Harlingen, Laura S. tearfully pleaded with the ICE officer that she had three small children and her ex, Sergio H., would kill her if she returned to Mexico , her mother says in the lawsuit.
     Sergio H. is the father of two of Laura’s children.
     At the immigration center, Laura S. told immigration agents that Sergio H. “was in Mexico with a notorious drug cartel, was extremely violent towards her, and had threatened her life” and that she had obtained a protective order against him from a Hidalgo County judge after he assaulted her with a knife.
     Maria S. claims the agents forced her daughter to sign a voluntary departure form, waiving her right to a deportation hearing before an immigration judge, drove her to the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge and forced her to return to Mexico.
     Voluntary departure is a quicker process than deportation. Numerous lawsuits and class actions have been filed accusing U.S. immigration agencies of using the forms duplicitously to accelerate de facto deportations, reduce their costs and free up space in immigration prisons.
     “Within days, Sergio H. learned of Laura S.’s return to Mexico. He promptly accosted and beat her, biting her ear until it bled profusely,” Laura’s mother said.
     “On June 14, 2009 Sergio H. forcibly abducted Laura S. and took her to a hotel, where he brutally murdered her and left her body in a burning car.”
     The family sued the agents for civil rights and due process violations.
     U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen refused to dismiss the case on Wednesday.
     The defendants argued that because Laura S. was in the United States illegally she had no right to a deportation hearing.
     Not true, Hanen wrote, citing Fifth Circuit precedent from Haitian Refugee Ctr. v. Smith : “Even aliens who have entered the United States unlawfully are assured the protections of the Fifth Amendment due process clause.”
     In that case, from 1982, the appellate court upheld an injunction barring the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from deporting Haitian asylum seekers en masse regardless of the merits of their individual cases.
     Hanen wrote: “Defendants allegedly forced Laura S. to sign a number of papers – one of which was a voluntary departure form – but did not explain the contents of the forms nor the effects of her signature.
     “These allegations, if true, would suffice to show that Laura S. did not choose to voluntarily depart the country freely and knowingly, but rather was coerced into giving up her Fifth Amendment procedural due process rights.”
     Hanen was careful to say, however, that this stage of the case forces him to give deference to the plaintiffs’ allegations and that more facts are needed to decide if the defendants can use a qualified immunity defense.
     That defense bars government employees from civil liability if their actions do not violate a clear constitutional right.
     “The allegations contained in plaintiffs’ complaint, if taken as true, are sufficient to overcome defendants’ qualified immunity defense. The court has no way of knowing at this stage if the plaintiffs can prove any of the allegations they have made,” the 25-page order states.
     Hanen ordered the parties to meet to see if they can agree on a workable discovery plan and to get back with him by July 31.
     Justice Department attorneys were not immediately available to comment Thursday morning.
     Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, became public enemy number one for immigrant advocates in February when he issued an injunction blocking the Obama administration’s plans to grant three-year lawful presence rights to some law-abiding undocumented immigrants, which would shield them from being deported.

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