Friday, March 31, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Refugees Accuse Social Security of Harassment

SAN DIEGO (CN) - The Social Security Administration tampered with evidence and harassed and intimidated Vietnamese, Iranian, and Somalian refugees who filed affidavits in an action pending in the 9th Circuit, immigrants claim in a class action.

Lead plaintiff Mohammad Nassiri et al. sued Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, the Social Security Administration (SSA), and two SSA agents on March 14 in Federal Court.

The class consists of "poor, disabled and non-English speaking Vietnamese or Middle Eastern (Somalian, Iraqi and Iranian) refugees in the United States who reside in San Diego County and who have been applying for or receiving Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits."

According to the lawsuit, the SSA has "been maintaining and implementing an illegal search and interrogation policy with respect to plaintiffs, and have violated the plaintiffs' rights to be free from unreasonable searches and inquisition."

Social Security agents have intimidated class members "to recant their prior written testimonies in an ongoing action pending in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals," according to the complaint.

The 9th Circuit action relates to the class members' representation in a complaint filed by Alexandra Nga Tran Manbeck, who claims the agency suspended her in 2013 from practicing Social Security law in retaliation for filing a previous class action alleging bias by a Social Security judge. Manbeck was the only attorney in San Diego fluent in Vietnamese.

The new complaint claims the SSA "intimidated plaintiffs in providing personal information and privileged information in violation of the plaintiffs' privacy right and plaintiffs' attorney-client privilege, even though defendants knew that plaintiffs have been represented by counsel in ongoing litigation in federal court since 2013."

Class member Anh T. Thai, a 50-year-old Vietnamese refugee, says she was first misled in 2006 by Duke Tran, an SSA employee, into letting him help her apply for benefits. Tran began harassing her in threatening phone calls in March 2013 after she obtained an attorney, including calling her "stupid" for signing loan documents to an acquaintance, and berating her "for seeking legal representation instead of trusting him to help her," according to the complaint.

After Thai filed her affidavits against the agency in the Manbeck action, two agents bearing guns came to her house twice to question her.

"Most of the questions centered on whether she was really disabled and whether she was required to pay in advance for legal services to her attorney," the lawsuit states. "The SSA agents threatened her with dismissal of her case if she refused to answer their questions."

The class claims that because they are "refugees with a long history of being persecuted by the Communist authority in Vietnam, the warlords in Somalia or the ayatollahs in Iran, plaintiffs obviously became intimidated by defendants and complied with defendants' order."

The plaintiffs seek class certification, an order stop the Social Security Administration and its agents from contacting them before a final hearing or intimidating them without a warrant, and compensatory and punitive damages for civil rights violations.

They are represented by Quan Minh Chau of Orange, Calif. and Alexandra Manbeck of Cross River, N.Y.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.