Uncle Sam Blasted Over Child’s Deportation

     (CN) – A customs officer’s alleged refusal to let a 4-year-old U.S. citizen return to “illegals,” her parents in New York, may leave the government liable, a federal judge ruled.
     Emily Ruiz was born on Long Island, N.Y., in June 2006 and was 4 when she spent the winter with her extended family in Guatemala. For the trip, her parents had notarized a document authorizing Emily to travel to and from Guatemala with her maternal grandfather, Luis Dubon.
     Emily and Dubon boarded a return flight to New York on March 10, 2011, but inclement weather diverted the flight to Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
     It was about 3:45 a.m. when an officer with Customs and Border Protection stamped Emily’s valid U.S. passport, authorizing her to enter the United States. She had to accompany her grandfather to a secondary inspection area, however, because the officer perceived an irregularity in his papers.
     A footnote in the decision published Thursday says: “CBP Officials determined that Mr. Dubon was a Guatemalan citizen, that he was not in possession of a valid visa or border crossing identification card, and that he had attempted fraudulently to procure admission into the United States by failing to disclose that he had previously been unlawfully present in the United States.”
     Dubon allegedly repeatedly asked the officers to contact Emily’s parents, but they refused to do so for nearly 14 hours.
     Emily’s father, Leonel Ruiz, had been waiting for them at JFK airport in Queens when he learned that the passengers on the redirected flight would not get in until 8 a.m. It was not until after Ruiz was unable to find his family among those passengers that he learned that they were “being held” at Dulles.
     Ruiz received a call from a customs officer on his cellphone at 5:30 p.m., informing him that his father-in-law would be sent back to Guatemala and that his daughter would soon be flown to JFK.
     Meanwhile in Dulles, Emily allegedly began crying at the prospect of being separated from her grandfather. Dubon had to be hospitalized in Reston, Va., at about 6:30 p.m. because he was not feeling well.
     Ruiz said he received another call at 8 p.m., from a customs officer, threatening to send Emily to a Virginian adoption center because “he was not allowed to return E.R. to ‘illegals.'”
     Ruiz said the threat forced him to consent to letting Emily fly back to Guatemala with her grandfather.
     The girl and her grandfather left for Guatemala early the next morning. Her father said she was fed only a cookie and a soda during the entire ordeal, and never given a blanket or pillow so that she could sleep in the cold holding cell.
     Emily spent three weeks in Guatemala until the family’s lawyer flew to Guatemala to retrieve her. Upon her return, a child psychologist diagnosed Emily with posttraumatic stress disorder.
     During her forced stay in Guatemala, Emily allegedly refused to speak to her father over the phone, believing that he had not wanted to come pick her up at the airport. After her return to New York, the girl hid when people knocked on the front door, and would not let go of her father’s hand when she left the house, according to the complaint Ruiz filed in Brooklyn against the United States last year.
     The case is now before the Eastern District of Virginia after U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto refused to dismiss it last week.
     “The court cannot discern how deciding to wait fourteen hours before contacting E.R.’s parents and to only provide the child with a cookie and a soda over twenty hours could constitute a considered judgment grounded in social, economic, or political policies,” Matsumoto said. “Indeed, the government has not offered any reason as to why the CBP Officers’ actions in this regard were justified by or susceptible to policy analysis.”
     In addition, the immigration status of Emily’s parents has no bearing on her right to be reunited with her parents in the U.S.
     “The government fails to identify any policy, guideline or regulation relating to the situation of an admitted minor U.S. citizen being separated from her parents that would justify the application of the discretionary function exception, and offers no authority as to why CBP Officers could properly exercise discretion by simply refusing to reunite a verified U.S. minor citizen with her biological and legal parents,” the judge found.
     Virginia is the proper venue for the case because most of the witnesses reside there, and that is where the incident giving rise to this lawsuit took place, according to the ruling.
     Matsumoto noted that Emily has been living in Guatemala with no plans to return to the United States, let alone New York.

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