Tijuana, Mexico, Feb 14 - An agent of the US Border Patrol inspects the steel wall on the border between the United States and Mexico build on the Pacific coast of Tijuana. In the background the Imperial Beach in US territory and the San Diego city skyline.

Federal Judge Awards Over $1 Million to U.S. Citizen Children Wrongfully Detained by CBP at Border

In a landmark ruling, a federal judge in California awarded over $1 million to two child siblings who were wrongfully detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in 2019, despite being U.S. citizens. According to court records, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel issued the ruling on Friday, allocating $1.1 million to the sister, then 9 years old, who was held for approximately 34 hours, $175,000 to the brother, who was held for 14 hours, and $250,000 to their mother, Thelma Medina. The family had filed the lawsuit in 2022.

Judge Curiel asserted that the detention of the children constituted a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. “The Court therefore concludes that the United States’ conduct was extreme and outrageous,” he wrote, emphasizing the lack of consideration given to the probable consequences of detaining the children for such an extended period.

The siblings, who were living with their parents in Tijuana, Mexico, but were born in the U.S. and attended school in San Ysidro, California, were stopped on March 18, 2019, at the San Ysidro border crossing. A CBP officer had noticed what appeared to be a mole on the sister’s passport card photo, despite her not having one.

During a secondary inspection, an officer known for obtaining confessions was brought in. The brother’s incorrect answer about their last crossing together led to the sister being subjected to an individual interview. The family contended that the sister was coerced into claiming she was someone else, while the U.S. government argued that her brother had identified her as a cousin without prompting. Judge Curiel rejected the government’s explanation, finding it implausible that the sister would falsely confess without coercion.

“It was not reasonable to detain a 9-year-old and 14-year-old on suspicion of a false claim of citizenship while their mother and Julia’s godmother were trying to reach them and without doing any further investigating for over 5 hours in the middle of the workday,” Curiel stated.

While her children were in custody, Medina made desperate attempts to get answers from CBP, contacting the Coronado, California, police and the Mexican Consulate for assistance. During the 33-hour ordeal, her daughter repeatedly asked about her parents and brother and often cried, later suffering night terrors and requiring therapy.

A CBP spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bench trial, held in March, concluded with Curiel finding the government liable for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. Medina expressed her gratitude to Judge Curiel, stating through her attorney, “We are so thankful to Judge Curiel for caring about what happened to my children.” Attorney Joe McMullen criticized CBP leadership for failing to investigate or correct the behavior, insisting that no other child should endure similar treatment.

The San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest land crossing with Mexico in the U.S., processes around 70,000 northbound vehicle passengers and 20,000 northbound pedestrians daily.

A child custody attorney could play a crucial role in a case like this by providing expert legal guidance and representation throughout the entire process. Here are some specific ways they could help:

Legal Expertise and Guidance
1. Understanding Rights and Options: The attorney would explain the family’s legal rights, particularly regarding the unlawful detention of their children and any potential violations of civil rights.
2. Navigating Complex Laws: Child custody attorneys are well-versed in both state and federal laws, which would be essential in a case involving Customs and Border Protection and constitutional violations.

Case Preparation and Representation
1. Filing a Lawsuit: The attorney would handle all aspects of filing a lawsuit, including preparing and submitting all necessary legal documents, and ensuring the case is presented effectively in court.
2. Gathering Evidence: They would gather and present evidence to support the family’s claims, such as testimonies, medical records, and expert witnesses to demonstrate the impact of the detention on the children.
3. Court Representation: The attorney would represent the family in court, making compelling arguments to demonstrate the unlawful actions of CBP and advocating for appropriate compensation and remedies.

Emotional Support and Advocacy
1. Emotional Support: Dealing with such a traumatic experience can be overwhelming. A child custody attorney can provide emotional support and reassurance throughout the legal process.
2. Child Advocacy: They would ensure that the children’s best interests are the focal point of the case, highlighting the emotional and psychological impact of the detention.

Negotiation and Settlement
1. Negotiating Settlements: If possible, the attorney could negotiate a settlement with CBP or the government to avoid a prolonged court battle, ensuring that the family receives fair compensation and that necessary policy changes are considered.
2. Alternative Dispute Resolution: The attorney might explore alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, to achieve a resolution that is in the best interests of the family.

Post-Judgment Support
1. Enforcing Judgments: After a favorable court ruling, the attorney would assist in enforcing the judgment to ensure that the awarded compensation is received promptly.
2. Ongoing Legal Support: They could provide ongoing legal support for any related issues, such as addressing any further government interactions or ensuring compliance with court orders.

Advocacy for Policy Change
1. Public Advocacy: Beyond the courtroom, the attorney could advocate for broader policy changes to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, using this case as a catalyst for reform.

By leveraging their legal expertise, Santa Rosa Child Custody Attorney  would be instrumental in seeking justice for the family, ensuring their rights are protected, and striving for a resolution that addresses both the immediate and long-term impacts of the incident.


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