A Brentwood man whose then-4-year-old daughter was detained at a Washington, D.C.-area airport in March 2011 and sent back to Guatemala -- despite her U.S. citizenship -- will receive $32,500 in damages to settle a lawsuit over the matter, officials said.
The American Immigration Council, which represented Leonel Ruiz in his lawsuit against the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, issued a statement Thursday hailing the settlement reached June 12 in the litigation Ruiz filed in 2013.
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"This settlement is a fair and just one," said Melissa Crow of the American Immigration Council, one of the attorneys who represented Ruiz for free. "We hope that the government has learned from this case and that, in the future, CBP will take steps to ensure that other children do not endure similarly harrowing experiences."
Manhattan attorney Matthew Gurgel said, "Mr. Ruiz's greatest concern has always been that what happened to his daughter should never happen again." Ruiz's daughter "is a U.S. citizen and has constitutional rights to travel to the United States and to be free from unreasonable detention, and what happened to her should not have happened to any child," he said.
Federal officials said the case was amicably settled, but declined to comment on its details.
"U.S. Customs and Border Protection considers the settlement reached in the case of Ruiz v. USA to be a fair resolution for all parties," the agency said in a statement. "CBP recognizes the importance of our role as the guardian of our nation's borders, and strives to treat all travelers with respect and in a professional manner."
The settlement comes four years after his daughter, Emily, and her grandfather, Luis Dubon, were held for up to 20 hours by federal agents who screen foreign travelers.
The lawsuit involving Emily Ruiz is one of 10 alleging the agency is overzealous in its enforcement of immigration laws, engendering complaints that officers too often mistreat detainees and harass people subject to deportation.
The lawsuit said the girl was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her treatment. It claimed Emily was given only a cookie and a soda to eat, and had no place to nap but a cold floor throughout her detention.
Dubon and Emily boarded a plane from Guatemala to Kennedy Airport on March 10, 2011, but their plane was diverted to Dulles Airport in Virginia, where customs agents found an infraction in Dubon's immigration paperwork.
When Ruiz, who was not in the country legally, was contacted by CBP agents, he was told Emily could not be sent to "illegals," the lawsuit said. He could either allow Emily to go back to Guatemala with her grandfather or she could be offered for adoption, the suit said. Three weeks after being sent to Guatemala, Emily was reunited with her family when a local attorney brought the girl home.