The father of a Brentwood girl who was temporarily detained and sent back to Guatemala two years ago despite being a U.S. citizen has sued the federal government, saying the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency violated the child's rights.
The lawsuit involving Emily Ruiz, who was 4 years old at the time, is one of 10 alleging the agency erred and overstepped its authority. The complaints say officers mistreated detainees and caused distress to people picked for deportation.
An alliance of immigrant advocacy and civil liberties groups working with private attorneys and immigrant families throughout the United States announced the lawsuits Wednesday. The allegations include crowding detainees in cold cells, holding immigrants for hours or days without sufficient food or water and misusing force or pursuing unjustified interrogations.
Other lawsuits include those of Lucy Rogers, a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent stopped by border patrol and questioned for hours near the Canadian border in upstate Chauteaugay; and a woman identified as Takem-aishetu, a New York resident who suffered a stroke after she had been shackled to a bench in a small cell while in federal custody in Ohio.
The cases "represent a pattern of misconduct and abuse by Customs and Border Protection," said Melissa Crow, director of the Legal Action Center for the American Immigration Council, an advocacy nonprofit in Washington, D.C. "The abuses that we have seen are for both citizens and noncitizens, and they signify the need for much more effective training of officers in immigration law and the limits of their enforcement authority."
Customs and Border Protection spokesman Steve Sapp said the agency does not comment on pending litigation, but defended its record.
The agency "stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of its mission. We do not tolerate misconduct or abuse within our ranks and we fully cooperate with all investigations of alleged unlawful conduct, on or off duty," Sapp said in a statement.
Ruiz's suit -- brought by her father, Leonel Ruiz, with help from the council and the Manhattan law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton -- cites false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence.
Emily was returning to Brentwood from a Guatemala trip with her grandfather in March 2011 when they were stopped at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. The grandfather had a pending immigration violation and she was not released to her father because of his undocumented status.
The suit claims that the girl was held for many hours and then was "effectively deported," even though the agency is not authorized to remove U.S. citizens.
Emily returned home shortly afterward with the family's attorney. The girl, now 6, was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the complaint. The suit seeks an undetermined amount in damages.
The Ruizes did not comment.
Their attorney, David Sperling, said he hopes the case will help bring "much-needed reforms" to the federal agency. "Emily was a 4-year-old U.S. citizen who was treated horribly by agents," Sperling, whose main office is in Central Islip, said in a statement. "Emily is back living with her parents, but she is still suffering from that experience."