The ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the ACLU Foundation of Arizona, and the law firm Kirkland & Ellis filed a federal lawsuit in Arizona on behalf of three migrant rights activists surveilled, detained, searched, and interrogated at the border by the federal government.

Ana Adlerstein — a journalist by training and long-time humanitarian activist — accompanied an asylum seeker to a port of entry in Southwest Arizona, U.S. border officials arrested her. They threw her in a jail cell and accused her of illegally smuggling aliens, even though there is nothing wrong with observing someone try to lawfully claim asylum. In the case of the two other activist plaintiffs, Jeff Valenzuela and Alex Mensing, the government repeatedly detained and interrogated them when they attempted to cross the border.

The experience of these three activists shows that the Trump Administration isn’t satisfied attacking vulnerable families trying to migrate to the United States. The government’s cruelty extended not only to them, but to those who dared provide migrants with basic humanitarian assistance.

These arrests and interrogations at the border are illegal. They violate the Fourth Amendment, which is supposed to protect people from arbitrary and unreasonable arrests by the government.

Courts have said the government can briefly detain people, search them, or search their bags at the border (think TSA security gates or brief questions by CBP officers when you land from an international flight) so long as the purpose of these intrusions is to verify travelers’ identities, regulate the entry of goods, and look for contraband that may be smuggled in. But the government does not have the right to detain and interrogate people at the border, without suspicion, just to conduct criminal investigations (or worse, to retaliate against them for their humanitarian activities). That’s true both at the border and inside the country: no cop can walk up to you on the street, without suspecting you of doing anything wrong, and arrest you, take you to an interrogation cell, and question you.

By this litigation, the three activists hope to restore the rule of law at the border, which border officials have increasingly flouted under this Administration.

Case developments

October 1, 2020
The Court's Order granting in part and denying in part the government's Motion to Dismiss. Read the Order.

March 11, 2020
The ACLU filed our Opposition to the Government's Motion to Dismiss. Read the Opposition.

February 10, 2020
The government filed a Motion to Dismiss the ACLU's complaint against CBP, ICE, and the FBI. Read the Motion.

October 16, 2019
ACLU SoCal and its partners filed the original complaint on October 16, 2019 in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. Read the complaint.


Marty Lieberman, Molly Brizgys, ACLU of Arizona; Ahilan Arulanantham, Mohammad Tajsar, ACLU SoCal; R. Alexander Pilmer, Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

Date filed

October 16, 2019


United States District Court, District of Arizona


Cindy K. Jorgenson



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