Africa : African woman, jailed, strip-searched, wins $65,000 settlement

Discussion in 'All Things Africa' started by dustyelbow, Apr 25, 2006.

  1. dustyelbow

    dustyelbow Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Oct 25, 2005
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    African woman, jailed, strip-searched, wins $65,000 settlement
    by SF Bay View (reposted) Saturday, Apr. 22, 2006 at 9:41 AM

    Immigration officer told her, ‘Go back to the jungle’

    San Francisco – In the midst of a national debate about U.S. immigration policy, the United States has agreed to pay $65,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a young woman from Africa who was abused by U.S. immigration agents at San Francisco International Airport. The settlement was filed Wednesday at the federal courthouse in San Francisco.

    In January of 2002, Tsungai Tungwarara, then 18 years old, flew from her native country, Zimbabwe, to San Francisco to visit her family in the Bay Area. Despite having a valid tourist visa, Ms. Tungwarara was jailed by airport immigration agents and subjected to a strip search.

    She was taken to a local jail facility in violation of a Sept. 29, 2000, Department of Justice policy memorandum, which declares that jail is “not appropriate in non-criminal cases.” When Ms. Tungwarara’s mother tried to intervene, an immigration inspector told her, “We won’t allow these people here – not after Sept. 11. Go back to the jungle.” The next day, immigration agents forced Ms. Tungwarara to return to Zimbabwe.

    In June 2004, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the law firm of Farella, Braun and Martel filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on behalf of Ms. Tungwarara. In October 2005, the federal district court issued a precedent-setting decision in the case, ruling that the strip search was unconstitutional. The case was scheduled for trial in April 2006, but the federal government agreed to settle the case.

    Philip Hwang, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, said reports of abuse at airports and borders have been on the rise since 9/11. “Low-level immigration agents are making life-altering decisions about who is sent to jail, who will be strip-searched and who will be deported. But, there is no meaningful oversight of these decisions,” Hwang said.

    “In many of these cases, immigrants are forced to leave the country, without ever being allowed to see a judge or tell anyone how they’re being treated.” Hwang warned that federal legislative proposals would grant even greater powers to low-level immigration agents, with less judicial oversight, likely resulting in more abuses.

    Tony Schoenberg, a partner at Farella, Braun and Martel, who represented Ms. Tungwarara pro bono, stated, “What happened to my client was a great injustice. I am pleased that we were able to reach a settlement that will provide her with compensation for the terrible ordeal she went through.”

    “I am exceptionally pleased with the outcome,” said Ms. Tungwarara. “I believe that my case will make a difference for other immigrants, and I greatly appreciate the hard work done by my attorneys.”

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