Why maltreated Filipina can sue US immigration officers

by Jojo Malig, ABS-CBNNews.com

Posted at Oct 09 2013 08:38 PM | Updated as of Oct 10 2013 05:10 AM

MANILA - A 63-year-old Filipina who suffered abuse at the hands of immigration officers at the Seattle International Airport can sue for either civil or criminal damages, a Philippine immigration official said Wednesday.

Lawyer Siegfred Mison, head of the Bureau of Immigration, said the US government or any other state can deny entry to anyone but must not overstep its authority.

"Any state has the absolute power to allow any people to enter or deny entry. [But] based on the story of Miss Grande, the process on how she was denied entry was kind of irregular," he told ANC Top Story.

Carina Yonzon Grande, who went to the US to attend her daughter's wedding, was prevented from entering the country despite having complete and valid travel documents.

It was her 13th time to visit the US in a span for more than two and a half decades.

Grande said Immigration officers in Seattle harassed and insulted her.

She said she was held for six hours without food or water and accused of being a liar and an illegal immigrant out to work as a domestic helper.

She was also made to choose between jail or deportation. She chose the latter.

"That's why it could be a possible civil case or criminal case that Miss Grande can file in the US," Mison said.

He added that the airline that brought Grande back to the Philippines also failed to follow proper procedures.

"The problem is she was not properly turned over to us by the airline. As per existing procedure, if a person is excluded from entering another country, the airline responsible should communicate to us," Mison said. "In the case of Miss Grande, we were not informed."

He said Grande did the right thing by informing the Philippine government about the incident, which will allow the the Department of Foreign Affairs to act on the complaint.

Grande made right decision

Mison also said the former Asian Development Bank employee also made the right decision in just going back home instead of being detained in the US.

"I'd rather just be sent home," he said. "It will be very difficult for you to fight your case in jail, kasi remember, it is a case of immigration law, it is always in the favor of the state whether you can be admitted or not."

"Even if you have the proper visa. The state has that power," he said. "It will be very difficult for her to fight it out if she's in detention."

Mison said one must travel in good faith. "Everytime you travel, just be truthful. We can never go wrong. In this particular case, I don't know why she was called a liar. We still have to wait for the side of the US immigration."

The US embassy has yet to comment on the case.

US immigration abuses

The US-based non-government organization Immigration Policy Center has documented many cases involving US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents overstepping their authority and violating basic constitutional protections and the human rights of immigrants and US citizens.

The center said CBP agents often make racially motivated arrests, use derogatory and coercive interrogation tactics, and imprison people under inhumane conditions.

Earlier this year, various civil society groups in the US such as the Legal Action Center of the American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties launched national litigation efforts to stop the abuses.

Lawyers in several states have filed individual complaints for damages on behalf of 10 people who suffered abuse at the hands of CBP agents.

Some of the cases, which can be found on the IPC website, have an eerie similarity to Grande's ordeal.

Apology sought

Stephanie Grande, a daughter of Carina, said they remain puzzled why US immigration officers accused her mother of going to the US to work.

"Iyung purpose daw ng trip niya is actually for her to work here. So doon na ko na parang 'What? Saan nanggaling iyun?" she told ABS-CBN News in an interview via Skype.

"They weren't interested in hearing what they had to say," said Stephanie's fiancé, Ken Shaw.

Stephanie said they have written to the US congressman in their district and are now seeking an apology from the US immigration officers involved.

She added that they want their mother's name cleared and allowed to visit the US and attend her wedding.

"No one really has to go through something like that," she said. "It was so harsh the way they treated her was like she was a criminal. It was uncalled for."