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Coast Guard's Detention Based on Ethnicity Violates Fourth Amendment

by David M. Reutter

 The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that removal proceedings against an alien must be terminated because Coast Guard officers committed an egregious Fourth Amendment violation, plus violated an immigration regulation when they seized him based on his Latin ethnicity alone.

Louis E. Sanchez, 45, entered the United States without inspection in 1988 at age 17. He has lived in Ventura County, California. He was granted Family Unity Benefits and Employment Authorization on May 11, 2004, which expired two years later. His subsequent applications were denied due to three misdemeanor convictions for violations of California's Vehicle Code.

Sanchez and two adult Latino friends, and one of the friend's 14-month-old son, took a fishing trip on February 25, 2010, in Sanchez's pleasure boat. About 30 minutes into the trip, the Coast Guard responded to a 911 request for a tow back to the harbor.

Upon arrival at the Channel Islands Harbor, about eight Coast Guard officers awaited on shore for Sanchez and his companions. Once they disembarked the boat, they were frisked and detained. The officers requested their names and asked for identification; Sanchez handed over his driver's license. The Coast Guard could not "establish positive identity or nationality of Sanchez," and he was placed into custody of "the possibility of 4 undocumented worker [ ] aliens."

Sanchez was released later that night, but nine months later the U.S. Department of Homeland Security served Sanchez with a Notice to Appear for removal proceedings. An immigration judge (IJ) on December 27, 2011, denied Sanchez's Motion to Suppress Coast Guard officers Form I-213 (Record of Deportable/Inadmissible Alien) and Sanchez's Family Unity Benefits and Employment Authorization applications. The IJ ordered Sanchez removed to Mexico. That decision was affirmed by the Bureau of Immigration Appeal.

The central issue on appeal was whether evidence establishing Sanchez's alienage and his entry without inspection must be suppressed as the fruits of an egregious Fourth Amendment violation. The Ninth Circuit answered that question in the affirmative.

In so holding, it found Sanchez was not seized at the United States border and his boat had not entered from international waters. It also found a prima facie case was presented that "Coast Guard officers seized and detained Sanchez based on his Latino ethnicity alone." It has been established for over 35 years that such a seizure is an egregious Fourth Amendment violation.

As the Form I-213 is a fruit of that poisonous tree, it must be suppressed and the removal proceeding terminated for violation of federal immigration regulations. The court did not reach the issue of whether the Family Unity Benefits and Employment Authorization should have been suppressed. The Petition for Review was granted.

See: Sanchez v. Sessions, _____ F. 3d _____ (9th Cir. 2017)

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Sanchez v. Sessions