News

Law & the Courts

Border Patrol Refuses to Return $41,000 Seized from Woman Who Hoped to Open Medical Clinic

U.S. border patrol agents keep a close eye on a caravan of migrants and supporters as they reach the United States-Mexico border near San Diego, California, April 29, 2018. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Customs and Border Protections (CBP) seized $41,000 from a Nigerian-born Texas woman in October of last year as she was passing through the Houston airport on her way to start a medical clinic in her home country.

Anthonia Nwaorie, a 59-year-old nurse, was never charged with a crime and CBP never pursued civil-forfeiture proceedings against her. But the agency is nevertheless refusing to return the funds, which Nwaorie spent years saving up, unless she signs a a so-called “hold harmless agreement” forfeiting her right to sue and forcing her to reimburse the government for “costs incurred in the enforcement of any part of this agreement,” according to a report in the Texas Tribune.

Nwaorie was detained before boarding her flight after CBP officers discovered that she had failed to report carrying more than $10,000 in violation of federal law.

“The officer started asking me questions: How much money do you have? How long have you been in the United States?” Nwaorie told the Tribune. “I felt like a criminal that had just run the red light.”

The Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based public-interest-law firm, filed a class-action suit last Thursday on Nwaorie’s behalf, challenging the government’s authority to require that a citizen sign away their right to sue before their money is returned.

“We’re representing hundreds or thousands of people all over the country who have had this sort of thing happen to them,” Dan Alban, one of the attorneys litigating the case, told the Tribune. “They were entitled to get their property back…and instead, CBP sent them this letter demanding that they waive all rights to sue and hold [the government] harmless, and if they violate the agreement, pay all the attorney’s fees. And that’s just egregious.”

The pending litigation comes amid a growing national debate about civil asset forfeiture, which law-enforcement officials continue to claim is vital to combating organized crime, even as critics across the political spectrum have increasingly come to regard it as unconstitutional government overreach.

Many people who have their property seized never get their day in court, as the authorities are entitled to keep what is confiscated under a process known as “administrative forfeiture.” So long as the government is not challenged in court — a rare occurrence considering the socioeconomic status of many subjected to the policy, according to IJ attorneys — they can retain the seized property indefinitely without ever charging the property’s rightful owner with a crime.

Nwaorie says her plans to open a medical clinic in Nigeria have been suspended pending the conclusion of her legal battle.

“This is a horrible nightmare which I would not wish on anybody at all,” she said. “This is the money that I have worked hard to earn. I have the right to do whatever I please with it. So for someone to stop me and treat me like a common criminal for my money that I have paid taxes on already…it’s not right.”

Jack Crowe — Jack Crowe is a news writer at National Review Online.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

The Second(-Class) Amendment

Editor’s Note: The following is the fourth in a series of articles in which Mr. Yoo and Mr. Phillips will lay out a course of constitutional restoration, pointing out areas where the Supreme Court has driven the Constitution off its rails and the ways the current Court can put it back on track. The first entry ... Read More
World

The Brexit Crisis

After what seem like years of a phony war, British and European Union negotiators finally agreed on the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU earlier this week, and Theresa May announced it in the House of Commons. The deal covers more than 500 pages of legal and bureaucratic prose, and few but the ... Read More
U.S.

Friends of Elmer

Do you know what scares an American outdoorsman more than a grizzly bear? Twitter. In the late summer and early autumn, the hunting world had its eyes on the courts: The Trump administration had issued new guidance that would permit the hunting of brown bears (popularly known as grizzly bears), including in ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Basta La Vista, Baby

Dear Reader (And especially Martha McSally’s dog), As I often note, I increasingly tend to see the political scene as a scripted reality show in which the writers don’t flesh out the dialogue so much as move characters into weird, wacky, confrontational, or embarrassing positions. It’s a lot like The ... Read More