The government’s assertion that Edward Haase’s experience at Customs was an isolated incident of harassment was the basic premise of the lower court’s decision in that case. Customs, however, has treated many other travelers in the same manner. CCR challenged this policy for a second time in a class action filed in April 1986 in a federal district court in Los Angeles . The plaintiffs are 12 individuals and five organizations, including the Latin American Studies Association and the National Central American Health Rights Network. The individual plaintiffs are U.S. citizens who, upon returning from Nicaragua, had their personal papers, research materials, address books, and other written materials seized, read, photocopied, and in some instances sent to the FBI, by U.S. Customs Service agents.
Pretrial discovery revealed a broad pattern of Customs abuses, including the use of Customs’ authority to gather intelligence about returnees from Nicaragua and the entry of that information in a nationwide Customs computer. One plaintiff, a professor of political science who went to Nicaragua to observe the Nicaraguan elections, was stopped upon his return in 1984 and assigned the following computer en try: “Intelligence, subj in possession of literature pertaining to election in Nicaragua alleged.”
Under the threat of a court order, Customs agreed to take steps to remedy the situation, including the expungement of computer entries and the issuance of policy directives forbidding its officials from taking similar action in the future.
On March 2, 1988, the district court issued a permanent injunction against Customs, ordering it to expunge all records of seizures under 19 U.S.C. §1305, once a determination is made that the materials do not violate the statute. It further enjoined Customs from providing any materials to other agencies for review unless the other agency agrees to be bound by Customs policy restrictions. This means that unless the FBI agrees to follow Customs policy, Customs can no longer forward material detained under §1305 to that agency, and closes a large loophole that could have been used for intelligence-gathering. The government has appealed.
David Cole, Michael Ratner, with CCR cooperating attorney Barry Litt