Jay Kim, NLGSF Executive Director or 415-285-5067 Ext. 104

SAN FRANCISCO – The National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLGSF) today sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to compel the release of records related to the detention and treatment of Muslim Filipino human rights defender Jerome Aba under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Jerome Aba was denied entry to the U.S. when he arrived at SFO on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. Mr. Aba traveled to the U.S. to participate in a speaking tour about the repressive conditions in the Philippines under the Duterte regime – a speaking tour that had been sponsored by several U.S.-based churches and human rights organizations. Mr. Aba, despite having received a 10- year multiple entry visa by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, was taken to secondary screening when he arrived at SFO for a layover and was subsequently detained by CBP for 28 hours before being deported back to the Philippines. Mr. Aba reported being subjected to
psychological and physical torture while being detained, including being forced to strip naked and stand in front of an industrial fan blowing cold air during a lengthy interrogation. At no time during his detention was Mr. Aba granted access to legal counsel.

On April 24, 2018, NLGSF filed a joint request with the American Civil Liberties Union – Northern California for records related to Mr. Aba’s detention and treatment under FOIA, which requires the U.S. government to provide copies of certain non-public documents to interested parties. NLGSF filed a second FOIA request on May 29, 2018. To date, DHS has only disclosed a small portion of the documents requested and those records were unlawfully redacted. CBP has entirely refused to turn over any records, despite holding the majority of the
records requested.

“DHS and CBP have refused, for more than a year, to provide basic records concerning the detention, alleged mistreatment, and denial of entry of Mr. Aba,” said Abenicio Cisneros, counsel for NLGSF. “The events surrounding CBP’s treatment of Mr. Aba is a matter of serious public concern. FOIA exists so that agencies such as DHS and CBP operate transparently. This lawsuit was necessary because DHS and CBP have refused to comply with FOIA in response to NLGSF’s requests.”

“DHS and CBP have given concerned community members the runaround, made conflicting statements to the media, and flouted FOIA requests about what happened to Jerome,” said Pam Tau Lee, Chairperson of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-U.S. “Jerome’s horrific experience is an example of how the Duterte and Trump administrations can dangerously collaborate to implement an ‘extreme vetting’ program, intended to bar activists, artists and other experts from entering the U.S. to speak out on social and political issues, such as the intense militarization and repression in the Philippines. The DHS and CBP cover-up of their treatment of Jerome contributes to the culture of impunity in the Philippines and the role of the U.S. in aiding it. Lawsuits like the one filed by NLGSF help push for increased transparency and accountability of DHS and CBP.”

To coincide with the filing of NLGSF’s lawsuit, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-Northern California and BAYAN-USA will be holding a rally at the International Terminal at SFO on Wednesday, October 9th from 6-7pm to demand that DHS and CBP stop hiding the truth about what happened to Jerome Aba while he was detained. View the complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California here.

National Lawyers Guild SF Bay Area brings together progressive law students, legal workers and attorneys to function as an effective political and social force in the service of the people, to the end that human rights will be more sacred than property rights. With over 700 members, the SF Bay Area Chapter is the largest National Lawyers Guild chapter in the country.