A visiting Chinese teacher is suing eight Customs & Border Protection Service officers in federal court for allegedly denying her entry to Saipan on suspicion that she was pregnant. She claims that she was handcuffed, her face slammed against the wall, and placed in isolation for 22 hours.
Yu Min Zhao, through counsel Samuel I. Mok, said her husband, Jian Li, was questioned first that same day by a CBP officer and was admitted under the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program without incident.
Zhao, 32, is suing CBP supervisory employee Dennis Jacobs and seven other unnamed CBP officers for violation of equal protection of the Fifth Amendment, excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and conspiracy to violate Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
Zhao asked the U.S. District Court for the NMI to stop the CBP officers and their agents and employees from violating her Fifth Amendment right to equal protection by prohibiting racial and gender discrimination from being practiced against non-citizen Chinese females of child-bearing age who are pregnant or suspected of being pregnant.
The plaintiff sought a judgment declaring that the CBP officers violated her fights under the Fifth Amendment by targeting her for detention, harassment, interrogation, assault and arrest as well as denying her entry under the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program.
Zhao demanded unspecified amount of damages, court costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees.
Mok stated in the complaint that Zhao, a school teacher from China, wanted to visit Saipan with her husband, Jian Li, as a tourist for one week of vacation.
Mok said that Zhao does not have a criminal record, has never been arrested, and has never previously overstayed any prior immigration visas or grants of parole.
According to Mok’s statement of events, the incident happened on Oct. 18, 2013, at 3:10am, soon after Zhao and her husband arrived at the Saipan International Airport from Beijing via a China Eastern Airlines charter flight. Zhao and her husband proceeded to immigration where they were questioned by a CBP officer at Window No. 5.
Zhao’s husband was questioned first and, after a series of routine questions, was admitted by a CBP officer under the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program.
When it was Zhao’s turn, the same CBP officer allegedly immediately asked her, “How many months are you pregnant?”, without asking any of the routine questions posed to her husband. Zhao was then referred to a second CBP officer at Window No. 8 for further questioning and inspection.
At Window No. 8, a CBP officer asked her why she was visiting Saipan, for which she responded “tourism.” The officer then accused her of being several months pregnant and ordered her to open her bag for further inspection.
At one point, a CBP officer found a large beach dress and asked her, “Is this dress for pregnancy wearing?”
Despite Zhao’s explanation that it was meant to be worn at the beach, a female CBP officer placed the beach dress against the plaintiff’s body to compare the extent of the size difference and reiterated the other officer’s accusation that she was pregnant by claiming that it was a “maternity skirt.”
The female officer then asked if Zhao was two or three months pregnant.
Mok said CBP officer Jacobs claimed that the reason why Zhao was denied entry was because she had been previously denied a visa to the U.S. twice and not because she was Chinese and purportedly pregnant.
Mok said Jacobs’ explanation was simply a pretext for the racist and sexist conduct of himself as well as his colleagues, given that Zhao’s husband had been granted admission even though he too had been previously denied a visa twice and was traveling with the plaintiff at the same time.
After being denied entry, Mok said, Zhao was handcuffed and placed in a detention room for 22 hours where she was denied access to communication with anyone, including her husband.
Mok said that during this period, Zhao was subjected to physical and verbal abuse by CBP officers.
The lawyer said Zhao was also denied access to an attorney by the CBP officers despite her repeated requests for legal counsel, even though she was in custody, subject to interrogation, and handcuffed.
In fact, Mok said, Jacobs and a CBP officer explicitly told Zhao that she did not have any rights, let alone the right to speak to an attorney, since she was an alien.
Over the next several hours, Zhao was repeatedly asked to sign a voluntary departure form written in English that was allegedly never explained to her in Chinese.
A CBP officer then allegedly tried to trick and/or coerce her into signing an English language document that stated she “ voluntarily consented” to return to China by refusing to explain what the document meant or providing a Chinese translation.
Mok said the CBP officer threatened to have Zhao’s husband arrested and deported if she continued to refuse to sign, even though her husband had already been granted admission by CBP for 10 days.
Out of her frustration at her helplessness, Zhao began screaming for help whenever the door to her detention room was opened.
In retaliation for her screams, seven CBP officers came into the detention room and removed articles of clothing from her body as well as her personal items as punishment for her perceived “lack of cooperation.”
The seven CPB officers, Mok said, gang tackled Zhao in her cell and forcibly handcuffed her hands behind her back by shoving her face first against a wall and violently twisting her hands behind her back, merely because she refused to get fingerprinted as a form of protest of the abuse she was suffering.
Mok said three CBP officers stormed into the detention cell and rushed to Zhao. One officer allegedly kicked apart plaintiff’s legs and slammed her face against the wall.
A second officer pushed her shoulders forward so that her face remained press to the wall, while another officer twisted her hands behind her back and applied handcuffs.
Mok said Zhao was then left crying in her cell for about an hour with her hands painfully handcuffed behind her back without being given any medical attention or explanation as to why this was happening to her.
Eventually, the lawyer said, Zhao signed the English language document presented to her even though it was never explained or translated into Chinese.
To date, Mok said, Zhao still does not know what form she signed as it was never translated to her in Chinese and she was never given a copy.