Immigrants who claimed they were illegally detained at the U.S. border because they wrongfully appeared on the Department of Homeland Security's watch list should pursue their constitutional claims against the government individually and not as a class, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Judge Easterbrook reversed class certification for a group of immigrants whose re-entry into the United States was delayed because they showed up on the watch lists as potential terrorists or otherwise dangerous individuals and were carefully screened. Some of the plaintiffs said they never belonged on the list in the first place, because they posed no threat of terrorism or other violent behavior. Others said they are not actually on the list, but have been mistaken for a listed person with a similar or identical name.
All claimed the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security need to find a better system of classifying potentially threatening individuals and removing those who do not belong on the list.
They sued for damages, claiming government agents violated their rights by delaying their re-entry and by pointing weapons at them.
Easterbrook called the latter claim "questionable" and pointed out that the nation has an inherent authority to protect its borders. Even so, he rejected plaintiffs' request for an injunction covering "just about every aspect of entry procedure," including the degree of suspicion required for inquiry, the way officials confirm a person's identity, and how the FBI closes its investigations. They sought to strip the executive branch of its role in reshaping the system and to make the necessary reforms through an injunction covering larges classes: one for detained travelers and another for the relatives and travel companions of detained travelers.
"It isn't hard to see problems with these class definitions," Easterbrook said, launching a list of bulleted issues, including that the classes "grow or shrink with the plaintiffs' contentions as the case progresses," and that the word "detention" could mean "anything from 'stopped for 60 seconds to present a passport' to 'held incommunicado for more than a day.'"
The court concluded that the plaintiffs' claims are "best handled by individual suits for damages."