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Border Patrol refuses to return $41,000 seized from innocent woman who saved to open medical clinic in Nigeria

May 15, 2018  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Border Patrol refuses to return $41,000 seized from innocent woman who saved to open medical clinic in Nigeria

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials are refusing to return $41,000 seized by Border Patrol agents from a Nigerian-born woman in Texas last October as she was passing through the Houston airport on her way to open a medical clinic in her native country.

Anthonia Nwaorie, a 59-year-old nurse, was never charged with a crime and CBP never sought civil-forfeiture actions against her. However, the agency is refusing to return the money, which Nwaorie spent years saving unless she signs a “hold harmless agreement” relinquishing her right to sue.

The agreement also forces her to pay back the government for “costs incurred in the enforcement of any part of this agreement,” The Washington Post reported.

Nwaorie was apprehended before she boarded her flight after Border Patrol officers found that she had neglected to report carrying over $10,000 in violation of federal legislation.

“The officer started asking me questions: How much money do you have? How long have you been in the U.S.?” Nwaorie said in an interview with the Tribune. “I felt like a criminal that had run the red light.”

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

“We’re representing hundreds or thousands all over the country who have had this happen to them,” Dan Alban, one of the lawyers litigating the case, said to the Tribune. “They were entitled to get their property…and instead, CBP sent them this letter demanding that they waive rights to sue, and if they violate the agreement, pay all the attorney’s fees. That’s just egregious.”

The imminent litigation comes in the midst of an increasing national debate regarding the forfeiture of civil assets, which law-enforcement officials claim is vital to fighting organized crime, even as critics across the political spectrum have come to regard it as unconstitutional.

Many individuals who have their assets seized never get their day in court, as the officials are entitled to keep what is confiscated under a method known as “administrative forfeiture.” As long as the government is not disputed in court — a rare occurrence considering the socioeconomic status of many subjected to the policy, they can retain the seized property indefinitely without charging the property’s owner with a crime.

Nwaorie says her intentions to open a clinic in Nigeria have been delayed pending the conclusion of her legal fight.

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

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