Thursday, March 23, 2023

Immigration Officials Violated Pastor's Free Exercise Rights

In Dousa v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, (SD CA, March 21, 2023), a California federal district court held that U.S. immigration officials violated the free exercise rights of Kaji Dousa, a pastor at New York City's Park Avenue Christian Church. Dousa worked extensively with immigrants in Mexico and at the southern border.  The court concluded that her rights were violated when in December 2018 a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol official e-mailed the Mexican government urging it to deny the pastor entry into Mexico and to send her back to the United States. Dousa performed religious marriage ceremonies for immigrant couples with children entering the United States who were in common-law marriages. This made it more likely that they would not be subject to family separation in the U.S. The court said in part:

While the United States undoubtedly has a compelling state interest in protecting the border, Oliveri’s admission that the email was “[l]iterally, creative writing . . . [w]ithout any basis” indicates that there exists no substantial state interest in requesting that Mexican authorities deny entry to Dousa. And, as evidenced by the United States’ other investigative efforts, there exist more “narrowly tailored” approaches to achieve border security. Dousa therefore has established that the CBP violated her Free Exercise rights by restricting her ability to minister to migrants in Mexico.

The court however rejected Dousa's claim that the investigation of her activities violated her free exercise rights. The court ordered:

... Defendants SHALL COMMUNICATE in writing to appropriate Mexican immigration authorities that their request in Oliveri’s December 10, 2018 email is fully and immediately rescinded and revoked as to Dousa.

[Thanks to Heather Kimmel for the lead.]