In Netflix’s Living Undocumented, an immigration lawyer attempting to accompany her client, who was forced to enter an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Kansas City, is blocked by an agent who shoves her across the door’s threshold and causes her to fall. Later, the agent returns and allows her inside.
The interaction intensifies later in the episode, “The World Is Watching,” when Kansas City lawyer Andrea Martinez exits the center on a stretcher with a fractured foot and lacerations on her knee and leg. Because Netflix cameras weren’t allowed inside, viewers don’t see what transpired with Martinez inside the center, as she tried to assist her 3-year-old client in reuniting with his detained mother so they could both be deported to Honduras.
A lawsuit filed on Thursday in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri fills in those blanks. Martinez, who is represented by ACLU of Missouri Foundation, is suing the U.S. government for “excessive force” and “unlawful search and seizure” in violation of the Fourth Amendment, as well as two ICE agents, Everett Chase and Ronnet Sasse, for “assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment and negligent infliction of emotional distress.”
“This lawsuit is about standing up to ICE, not only for myself being personally bullied, but because if I didn’t sue, ICE would just get away with it,” Martinez told Vulture. “And they get away with too much as it is. They hurt people. They abuse immigrants. They mistreat immigrants, and they just expect they’re not going to be sued because immigrants are vulnerable and they’re probably going to get deported before there’s ever a lawsuit able to be filed. We tell our children to stand up to bullies, and that’s what I’m doing through this lawsuit. My bully just happens to be the United States of America.”
On June 26, 2018, Martinez and attorney Megan Galicia escorted Noah, the boy, and his stepfather, Luis Diaz, to the center to meet with Kenia, who was five months pregnant and had been detained for nearly two months. The handoff was supposed to take place around 3:30 a.m. in the parking lot, where there were about three dozen protesters and Netflix’s documentary crew waiting. But when they arrived, the ICE agents told the lawyers that Luis would need to bring the boy inside because of light rain. Although an ICE officer had previously told the lawyers that Luis Diaz, who is undocumented, would not be detained during the transaction, Martinez and Galicia worried he would be if they forced him inside.
In the documentary, after Martinez is pushed to the ground, she gets up on her own and eventually Chase allows her inside, but leaves Galicia outside. Although Martinez and Luis were wired for sound, Netflix did not air everything that transpired in the 30 to 45 minutes that Martinez was inside with Luis. In the documentary, viewers hear some of Luis and Kenia’s emotional reunion and farewell, but the documentary doesn’t show how, according to Martinez, Chase prevented her from retrieving Kenia’s luggage from the car and how Chase responded to her injuries as her foot swelled and she discovered she was bleeding.
“It’s interesting to watch yourself [on the documentary] pop back up and have no idea that you have a broken foot,” Martinez told Vulture. “When you’re in lawyer mode and you’re representing a 3-year-old who just got forcibly separated, the attorney comes on and you’re just concerned about Noah. There were so many things happening at once.”
According to the complaint, after Kenia and Noah were taken away, Officer Chase called Federal Protective Services to arrest Martinez for trying to forcibly enter the building. Martinez told Vulture she tried to call police on her own, but Chase took her phone away and tried to access her passcode but failed. “I realized he was trying to have me arrested, and we just had this awkward time where it’s silent and I notice that my foot is throbbing and I’m bleeding from my left knee and ankle,” Martinez told Vulture. “I told him I need medical assistance and he looks at my leg and goes, ‘Oh, that’s not severe enough.’”
Eventually, Martinez says, Chase gave her her phone and an ice pack for her foot, but left her locked inside a conference room with Luis. When Chase exited the room, Martinez called Galicia and asked her to call the police and an ambulance. As the lawyers feared, Luis was detained and remained so for two months.
Martinez told Vulture that filing a lawsuit was the only recourse she had after the U.S. Attorney’s office in Missouri declined to charge Chase, after reviewing an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security and Office of Inspector General. Both Chase and Sasse remain in their jobs. “I have determined that the evidence does not support the allegations made against the ICE-ERO officer, and have formally declined to file charges for actions taken in the exercise of his official duties,” U.S. Attorney Timothy A. Garrison stated in a January press release. “In light of circumstances created by more than 30 people who came to a routine law enforcement operation at 3 a.m. for the purpose of making a spectacle, the officer’s actions were justified in order to secure and control access to the ICE office entrance from unauthorized persons.”
The lawsuit doesn’t ask for a specific remedy. “We’re going to let the court make that determination,” Martinez told Vulture. “We really believe that this is a matter of principle and it’s a matter of not letting ICE agents get away with hurting people and making sure these individuals are held responsible. My opinion differs from the U.S. Attorney. People have a right to peacefully protest in public spaces, and there’s no excuse for violence on the part of law enforcement just because they don’t know what to do when they’re being filmed.”