A Texas nurse has launched a court fight against the U.S. government over some $40,000 in cash it confiscated from her as she was preparing to take it to her home country of Nigeria to start a medical clinic for women and children.
Anthonia Nwaorie is being represented by the Institute for Justice, which concedes she apparently violated a rule requiring the government be notified when someone wants to take more than $10,000 in cash out of the country.
It’s not illegal to do that, but the feds demand to know about it.
But Nwaorie didn’t know about the law, and contends that it was more or less concealed from the public.
“Unbeknownst to Anthonia,” the law firm reveals, “she had run afoul of an obscure law that requires filing a report when one is leaving the U.S. with over $10,000 in currency. When entering the U.S., every international traveler is given a Customs Declaration form asking if they are traveling with more than $10,000 in currency. But no such corresponding form or information is given to travelers departing the U.S. Like most travelers, Anthonia was completely unaware of this obscure requirement and did not see any signs or other notices that might have informed her about it.”
The organization continued, “The reporting requirement for money taken out of the U.S. is obscure. It is not found in lists of tips for international travelers on government websites, including the CBP’s U.S. Traveler’s Top Ten Travel Tips webpage, the list of ‘Documents You Will Need’ on the CBP’s Before Your Trip webpage, the list of required documents on the State Department’s Traveler’s Checklist webpage, or the TSA’s Top Travel Tips, Travel Checklist or FAQ for travelers.
“Only someone specifically looking for information about currency reporting requirements is likely to find out about it. (Even the CBP webpage about this reporting requirement phrases the question in a misleading way: ‘How much currency/money/monetary instruments can I bring into the U.S.?’) The specific legal obligation is contained in arcane Customs laws and regulations, and in the fine print on the back of the little-known FinCEN Form 105. As that fine print explains: ‘Travelers carrying currency or other monetary instruments with them shall file FinCEN Form 105 at the time of entry into the United States or at the time of departure from the United States with the Customs officer in charge at any Customs port of entry or departure.”
Further, the process to obtain a form and file wasn’t even available at the Houston airport, from which she was departing.
“Anthonia was not only supposed to somehow know that this obscure requirement exists, but she was also supposed to find the CBP officer in charge at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and file a form that she had no reason to know about. According to the CBP’s website, the CBP office for IAH is not in the terminal or even located on airport property; it is about a mile south of the end of the runway, on the ninth floor of a building on the far side of the Sam Houston Tollway. That is a 6.7 mile drive from International Terminal E, where Anthonia’s flight departed from.
“Expecting an ordinary citizen to know all of this and complete these steps without adequate notice is totally absurd,” the IJ said.
The funds, $41,377 seized by the CBP, never triggered any criminal charges against the Katy, Texas, grandmother.
“The U.S. attorney’s office declined to pursue civil forfeiture of the money and let the legal filing deadline pass without filing a forfeiture complaint. Under CAFRA, a federal civil forfeiture statute, CBP now must ‘promptly release the property,'” IJ reported.
So what’s the problem?
The CBP is refusing to return the cash unless the nurse signs a “Hold Harmless Release Agreement” that would waive her rights to interest on the cash, to sue over anything related to the incident, such as the luggage the agents destroyed, even to protect the government if someone else would sue.
“That is not only unlawful under the federal forfeiture statute, but it is unconstitutional. No one should have to waive their constitutional rights to get back property to which they are legally entitled,” reported the IJ, which is turning the fight into a class action over the “bullying.”
“CBP’s behavior violates the federal forfeiture statute and due process of law. IJ is asking the federal court to stop this practice, void any hold harmless agreements signed by class members, and order CBP to return seized property to any class member – including Anthonia – whose property was withheld because they declined to sign an agreement surrendering their constitutional rights.”
Nwaorie, 59, arrived in the U.S. from Nigeria in 1982 and quickly became a registered nurse. She became a U.S. citizen in 1994.
Her burden is for medical care for those in Nigeria, and for years already she’s collected unused medical supplies like bandages and more to ship to her home country.
Her dream has been to convert the week-long temporary medical clinics she’s occasionally arranged there into permanent locations and staffing.
IJ reports the hold harmless agreement is, in fact, very dangerous.
“If Anthonia signs this agreement, she will not be able to receive interest on her money for the six months that CBP has held it thus far, nor will she be able to seek compensation for the second airline ticket to Nigeria that she had to buy after missing her flight or for the luggage that CBP destroyed when they sliced it open rather than using the key she had given them for the luggage lock.
“The Hold Harmless Release Agreement also imposes new legal liabilities on Anthonia. She has to agree to indemnify the government and make it whole if anyone else sues the government over the seized property. And, if she signed the agreement, and later decided to sue the CBP over anything related to the seizure, she not only might be prevented from doing so by the agreement, but she could be held liable for the government’s attorney fees, costs, and other expenses related to defending against her lawsuit,” the institute reported.