Sadly, in recent months, there have been countless examples of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) engaging in deplorable actions. Immigrants are being held in the worst conditions, children are being separated from their parents at the border, and just three days ago, a transgender woman died in ICE custody.
Back in October, a 64 year-old immigrant man from Cleveland had his whole life savings ($58,000) stolen from him by Customs and Border Protection after agents strip searched him in a airport. On Thursday, the man filed a lawsuit against CBP. Rustem Kazazi was transporting the money with him to his home country of Albania to visit relatives, make repairs on a family property, and potentially purchase a vacation home.
Kazazi and his wife Lejla had been saving the money for twelve years and have a son Erald, who is finishing a chemical engineering degree at Cleveland State University. According to The Washington Post:
‘Customs agents seized the money through a process known as civil asset forfeiture, a law enforcement technique that allows authorities to take cash and property from people who are never convicted or even charged with a crime. The practice is widespread at the federal level. In 2017, federal authorities seized more than $2 billion in assets from people, a net loss similar in size to annual losses from residential burglaries in the United States.’
Customs said that it suspected that Kazazi was involved in money laundering, drug trafficking, or smuggling. Kazazi has denied those allegations and says that the agency is in violation of federal law by keeping his money without filing any formal complaint against him.
Kazazi was an officer for the Albanian police and relocated his family to the U.S. in 2005 after obtaining visa’s through the state department’s lottery program. In 2010, they became U.S. citizens.
Kazazi explained during an interview that he took the money with him because of safety concerns. Kazazi said:
‘The crime [in Albania] is much worse than it is here. Other people that have made large withdrawals [from Albanian banks] have had people intercept them and take their money. The exchange rates and fees are [also] excessive.’
Kazazi also explained that Albanian contractors often prefer U.S. dollars and Euros over the local currency, and said that many expatriates who return to Albania to visit often bring large amounts of cash with them. The Post reported:
‘On Oct. 24, Kazazi arrived at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to begin the first leg of his journey, which would take him to Newark to connect with an international flight. He carried the cash in three counted and labeled bundles in his carry-on bag, he said, along with receipts from recent bank withdrawals and documentation pertaining to his family’s property in Tirana, the Albanian capital.
‘According to a translated declaration that Kazazi provided to the court as part of the lawsuit, Transportation Security Administration employees discovered the cash in his bag during a routine security check and alerted Customs and Border Protection.’
Kazazi’s declaration said:
‘They asked me some questions, which I could not understand as they spoke too quickly. I asked them for an interpreter and asked to call my family, but they denied my request.’
After that encounter, Kazazi was led to another room where agents conducted multiple searches of him and his belongings including strip searching him. According to The Post:
‘Kazazi said that a man wearing rubber gloves then “started searching different areas of my body.”‘
In an interview, Kazazi said:
‘I felt my rights violated.’
He went on to say:
‘I began to worry that they were trying to steal the money for themselves.’
The searches did not turn up any contraband, drugs, or evidence of illegal activity, but they did take his money. Kazazi said the receipt he was handed by the agents did not list the value of the cash.
Wesley Hottot, the family’s attorney, said:
‘The government can just take everything from you.
‘You have to affirmatively show you’re not a criminal to get your own money back. You have to effectively prove a negative.’
Here’s what Twitter had to say:
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