We’re Suing the Government for Violating the Rights of Passengers on Delta Airlines 1583 in Police-State Fashion

On February 22, 2017, Delta Airlines Flight 1583 departed San Francisco and headed for John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. As the plane was landing, passengers heard a strange announcement.

Speaking over the intercom, a flight attendant announced that everyone would have to show their documents in order to get off the plane. After passengers expressed their consternation, the flight attendant repeated her announcement, stating that officers would be meeting the plane and every passenger would have to show government-issued ID to deplane.

The announcement immediately unsettled Kelley Amadei, who was traveling with her wife and 7-year-old son. Kelley flies frequently for work, both internationally and domestically, and she knew this did not feel right. Around her, other passengers wondered aloud how the government had the authority to prevent them from leaving the plane and requiring them to show identification again.

The answer is that the government does not have this authority.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires government agents to have individualized suspicion to conduct even a brief investigatory stop. Despite this, two Customs and Border Protection agents met Flight 1583 and stood immediately outside the aircraft door, blocking the exit into the jetway. The officers wore uniforms emblazoned with the words, “POLICE/CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION,” and carried guns visible in their holsters.

Passengers were forced to queue up inside the plane, and the line moved slowly. One plaintiff, Professor Corey Fields, was seated toward the back of the plane and recalls that it took an exceedingly long time to deplane — so long that he grew increasingly worried he would miss his connecting flight and the meeting he was to attend the next day.

When Kelley Amadei and her son finally reached the exit, Kelley handed her identification to the CBP agent. He closely examined it, front and back, and then looked pointedly back and forth between her and her 7-year-old son, who has noticeably darker skin than Kelley. The CBP agent said nothing, but his cold gaze added to the already coercive atmosphere. Frightened and angry, Kelley broke the silence and said, “He’s 7 years old. He doesn’t carry an ID.”

With that, the officers waved her on. Her son was visibly upset and asked Kelley whether their family was in trouble and had done something wrong. As Kelley reassured him that they were not in trouble, she was in fact shaken. She was so upset by what the agents had done that she decided to go back to the gate to get some answers. However, when she asked the officers for the reason for the search, they dismissively ordered her off with “don’t worry about it.”

Outraged by how CBP had detained them, Kelley and several other passengers snapped photos of the agents from the jetway and posted them on social media to sound the alarm. In response to press inquiries, CBP characterized the agents’ actions as “routine” and consistent with agency policy.

That blithe insistence on the power to detain was a rallying call for Kelley, her eight fellow plaintiffs, and for attorneys at the ACLU and Covington & Burling, LLP, who are taking legal action to stop CBP from seizing or searching domestic airline passengers deplaning without any individualized legal basis.

Our lawsuit charges CBP and ICE with violating the Fourth Amendment rights of the passengers of Delta 1538, and it asks the court to permanently block the government from conducting such seizures and searches pursuant to its asserted policy. Our clients are standing up for civil liberties and setting a precedent so that these totalitarian police tactics do not continue and leave us all vulnerable.

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Despite this, two Customs and Border Protection agents met Flight 1583. I guess you are really going after the DHS directive that says any CBP agent can stop, question, and detain any person within 100 miles of a US border without cause or warrant because that is pretty much what happened. If this had been the NYPD or the FBI, you might have a case, but this will be quick when the judge throws it out.


I don't know the case law on the subject, but a DHS directive is not inherently constitutionally valid, so why should that lead to the case being thrown out? Has a previous ruling established that such a directive is not a violation of the 4th amendment?


I guess you are really going after the DHS directive that says any CBP agent can stop, question, and detain any person within 100 miles of a US border without cause or warrant because that is pretty much what happened.
That is unconstitutional, remember those pesky Bill Of Rights, 4th Amendment. They "believe" that is a "Constitutional free area" around the US. Which is wrong, no matter what they may believe.


At least it will go to court and their names will be publicly available. The people can then seek the Justice we require.


Neither San Francisco nor New York City are within 100 miles of a border with another country.


Wrong. The 100 mile rule is a functional equivalent of a border. One can only be stopped if they've crossed the border, have not been inspected, and have been 100% in the sight of agents the entire time. CBP does not have authority to do what they did, period. I am former US Customs, now ICE... this is immigration law 101.

Randy Torres

You should learn to read more carefully and/or review your comments before you post. Neither San Francisco nor New York are within 100 miles of a border. Furthermore, the government's authority is based on an actual border crossing, not on a domestic flight.


NYC is 100 miles of which border?


To all those OTHER anonymous....IT DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU HAVE CROSSED A BORDER OR NOT!!!! It may have used to be that way, but not actually since 1953. Also, it is 100 miles within our border. Our border includes Mexico, Canada, Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Sea of Cortez......I know this totally bites a big weenie. They, GWB and his ILK really reved it up after 911. I live in the San Juan Islands off Washington coast and they stop boats all the time around here in their black boats. Yes, I do live but a few miles from Canada, but I did my research quite a while ago and found out about the info above stated. It is hard to deny we live in a Gestapo state when someone in South Carolina, Oregon, Georgia, Virginia, southern New York (like NYC), Connecticut, Rhode Island,and etc...can be searched, without warrant, if within 100 miles of their water border....aka known as the USA border


ACLU = Nazis


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