Nurse Sues Customs For Seizing $40K Of Her Savings - They Won't Give It Back.
by Amy Blitchok
Since 2014, Anthonia Nwaorie, a registered nurse and midwife, has been traveling from the United States to her hometown in Nigeria to deliver free medical care to those in need. Her ultimate goal was to raise enough money to open a free clinic so that locals could have regular access to care. By October of 2017, she had raised over $41,000, purchased a parcel of land and was on her way to Nigeria to begin construction when a lapse in paperwork stalled her dream and put her in the middle of a lawsuit that is exposing some questionable government practices.
Nwaorie was boarding her plane at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport when she was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. Every cent of her $41,377 was in cash and stored in a carry-on bag and her purse, which raised some flags as she passed through customs. Agents immediately started asking who she was transporting money for and took her aside to search her luggage. During questioning, her money was seized and still remains in the hands of Customs and Border Protection.
According to the law, there is no limit on the amount of money that can be transported out of the United States, but passengers are required to declare any amounts over $10,000. Nwaorie was unaware of this rule and claims that she would have gladly filled out the form had she known it existed. While criminals are known to traffic money, it quickly became clear that Nwaorie was not involved in any illegal activity and had made an honest mistake. She was never formally charged with a crime, but despite this, her money remains in custody and her dream of building a clinic is on hold.
The incident has now turned into a lawsuit that accuses the government of violating the First Amendment, which includes the right to petition the government. In April, customs said that they would release her property if she agreed not to sue. Essentially, she was being asked to either give up her money or her First Amendment rights. Nwaorie refused to sign the agreement and got a lawyer instead.
Together, Nwaorie and her attorney have filed a class-action lawsuit that is meant to cover anyone who has found themselves in similar circumstances. Currently, there is little to no information on how many other people have been asked to relinquish their right to sue the government in order to have their seized property returned, but this is information they are hoping to uncover during the course of the suit. There is a sense that this happens a lot more than people might think and Nwaorie is now on a mission to expose this practice and find justice for herself and others.
Unfortunately, this incident and the lawsuit have put Nwaorie’s dream of building her clinic on hold indefinitely. Years of arduous work and saving have been sidelined as she takes on a new fight. In the meantime, she continues to travel to Nigeria and provide valuable medical care to people without other options or resources.
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