Nwaorie, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Nigeria, has been traveling to her birth country for years now to set up “pop-up” medical clinics “in churches or community centers, where she provides basic care and over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen and Tylenol for basic ailments. Trained as a midwife, she also examines all the pregnant women and lets them hear their babies’ heartbeats for the first time”:
But after a while Nwaorie said she wanted to go bigger. She wanted the patients to have regular access to care with full-time doctors at a small, permanent clinic. This year, she said her father helped secure her a parcel of land. Before she was stopped by CBP, she intended to get a permit from the local government in Nigeria and begin purchasing materials for construction.
“This was my dream, that people cannot be sent away from a clinic or a hospital because they do not have money,” she said. “This is something that I want to do for humanity, myself and my God, so there is nothing I would want to do to go against the law of this land to get it done. If I had known I had to declare the money before traveling, I would have done that.”
According to the Washington Post, “’there is no limit on the amount of money that can be taken out’ of the country, but if a traveler is carrying more than $10,000 in currency they must fill out a declaration, a rule she said she did not know existed.” Nwaorie had been saving the money for years, and even had some earmarked for relatives, which she packed alongside medical supplies and over-the-counter medications:
Nwaorie ultimately traveled to Nigeria the month after CBP seized her money, paying for her trip on a credit card and setting up another week-long pop-up clinic. And she had to tell some family members that she didn’t have the money set aside for them.
She explained to her brother what happened. “He was surprised,” Nwaorie said. “He said, ‘What? Does that happen in America?’”
As Daily Kos’ Kelly Macias wrote last year, civil asset forfeiture “disproportionately impacts black and brown people. It is a practice so heinous that even Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas criticized it earlier this year.” And it’s a truly corrupt practice. In several instances “between 2012 and 2016 the Suffolk County, New York, district attorney’s office paid out $3.25 million in bonuses—from their civil asset forfeiture seizures,” according to Daily Kos’ Walter Einenkel.
“This case highlights the abusiveness of civil asset forfeitures in general,” Alban said. “It’s just crazy: She’s not been charged with a crime. The entire situation was so weak and not worth pursuing that the U.S. attorney decided not to even try to forfeit her money. She’s been deprived of that money. She’s been unable to open her clinic. She’s been living a nightmare. This has really disrupted her life.”