Immigrant sues after border patrol seizes life savings

An Albanian immigrant is suing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in federal court after he says the agency took his life savings through civil forfeiture when he attempted to fly to Albania.

Rustem Kazazi, 64, said in court filings that customs agents seized nearly $60,000 in cash Kazazi was transporting to Albania, accusing him of using it for the purpose of a crime.

Kazazi told The Washington Post that he intended to use the money to repair family property in the country, saying corruption in Albanian banks made him nervous to wire the money.

CBP officials told the Post that the money was "artfully concealed" in Kazazi's luggage and bore evidence of multiple ATM withdrawals to avoid reporting requirements.

"Pursuant to an administrative search of Mr. Kazazi and his bags, TSA agents discovered artfully concealed U.S. currency. Mr. Kazazi provided inconsistent statements regarding the currency, had no verifiable source of income and possessed evidence of structuring activity," the agency said in a statement.

Kazazi denied those allegations and argued in a motion to return the currency that the agency is violating federal law by not returning the money to him or charging him with a crime.

"I began to worry that they were trying to steal the money for themselves," he said in the court filings.

Civil forfeiture, or the act of seizing money or property suspected to be involved in criminal activity, is widespread at the federal level, despite concerns about the practice's constitutionality.

The practice allowed the federal government to seize more than $2 billion in assets last year, which the Post noted was comparable to FBI statistics on property and money stolen annually in residential burglaries.