As Anthonia Nwaorie walked down a jet bridge at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport to board her flight to Nigeria, she certainly she didn't expect the more than $40K she saved over the past few years to be taken by airport personnel. 

Nwaorie, a registered nurse who became a U.S. citizen in 1994, dreamed of opening a medical clinic in her birthplace of Nigeria reports The Hill. The 59-year-old grandmother was carrying $37,000 in her carry-on bag, and $4,000 in her purse. She also packed medical supplies and over-the-counter medication, which she planned to put toward providing free basic care and checkups to Nigerians in need. 

In October 2017, Nwaorie's dream was deferred. As was about to board the flight to Nigeria, agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped and viciously questioned her. 

“How many people are you carrying money for?” an agent asked her, Nwaorie told The Washington Post. “How many people are you traveling with?”

“It was like I was a criminal,” she said. “I felt so humiliated, so petrified, too. They were talking among themselves, saying how this is how people smuggle money out of the country. ‘This is how they do it.’”

The resident of Katy, Texas explained she legally earned the money and she was alone, then proceeded to show her passport, thinking they may have just been skeptical of her legal status.

Despite her explanations, agents took her to a room to search her purse and her luggage. They then confiscated all of her money. Six months later, Customs and Border Protection refused to reimburse her.  

Nwaorie's "crime" was failing to declare the money to Customs before traveling. The agency’s website says “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."

Nwaorie was unaware of this regulation as, presumably, many travellers may be. 

In April, the agency said they would only return her money if she gave up her right to sue the federal government, also known as a “hold-harmless agreement.” Dan Alban, Nwaorie's attorney, says this completely violates her First Amendment right to petition the government for grievances.

And with that, Nwaorie refused to follow suit and proceeded to instead, sue.

“It’s just crazy," said Alban. "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.”

Nwaorie has been traveling to Nigeria to provide free basic medical care to people in her home town, in the state of Imo, every year since 2014. “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.”

A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment for The Post, citing pending litigation, and is refusing to answer general questions about CBP’s hold-harmless agreement policy.

For more on her story, watch the video below.