Organizational Culture Events

Examples of abuses or other behaviors indicating need for reform at U.S. border and migration institutions

September 2021

“In September 2021, at least 12 Haitian asylum seekers who expressed fear of return to Haiti were expelled under Title 42 by U.S. officials without access to the U.S. asylum system or any fear screening, according to their lawyer Mirlande Joachim. DHS withheld information about the whereabouts of Joachim’s clients and told her on multiple occasions that she could not speak with them, at one point instructing her to contact the Haitian consulate to speak her clients, some of whom had fled persecution by Haitian government actors. One Haitian asylum seeker told Joachim that she had informed multiple U.S. government officers in the facility where she was being detained that she was seeking asylum and feared return to Haiti but was completely ignored.”

Source: Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) <https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Denial of Access to Counsel, Denial of Asylum

Accountability Status: Unknown

Late September 2021

“A Haitian mother expelled in late September 2021 begged U.S. officers to remove her handcuffs to enable her to comfort her crying young daughter on the plane ride, according to Blaine Bookey from UC Hastings Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.”

Source: Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) <https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody

Accountability Status: Unknown

September 2021

“Belone Mpembele, an asylum seeker from Angola, was expelled to Haiti by the United States due to its failure to provide access to the U.S asylum system or even screen individuals at the border in its rush to expel Haitians in September 2021.”

Source: Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) <https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks>.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, DHS

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation, Denial of Asylum, Inappropriate Deportation

Accountability Status: Unknown

September 2021

“In September 2021, DHS expelled an asylum-seeking Haitian family to Haiti after holding them for days in a freezing cell without sufficient food. DHS separated the family from an adult brother who had crossed into Del Rio, Texas with them where they had attempted to seek asylum together based on political persecution. The family remains in hiding in Haiti, terrified their persecutors will find them, according to Blaine Bookey from the UC Hastings Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.”

Source: Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) <https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks>.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, DHS

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Asylum, Denial of Food or Water, Family Separation

Accountability Status: Unknown

September 27, 2021

“Laura fled southern Mexico with her two kids, her brother and his family- after her husband was shot by the local mafia. Laura and her family, accompanied by the Bishop, went through the turnstile at the DeConcini port of entry only to be turned away in tears.

“Chelsea Sachau, attorney with the Florence Project, who accompanied the family recounts the event, “The family reasserted their request to be processed and to seek asylum. They asked to speak to someone else [other than the CBP officials], a supervisor, and then the CBP officers entered the building and locked both doors. They tested to make sure that both doors were locked, and then they slowly started lowering the gate to shut down the entire port of entry because this family, accompanied by faith leaders, and a legal observer, asked him for their right to seek asylum.” Laura and her family were forced to step back as the gate lowered onto where they were standing. Sachau continues, “There was no warning given to anyone, neither ourselves or anyone in line who had papers to enter into the US.” The DeConcini port of entry was shut down for about an hour to anyone trying to cross into the U.S.”

“CBP closed port of entry after denying access to migrant family seeking asylum, accompanied by Tucson Bishop Edward Weisenburger” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, September 27, 2021) <https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/press-release-cbp-closed-port-of-entry-after-denying-access-to-migrant-family-seeking-asylum-accompanied-by-tucson-bishop-edward-weisenburger/>

Sector(s): Tucson Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Denial of Asylum

Accountability Status: Unknown

September 27, 2021

“Karla [not real name], another migrant organizer, described her experience being denied asylum three times. She said, “I went to the Tijuana border looking for help and protection asking immigration for asylum. They rejected me, humiliated me, and denied me asylum. I cried together with my children, pleaded with them and asked for their help to be able to request asylum. When they saw me cry, they told me not to because not even with my tears was I going to convince them and that I better step aside because I was in the way. As I cried for help, they laughed at me and my children. I tried to seek asylum in three different ports of entry along the border and I have always been rejected, humiliated. They threatened to call the Mexican authorities on me who also humiliated us.””

“CBP closed port of entry after denying access to migrant family seeking asylum, accompanied by Tucson Bishop Edward Weisenburger” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, September 27, 2021) <https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/press-release-cbp-closed-port-of-entry-after-denying-access-to-migrant-family-seeking-asylum-accompanied-by-tucson-bishop-edward-weisenburger/>

Sector(s): Tucson Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Denial of Asylum

Accountability Status: Unknown

September 21, 2021

“In the past few days, a large number of migrants—primarily Haitian and seeking asylum and other protection in the United States—have crossed into Del Rio, Texas, to await processing by DHS at a processing center located under an international bridge. On September 18, DHS announced a plan to address the increased number of migrants awaiting immigration processing in the area and began removing some Haitians to their home country the following day.[2] The same day, Border Patrol agents mounted on horseback sought to stop Haitian migrants on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande from entering the encampment, charging families and individuals on the river bank and using abusive language against at least one family.[3] Extensive video and photo documentation shows appalling use of force by agents against migrants. For example, one image shows a mounted Border Patrol agent grabbing a man by the shirt has he stands bare foot with his hands full of food.[4] Video footage showed horse mounted agents again engaging migrants on the banks of the river and in one instance nearly trampling a young child.[5] Another video shows a Border Patrol agent on horseback hitting the water near one man with his lariat before knocking the man back into the water with his horse.[6] The man is carrying what appear to be containers of food.

“On September 20, during a press conference U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul L. Ortiz confirmed that Border Patrol Horse Patrol units remain a part of the agency’s “security response.” While Chief Ortiz claimed agents on horseback do not know who coming across the river “are the smugglers and who are the migrants,” videos show mounted agents riding up to families with small children and individuals carrying bags of food. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas went on to claim that long reins seen in footage are used to “ensure control of the horses.”[7]

“…The Constitution prohibits the use of excessive force[12] and requires that use of force by law enforcement be proportional to a threat and escalated only in response to that threat.[13] CBP’s own Use of Force policy also only permits the use of “a reasonable amount of force” when an individual’s entry presents an “imminent threat” to officers, agents, or others.[14]

“Video footage of Border Patrol’s actions in this incident clearly demonstrate that the migrants being encountered by mounted agents did not present an imminent threat. In one video an agent stops a family with small children, makes derogatory and xenophobic comments to the family, and then maneuvers his horse in a way that comes dangerously close to trampling a child.[15] Other footage shows agents wielding lariats and maneuvering their horses in a menacing fashion against individuals carrying food back to the encampment in the United States, traffic across the river the agency was undoubtedly aware of prior to deploying mounted units to the U.S. riverbank.

“In one video, a mounted Border Patrol agent is heard stating “This is why your country’s shit, because you use your women for this!”[16] CBP’s National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (“TEDS”) requires agents to “speak and act with the utmost integrity and professionalism,” “treat all individuals with dignity and respect,” and “perform their duties in a nondiscriminatory manner.”[17] Agents simply did not uphold those standards in this instance.

“Further, DHS policy requires that all agency components–including CBP–“shall have appropriate written policies and procedures regarding the use of authorized control tactics or techniques; authorized less-lethal devices; and necessary training and certifications—both initial and recurring.”[18] Nevertheless, CBP’s Use of Force policy does not include guidelines for the use of mounted horse patrol, despite their potential for causing lethal or non-lethal harm. In fact, Border Patrol’s Horse Patrol Program is consistently described by the agency as necessary for accessing terrain in accessible by vehicles, not as a tool of deterrence or use of force against migrants.[19] CBP’s publicly available policy materials also do not indicate that mounted agents receive crowd control training for a use in the manner seen here.”

[2] DHS Outlines Strategy to Address Increase in Migrants in Del Rio, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Sept. 18, 2021, https://www.dhs.gov/news/2021/09/18/dhs-outlines-strategy-address-increase-migrants-del-rio; Molly Hennessy-Fiske, U.S. begins removing Haitian migrants, but they continue to flock to Texas border, LOS ANGELES TIMES, Sept. 19, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-09-19/haitian-migrants-continue-to-flock-to-texas-border-some-flown-back-to-homeland-by-u-s.
[3] AFP News Agency, @AFP on Twitter, Sept. 19, 2021, 7:30 PM, https://twitter.com/afp/status/1439763779688882180.
[4] Id.
[5] See Daina Beth Solomon and Alberto Fajardo, “Trapped”: Migrants collecting food try to evade law enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border, REUTERS, Sept. 20, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/trapped-migrants-collecting-food-try-evade-law-enforcement-us-mexico-border-2021-09-20/; Al Jazeera English, Haitian migrants undeterred as US begins removal flights, YouTube, Sept. 21, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTFnKJqcPks.
[6] Sawyer Hackett, @SawyerHackett on Twitter, Sept. 20, 2021, 10:25 AM, https://twitter.com/SawyerHackett/status/1439989195871825921?s=20.
[7] NowThis News, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Holds a Press Briefing at U.S.-Mexico Border, YouTube, Sept. 20, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7kF0PUDdfM.
[12] See generally, U.S. Const. Amend. IV and VIII.
[13] Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388, 109 S. Ct. 1865, 1867, 104 L. Ed. 2d 443 (1989); see also Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 3, 105 S. Ct. 1694, 1697, 85 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1985).
[14] See CBP, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION (herein after “CBP”), 4500-002A, CBP Use of Force Policy, Jan. 2021, https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2021-Jul/cbp-use-of-force- policy_4500-002A.pdf at Chap. 3(A)(6), page 13.
[15] Al Jazeera English, Haitian migrants undeterred as US begins removal flights, YouTube, Sept. 21, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTFnKJqcPks.
[16] John Holman, @johnholman100 on Twitter, Sept. 20, 2021, 7:43 AM, https://twitter.com/johnholman100/status/1439948289680363527?s=20.
[17] U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, NAT’L STANDARDS ON TRANSPORT, ESCORT, DETENTION, AND SEARCH, at §§ 1.2 (Integrity and Professionalism) & 1.4 (Non-Discrimination Policy) (Oct. 2015), https://www.cbp.gov/document/directives/cbp-national-standards-transport-escort-detention-and-search.
[18] U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, Department Policy on Use of Force, Policy Statement 044-05, Sept. 7, 2018, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/mgmt/law- enforcement/mgmt-dir_044-05-department-policy-on-the-use-of-force.pdf.
[19] See e.g., U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, What We Do, Last modified: June 21, 2021, https://www.cbp.gov/careers/usbp-what-we-do.

Source: Shaw Drake, Kathryn Huddleston, “Re: U.S. Border Patrol’s use of horses and verbal abuse against migrants in Del Rio, TX” (ACLU, September 21, 2021) <https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/aclu_tx_cbp_oig_letter_re_border_patrol_in_del_rio.pdf>.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Use of Force

Accountability Status: Complaint filed with CRCL, Complaint filed with OPR, Shared with congressional oversight committees, Shared with DHS OIG

September 20, 2021

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection improperly targeted American citizens that the agency suspected were involved with a 2018-19 migrant caravan with intrusive additional inspections, according to a new Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s report.

The inspector general also found that a Customs and Border Protection official asked the Mexican government in December 2018 to block 14 U.S. citizens from entering Mexico as the caravan approached the U.S. border even though it had “no genuine basis” to do so.

The report, dated Sept. 20 but not yet publicly released, documents one instance where CBP officials placed “lookouts” — electronic alerts that lead to more intrusive inspections when crossing the U.S. border — on 15 Americans who had previously crossed the border with or were connected via social media to someone who CBP suspected might be planning violence at the border. But CBP didn’t have any information that those 15 Americans were involved in planning any of the violence or were present at an intrusion into the U.S.

One American crossing the border was referred to additional security scrutiny when crossing the border six times in a single month, the report found. During a second “inspection,” the person was handcuffed to a bench, “possibly for several hours” until officers from the Tactical Terrorism Response Team arrived to conduct an interview. The report said that the lookout was placed to obtain the phone number and information about a different person but that there is no evidence that officers ever sought the information for which the lookout was placed.”

Source: Politico, “Watchdog: Cbp Improperly Targeted Americans as Caravans Approached Border”, September 2021. <https://www.politico.com/news/2021/09/23/cbp-americans-caravans-border-513829>

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG