Organizational Culture Events in “Border-Wide”

October 21, 2021

“In the past two months alone,” Human Rights First reports, “DHS has denied parole requests for many vulnerable asylum seekers, including a Honduran lesbian couple who were raped by Mexican police, a Honduran family with a seven-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy, a homeless Haitian asylum seeker living with HIV, and Mexican LGBTQ+ asylum seekers who were sexually assaulted and beaten in Mexico. Even when CBP officers at ports of entry have granted urgent requests for humanitarian parole, this has often come only after complaints to DHS headquarters – and officers have still refused to parole accompanying family members, leading to family separations.”

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 Asylum, Family Separation, Inappropriate Deportation

Accountability Status: No steps taken

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 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

August 2021

In August 2021, DHS expelled Cynthia, a 21-year-old pregnant Honduran woman to Mexico, without providing her water or medical attention after she had begged for something to drink and to see a doctor for stomach pain.

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 Asylum, Denial of Food or Water, Denial of Medical Care

Accountability Status: Unknown

August 12, 2021

A Cameroonian asylum-seeker is suing the US government for an alleged assault by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officers, who he said knelt on his neck and suffocated him to try to force him to accept his own deportation.

In a filed on Thursday, Acheleke Fuanya said the alleged attack, at a Louisiana prison in January, has left him with persistent back and waist pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder. He also claims lingering Covid symptoms after the alleged incident in which he says the Ice officers were unmasked in violation of official regulations.

“The officers surrounded Mr Fuanya, tripped him to the ground, and kneeled on his neck, and pulled his head forward in order to suffocate him,” the complaint says. “Other officers yanked his arms and twisted his leg and ankle. Even after Mr Fuanya pleaded with the officers to get off of him because he could not breathe, they continued to choke him until they grabbed his fingers and forcibly fingerprinted him.”

The Ice officers were trying to make him sign a document and appeared to take his fingerprint by force as a substitute for a signature. The exact contents of the document are unknown but in other cases Ice officers have allegedly try to force asylum-seekers to sign waivers of their asylum rights or requests to their home governments for travel documents, which would put a veneer of legality on their deportations.

Source: The Guardian, “Cameroonian asylum-seeker sues US for alleged assault by Ice officers”, August 2021. <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/aug/12/cameroonian-asylum-seeker-sues-us-for-alleged-assault-by-ice-officers>

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): ICE

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

Accountability Status: Lawsuit Filed

August 3, 2021

On August 3, 2021, two individuals were killed and eight were injured as a result of a vehicle pursuit by Border Patrol near Border Patrol’s permanent interior checkpoint on New Mexico State Road 185. Details of the events surrounding the crash are only available via CBP’s own press release, which the agency did not issue until August 17, 2021, fourteen days after the incident. CBP’s statement initially reported only one death and did not include information about the U.S. citizen who died as a result of the vehicle pursuit and crash.

Early in the morning of August 3, 2021, a Border Patrol agent assigned to the Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S. Border Patrol Station was reportedly patrolling New Mexico State Road 185 approximately six miles south of the Border Patrol checkpoint, which is located approximately 69 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. According to CBP, the agent witnessed a northbound vehicle pull to the side of the road and then proceed north. The Border Patrol agent reportedly followed the vehicle without activating his emergency equipment. The vehicle reportedly evaded the Border Patrol checkpoint by driving onto the southbound lanes of New Mexico State Road 185 and then continued north, at which time the Border Patrol agent activated his emergency equipment and attempted to stop the vehicle. Another Border Patrol unit also reportedly pursued the vehicle. Approximately three miles north of the Border Patrol checkpoint, the vehicle crashed. Several occupants were ejected from the vehicle. The agency’s statement simply claims “the driver lost control and crashed,” but does not indicate the location or conduct of Border Patrol
agents’ vehicles immediately preceding the crash.

Source: ACLU Texas, “ACLU demands Customs and Border Protection investigate recent deadly vehicle pursuit, release vehicle pursuit policy”, August 2021. <https://www.aclutx.org/en/press-releases/aclu-demands-customs-and-border-protection-investigate-recent-deadly-vehicle-pursuit>

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Disregard to Public Health, Weak Oversight

Accountability Status: No steps taken

July 23, 2021

“ICE continues to fail to take necessary public health measures, including releasing qualified individuals, and
therefore Arizona immigration detention centers remain hotbeds for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Migrants continue to raise concerns about their inability to socially isolate, lack of access to PPE and
cleaning materials (including soap), and lack of access to nutritious meals. Those who are in medical
isolation complain they are only allowed out of their cell for 20 minutes a day and often are forced to choose
between showering and calling legal service providers.

Migrants’ access to mail and the library has impacted their ability to defend their own cases pro se, in
particular with looming, inflexible deadlines in front of the BIA. Hearings in immigration court remain
unpredictable and susceptible to last minute cancellation due to the pandemic. Defense attorneys are often
not notified until the last moment or during hearings that their clients will not be able to attend.

On April 20, 2020, a Federal District Court granted a nationwide injunction requiring ICE to make speedy
custody redeterminations for detained individuals whose specific medical conditions put them at higher risk
of suffering severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19. In Arizona detention centers, ICE has not only
failed to proactively release many of these individuals but has also failed to respond to humanitarian parole
requests submitted on their behalf. For example, numerous medically vulnerable Florence Project clients
have submitted humanitarian parole requests which, in some cases after months, still have not been
responded to. In the interim, some of these individuals have contracted COVID-19.”

Source: Kino Border Initiative, “July 23 Update From KBI”, July 2021.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): ICE

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Disregard to Public Health, Weak Oversight

Accountability Status: Complaint filed with CRCL

July 22, 2021

“At least five different migrants arriving at our Migrant Aid Center in the last two weeks shared that BP agents have
adopted a manipulative strategy to avoid providing medical attention to migrants in their custody. Officers tell
migrants at one processing center that they will receive medical attention at the next processing center. When
migrants arrive at the next center, agents there tell them the same thing, and the migrants are instead expelled to
Mexico without ever having received medical attention.”

Source: Kino Border Initiative, “July 22 Update From KBI”, July 2021.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Asylum, Denial of Medical Care, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Accountability Status: No steps taken

June 10, 2021

“A woman from Mexico and her four children, one of whom is a U.S. citizen, presented themselves at the port
of entry and asked for asylum. The officers present informed them that they had to come to KBI to be
granted asylum, when an NGO clearly has no such authority. Unbelievably, this is only one of multiple
instances in which US authorities have told asylum seekers to come to KBI for asylum.”

Source: Kino Border Initiative, “June 10 Update From KBI”, June 2021.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Accountability Status: No steps taken

November 18, 2020

US government officials admitted in federal court Tuesday that they violated a judge’s order when 32 unaccompanied immigrant children were expelled back to Guatemala, adding that they will begin the process of getting the group back to apply for asylum.

The offer to return the group to the US is a dramatic turn in a monthslong saga over the Nov. 18 flight to Guatemala, which occurred shortly after US Judge Emmet Sullivan blocked the Trump administration from turning back unaccompanied children under the argument that it would protect against further spread of COVID-19. Roughly 10 minutes later, at 10:12 a.m. ET, ICE officials deported the children.

An ICE deportation official, Evan Katz, confirmed in the filing that the agency had sought Guatemalan approval to return most of the children to the US, many of whom reboarded the plane as part of the process. Katz told the court that an ICE assistant attaché in Guatemala received an email from an agency colleague that afternoon stating: “The single minors have disembarked however they want the kids to be returned to the US.”

Of the 32 children, 28 boarded the plane again at about 4:55 p.m. ET on Nov. 18 because the remaining four had tested positive for COVID-19 and were taken to be quarantined, one of the government filings states. But a few minutes later, the children were taken off the plane.

Source: Buzzfeed News, “US Officials Admitted They Violated A Court Order When They Expelled 32 Immigrant Children To Guatemala”, January 2021. <https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/hamedaleaziz/us-officials-violated-court-order-immigrant-children>

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): ICE

Event Type(s): Inappropriate Deportation

Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

November 5, 2020

On August 2, 2021, the Boston College Civil Rights Clinic and Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on behalf of Neisa Ortega and her 14-year-old daughter. On multiple occasions over the course of a year, Ms. Ortega and her daughter were separated for hours without explanation and Ms. Ortega subjected to repeated invasive body searches and sexual violations at the hands of CBP officers while travelling through Logan Airport in Boston.

The complaint alleges that CBP subjected Ms. Ortega to illegal and unconstitutional treatment upon her returns from family visits to the Dominican Republic. Beginning in April 2019, CBP officers assaulted, degraded, and humiliated Ms. Ortega on three separate occasions through invasive body cavity searches that contravened CBP’s internal guidelines prohibiting officers from conducting vaginal cavity searches. During these body cavity searches, CBP officers separated Ms. Ortega from her daughter for hours, during which time neither was given information as to the other’s whereabouts. Ms. Ortega and her daughter have been traumatized by their separation from each other, and Ms. Ortega still lives with the trauma of being physically abused and sexually violated. 

On November 5, 2020, Ms. Ortega filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL); CRCL summarily closed the complaint on March 30, 2021. On January 19, 2021, Ms. Ortega filed an administrative claim with CBP on behalf of herself and her daughter under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA); CBP likewise denied the claim in full on June 17, 2021. Having exhausted administrative remedies under the FTCA, Ms. Ortega filed this lawsuit claiming Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as compensatory relief pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) and the FTCA.

Source: Hold CBP Accountable, “Ortega, et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection”, August 2021. <https://holdcbpaccountable.org/2021/08/27/ortega-et-al-v-u-s-customs-and-border-protection/>

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Family Separation, Sexual Assault

Accountability Status:

October 30, 2020

Over 200 children from countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have been forced into Mexico after trying to cross into the U.S. in the last eight months, according to the New York Times, where they were placed with welfare authorities and into shelters operated by religious groups and private organizations.

According to U.S. policy and an agreement with the Mexican government, only Mexican children and children with adult supervision can be pushed back into Mexico after trying to cross the border, the report saidothers are supposed to be flown back to their home countries by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Trump administration in March began turning migrants and asylum seekers who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally instead of moving them into detention centers, a policy the administration had sought in the past that was blocked by federal courts, saying the policy change was necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  

An email from U.S. Border Patrol’s assistant chief, Eduardo Sanchez, obtained by the Times, confirmed that unaccompanied children had been sent back into Mexico instead of being flown to their home countries, and acting commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection agency Mark Morgan acknowledged that expelling unaccompanied non-Mexican children to Mexico was against U.S. policy.

Source: Forbes, “Migrant Children Sent To Mexico Alone, Against U.S. Policy”, October 2020. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielcassady/2020/10/30/migrant-children-sent-to-mexico-alone-against-us-policy/?sh=f863eb43b645>

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): ICE

Event Type(s): Inappropriate Deportation

Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

August 19, 2020

A Central American man was extrajudicially deported by ICE before having his scheduled day in immigration court. His illegal expulsion happened during an action that sent scores of detainees from Louisiana to Guatemala on an airplane, after they had tested positive for the coronavirus while in ICE detention, but later were deemed virus-free. The Intercept confirmed that one person was illegally deported in this manner, but there may have been more victims.

On August 19, Cesar Marroquín was put on a packed flight to Guatemala after spending five months in detention, waiting to pursue a claim for asylum and for protection against torture in his home country. By law, ICE cannot deport someone unless an immigration judge first orders their removal; ICE merely carries out the judges’ decisions. But before a judge could rule on whether or not Marroquín should be deported, ICE contravened the court’s authority and expelled him.

ICE has admitted to The Intercept that the expulsion was improper. In an emailed statement, agency spokesperson Bryan Cox said that Marroquín’s deportation resulted from an “administrative error” that is “exceedingly rare.” Cox did not respond when asked if other immigrants on the plane in addition to Marroquín were illegally deported.

Source: The Intercept, “ICE Admits Wrongful Deportation of Guatemalan Man”, October 2020. <https://theintercept.com/2020/10/07/ice-wrongful-deportation-guatemala/>

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): ICE

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

Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

August 7, 2020

NBC News reports:

“The sidelining by the Trump appointees [Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli] is felt acutely in the agency’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, or CRCL, where employees hired to field complaints about DHS and review new policies believe they are not being heard, said the two current [DHS] officials, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.

“In recent months, CRCL has raised concerns about the development of a new use-of-force policy for Customs and Border Protection, the two current officials said, including concerns about the use of chemical deterrents against people trying to damage the wall on the southern U.S. border. But after raising those concerns, the office has yet to hear back on whether agents will be allowed to use chemicals to deter people trying to damage the wall.

“According to recent reports, Cuccinelli removed CRCL from its usual role of reviewing the reports from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the office recently accused of collecting intelligence on journalists covering the protests in Portland, Oregon.”

Source: Julia Ainsley and Laura Strickler, “DHS staffers say Trump appointees Wolf, Cuccinelli ignoring input on protests, immigration policy” (NBC News, August 7, 2020) <https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/dhs-staffers-say-trump-appointees-wolf-cuccinelli-ignoring-input-protests-n1236040>

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Crowd Control, Use of Force, Weak Oversight

Accountability Status: No steps taken

January 22, 2020

The following cases and patterns of persistent toxic behavior are from a January 22, 2020 complaint about abuse and mistreatment of detained pregnant people filed by the ACLU to CRCL and DHS OIG.

“CBP agents mistreated detained pregnant people and held them in inhumane conditions. The complaint includes the detailed accounts of four women who were mistreated, abused, and/or neglected by CBP while detained.”

“Border Patrol stations lacked bedding, showers, and staff trained to interact with or assist traumatized or otherwise vulnerable populations, include pregnant people who are at risk of dire health outcomes (including miscarriages and stillbirths).”

“A woman reported that, during her initial processing, a Border Patrol agent subjected her to excessive force. The agent, apparently infuriated that she and her  friend were speaking to each other while awaiting processing, forcibly grabbed  her by the arm and took her out of her seat. The agent then grabbed her by the shoulders from behind and slammed her face-first against a chain link fence three  times. She attempted to shield her protruding stomach from the fence—crying out  “You’re hurting me! I’m pregnant!”—yet the agent continued to throw her against  the fence.”

“Another woman reported that the food she received was spoiled and served cold;  she could not bring herself to eat it. She feared the water was not potable because the water supply was connected to (and on top of) the toilet in her cell. She was not provided with any hygiene products (toothbrush, toothpaste, sanitary pads).  Taken into custody in wet and mud-covered clothing, she was neither permitted a change of clothing nor provided a chance to shower for the duration of her detention.”

“Additional information obtained from a FOIA request filed by the ACLU National Prison Project… The ACLU received a CRCL spreadsheet which included 42 additional cases involving CBP’s mistreatment of pregnant persons. Reported conduct ranges from verbal abuse to physical assault to failed provision of medical care.

“On April 10, 2019, CRCL received a CBP Info Center referral regarding alleged CBP misconduct towards a family, including a pregnant mother, at the Ambassador Bridge port of entry in Detroit, Michigan. The complaint alleges that  15 CBP officers surrounded their vehicle and groped the pregnant woman and her  15- month-old child in their genital areas during a search of the family and  vehicle. The father described the officers as racist, unprofessional, and inadequately trained.”

Source: Shaw Drake and Jonathan Blazer, ACLU, Letter to DHS Secretary Mayorkas, “Re: Unresolved Complaints of CBP Misconduct Require Immediate Attention and Accountability,” March 3, 2021.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Food or Water, Denial of Medical Care, Gender-based Violence, Use of Force

Accountability Status: Complaint filed with CRCL, Shared with DHS OIG