8 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in July 2023

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

End of July 2023

Newsite Government Executive reported that the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General Joseph Cuffari agreed to pay a former official $1.17 million in a settlement agreement after allegedly firing her in retaliation for her whistleblower claims.  

Jennifer Costello is a former deputy who worked for the Department of Homeland Security under Inspector General Joseph Cuffari. When Costello discovered that Cufarri had delayed a report into the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the southern border, Costello brought forth complaints to Congress and the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency in 2019. 

Then, Cuffari launched a third-party investigation into Costello and two of her colleagues, resulting in a $1.4 million cost. The investigation concluded that she had engaged in divisive and unprofessional behavior, which Costello argued was a “farce” launched in retaliation for her claims. She was fired in June 2020. 

According to the official settlement, the Inspector General’s Office did not admit to any guilt or wrongdoing. Instead, Costello’s firing was overturned, and she is now formally listed as an employee who resigned from the DHS. Cufarri continues to push back against allegations that he is an ‘unethical’ employee. He launched a lawsuit against the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency for investigating the IG’s office. This lawsuit was dismissed on November 2nd, 2023 after a judge deemed Cufarri failed to prove that the Council’s investigation was harassment. Despite the investigation, he continues to serve as the Inspector General for the DHS.

Katz, Eric. “DHS Inspector General Pays $1.2M Settlement to Former Deputy.” Government Executive, July 27, 2023. https://www.govexec.com/management/2023/07/dhs-inspector-general-pays-12m-settlement-former-deputy/388892/.

Sector(s):

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Civil Liberties or Privacy Infringement, Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Under DHS Review

Victim Classification: Advocate or Humanitarian Worker

July 30, 2023

Ronaldo Alvarado, a 25-year-old, off-duty Border Patrol agent, died of gunshot wounds to his head after a confrontation with local police in Brownsville, Texas.

Police responded to a civilian call, reporting that Alvarado, later identified by authorities, was armed, “highly intoxicated”, and “being extremely aggressive.” Police located his vehicle and attempted to pull him over, when Alvarado reportedly began shooting at the police from his vehicle and tried driving away from the scene.

An officer responded by firing back at Alvarado, causing him to slowly drive onto a private parking lot before crashing into a fence four blocks away. Officers found Alvarado “slumped over with an apparent wound to his head.” The responding officer broke through Alvarado’s window to provide emergency medical attention and found Alvarado’s weapon beside him. There is an ongoing investigation into the shooting.

— Morales, Mia. “MPD: Border Patrol Agent Dies from Gunshot after Officer-Involved Shooting.” ValleyCentral.com, August 1, 2023. https://www.valleycentral.com/news/local-news/mpd-man-leads-police-chase-recovering-after-gunshot-wound/.

— MyRGV.com. “Border Patrol Agent Involved in McAllen Police Shooting Dies,” July 31, 2023. https://myrgv.com/local-news/2023/07/31/border-patrol-agent-involved-in-mcallen-police-shooting-dies/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: Under Local Police investigation

Victim Classification:

July, 2023

Among cases cited in a July 2023 Human Rights First report was that of a Haitian asylum-seeking man to whom CBP officers denied access to emergency medical care, while harassing the humanitarian worker accompanying him.

Even during the Title 42 period, it was customary to be granted access to the Reynosa port of entry for medical emergencies requiring an ambulance. The humanitarian worker, however, was told by CBP officers at the limit line, “This isn’t our problem. If you want, you can bring him to wait in line.” At this time, other vulnerable individuals waiting to access the port of entry without an appointment were being forced to wait for over 72 hours in extreme heat. “If I bring him to wait in this line without medical care, he will die,” the humanitarian worker told CBP officers.

After advocacy by another local humanitarian worker, the ambulance transporting the critical case was approved to cross. Yet upon arrival at the port with the ambulance, the humanitarian worker and the Haitian man were harassed by CBP: “It’s you again?” the CBP officer greeted the humanitarian worker who tried to explain the situation but was silenced. A CBP nurse said, “You call this an emergency?” and removed the Haitian man’s oxygen tubes and ordered him to stand up, lowering him from the bed and off the ambulance. A CBP supervisor refused to provide the Haitian man with a wheelchair and instead forced him to walk and to carry his luggage, prohibiting the humanitarian worker from carrying it for him. The CBP supervisor accepted the man for processing and ordered the local humanitarian worker to leave, threatening her and saying she was prohibited from return:

“You’re already in trouble, so if you don’t want to have more problems, leave. You are no longer allowed in this area.”

— Asencio, Christina, Eleanor Acer, and Rebecca Gendelman. “Refugee Protection Travesty.” New York: Human Rights First, July 12, 2023. https://humanrightsfirst.org/library/refugee-protection-travesty/.

Sector(s): Laredo Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Denial of Medical Care, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Intimidation of Humanitarian Workers

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Advocate or Humanitarian Worker, Haiti, Medical Condition, Single Adult

July 2023

In 2022, President Joe Biden signed an executive order commanding federal law enforcement agencies to update their policies on use of force. In February, DHS updated its use-of-force policy to comply with the order. This updated policy limited the use of no-knock entries, required more frequent training for officers and staff, and banned the use of chokeholds unless deadly force was absolutely necessary. 

During April 2022 to July 2023, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) audited four DHS agencies, Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Protective Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service, in order to survey their compliance with the policy.

In a report, GAO found that  DHS consistently under-reported use of force incidents. For example, in a situation where use of force is used multiple times, DHS only reports it as one count of force, rather than counting each individual incident. In one case involving the Federal Protective Service, the FPS “counted 27 separate use of forces across 15 reports as a single incident”.


After the report’s finding, GAO made two recommendations to  DHS. First, it called on the agency to create a guide on how its agencies should submit data for incidents where force is used multiple times. Secondly, it recommended that the secretary of DHS create and execute a plan in order to analyze the data submitted by the agency.  

In July, DHS agreed to follow the office’s recommendations, stating it would create a plan to analyze data by the end of 2023, issue guidance on its reporting by the beginning of 2024, and fully complete the data analysis on the use-of-force by 2025.

“Law Enforcement: DHS Should Strengthen Use of Force Data Collection and Analysis.” Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 24, 2023. https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-23-105927.
Lacy, Akela. “Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Routinely Undercount Use-of-Force Incidents.” The Intercept, July 27, 2023. https://theintercept.com/2023/07/27/dhs-use-of-force/.

Sector(s): CBP

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight

Last Known Accountability Status: Under GAO Investigation

Victim Classification:

Mid-July 2023

According to The Intercept, dozens of migrants arriving at the border were being detained outside, amid a record-setting heatwave in Arizona. Two hours west of Tucson, the Ajo Border Patrol Station received an influx of migrants over the course of the week, roughly beginning on July 16th. While the station can process a couple hundred people a day, The Intercept reported that over 1,000 people had been turning themselves in at the border wall.

Although migrants were being detained outside, Border Patrol officials claimed the outside area was only being used for men, and that migrants had access to meals, water, and a large fan. They confirmed that once these migrants were screened, they were transported to other locations for processing. According to CNN’s report, Border Patrol claimed zero migrants had died in their custody since the beginning of the heat wave, despite the influx of arrivals. 

However, The Intercept revealed that officials refused to answer questions regarding how long people were being kept outside, whether or not children were being detained outside, or if the people detained outside were given emergency medical care. Intercept’s report also states that there was not a canopy above the outside area as Border Patrol agents claimed. 
As the heat worsened, many advocates worried about the safety of the migrants One official stated that by failing to provide resources such as proper heating or cooling equipment, it is essentially impossible for agents to abide by regulations of humane treatment. When interviewing agents anonymously for their report, many officials revealed that they were unaware of who signed off for migrants to be held outside. Some agents believed the treatment was “what they get for coming here illegally”, other agents were appalled at the conditions of the outdoor holding pen, and had liability concerns.

Weisfeldt, Sara, and Rosa Flores. “US Customs and Border Protection Sends Resources to Remote Arizona Area after Increase in Migrant Crossings.” CNN, August 5, 2023. https://www.cnn.com/2023/08/05/us/arizona-border-crossing-migrants/index.html.
Sullivan, Eileen. “This Agency Was Created With a Terrorism Focus. Now It Also Has to Care for Migrants.” The New York Times, July 13, 2023, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/13/us/politics/cbp-border-migrants-immigration-el-paso.html.
Devereaux, Ryan. “Border Patrol Violating Court Order Against Inhumane Treatment of Migrants, Officials Say.” The Intercept, August 28, 2023. https://theintercept.com/2023/08/28/border-migrants-arizona-cages/.
Devereaux, Ryan. “Border Patrol Is Caging Migrants Outdoors During Deadly Arizona Heatwave.” The Intercept, July 21, 2023. https://theintercept.com/2023/07/21/arizona-heatwave-border-patrol-migrants/.
Bosque, Melissa del. “Ajo Residents, Activists Protest Inhumane Conditions for Asylum Seekers.” The Border Chronicle, February 23, 2023. https://www.theborderchronicle.com/p/ajo-residents-activists-protest-inhumane.

Sector(s): Border Patrol, Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Single Adult

July 2023

Following a December 2022 investigation by the Project on Government Oversight and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which found more than 300 members of the “Oath Keepers” far-right militia group “described themselves as current or former employees” of DHS, Sen Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Representatives Dan Goldman (D-New York) and Robert Garcia (D-California) led a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, signed by 66 members of Congress, “requesting an update on actions the Department has taken to address the threat of domestic violent extremism within the DHS.” The letter cites various incidents of collaboration with vigilante groups or approval of them from federal agents. 

As cited by The New York Times, Rep. Daniel S. Goldman (D-N.Y.) said in an interview, “There’s real urgency here.” Goldman said DHS’s acknowledgment that there were gaps in identifying extremist employees “creates real security issues and real credibility issues for the department, especially in light of the Oath Keepers’ role in January 6th and the convictions for seditious conspiracy.”

The letters gave Mayorkas a July 31 deadline to address 20 questions. Secretary Mayorkas has yet to respond.

—Jackman, Tom. “Democrats Press Homeland Security on Domestic Extremism in Workforce.” Washington Post, July 17, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2023/07/17/domestic-terrorism-homeland-security-extremism-oathkeepers/.
—Markey, Edward. “Markey, Garcia, Goldman Lead Call for Update on Investigation Into Domestic Terrorism Threat Within the Department of Homeland Security | U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.” U.S. Senate, July 17, 2023. https://www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/markey-garcia-goldman-lead-call-for-update-on-investigation-into-domestic-terrorism-threat-within-the-department-of-homeland-security.
—Schwellenback, Nick. “Hundreds of Oath Keepers Have Worked for DHS, Leaked List Shows.” Project On Government Oversight, December 12, 2022. https://www.pogo.org/investigation/2022/12/hundreds-of-oath-keepers-have-worked-for-dhs-leaked-list-shows.

Sector(s): Border Patrol, Border-Wide, CBP

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS

Event Type(s): Vigilantism Tolerance or Collaboration

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

July 12, 2023

In a Human Rights First report published on July 12, 2023, they described a case of  Mexican immigration officers blocking a Haitian minor who was pregnant from seeking asylum at the Matamoros port of entry. Humanitarian workers escorted the girl to the port of entry. Border Patrol officers told the humanitarian workers, “Sweetheart, we’re not going to take her.” The humanitarian workers responded by contacting U.S. officials by phone and were able to advocate for the migrant’s processing.

Asencio, Christina, Eleanor Acer, and Rebecca Gendelman. “Refugee Protection Travesty.” New York: Human Rights First, July 12, 2023. https://humanrightsfirst.org/library/refugee-protection-travesty/.

Sector(s): Border Patrol, Outside the United States

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Access to Asylum, Expulsion of Unaccompanied Minor

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Haiti, Teen, Unaccompanied Child

July 3, 2023

A San Diego federal court indicted CBP Officer Leonard Darnell George on charges of “receiving bribes by a public official and two charges for conspiracy to traffic and distribute drugs. Prosecutors allege George allowed vehicles containing stashes of methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine and heroin to enter the U.S. from Mexico.” (Original link)

George was the lead defendant in a seven-person indictment on the drug charges, though he was accused separately of taking bribes and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The indictment alleges that George, known as “The Goalie,” began accepting bribes as early as October 2021 and continued to do so until at least June 2022.

If convicted, George faces a life sentence.

Prosecutors and court records indicated George had prior issues in the workplace including a May 6th incident leading to an administrative leave placement. The incident, according to San Diego Superior Court records, involved George alerting his CBP supervisor of self-harm. The San Diego police consequently detained him on a mental health hold, seized his firearms, and sought a gun violence restraining order that would prohibit him from purchasing firearms. In response to the incident, a CBP spokesperson noted that the agency was prohibited from discussing administrative actions, including discipline, as well as matters under litigation.

A second incident on record involved George and his brother, after one of their frequent trips to Mexico. According to court records and varying accounts, a dispute broke out at the San Ysidro Port of Entry after George said his brother left his wallet at home, and gave the officers a fake name and birth date for him, allegedly due to an arrest warrant for his brother. A verbal altercation broke out and the officers claimed George grew hostile and later threatened and intimidated them. The incident prompted four fellow CBP officers to seek harassment restraining orders against George, according to court records. Three of the four restraining orders were granted.

A third incident on record is from 2018, between the time he was hired to work for CBP and when he actually began his employment, where two of his colleagues filed a complaint with the local police department claiming George “threatened to hurt them”. George denied the incident and sought a restraining order against them. The incident resulted in George being placed on leave for three weeks and the judge denied his restraining order request.

—Green, Emily. “A Border Agent Was Just Charged With Taking Bribes from Cartels to Smuggle Drugs.” Vice, July 6, 2023. https://www.vice.com/en/article/5d9d48/a-border-agent-was-just-charged-with-taking-bribes-to-smuggle-drugs.

—Riggins, Alex. “CBP Officer Charged with Taking Bribes at Border Deemed Flight Risk in Drug Case – The San Diego Union-Tribune.” San Diego Union-Tribune, July 11, 2023. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/courts/story/2023-07-11/cbp-officer-george-detention-hearing.

—United States Department of Justice Southern District of California. “Customs and Border Protection Officer Indicted for Receiving Bribes, Allowing Drug-Laden Vehicles to Enter the U.S.,” July 3, 2023. https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdca/pr/customs-and-border-protection-officer-indicted-receiving-bribes-allowing-drug-laden.

Sector(s): San Diego Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Corruption, Lying or Deliberate Misleading, Threat of Violence

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Pending, Under Judicial Review

Victim Classification: