4 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the accountability status is “Cleared by DHS OIG”

November 2022

In November 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted unannounced inspections of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities. OIG personnel inspected two facilities of Border Patrol’s El Paso sector and one CBP Office of Field Operations port of entry. On September 15th, 2023, OIG published a 40-page report of its findings. 

The visits took place at a time of heavy migration to the El Paso sector. At the time of the inspection, Border Patrol had 1,903 people in custody at its El Paso processing center (M-CPC). Inspectors interviewed a random sample of 10 percent of those being held.

The inspection broadly revealed that the Border Patrol facilities met Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS) standards to provide basic amenities including drinking water, meals, access to toilets, hygienic supplies, and bedding. 

However, CBP was out of compliance with detention time requirements, as well as the provision of regularly scheduled meals and showers. More than half of those surveyed were held in CBP custody for more than the 72 hours required in non-emergency circumstances.

TEDS standards require facilities to provide showers to juveniles at most every 48 hours and to adults at most every 72 hours while in CBP custody. While detainees were provided with showers during intake, they were not provided with showers every 48 or 72 hours thereafter. Detainees were also not given hygienic materials like toothpaste and toothbrushes. According to a CBP official, the facility faced limited shower capacity, insufficient staffing, and overcrowding that prevented officers from providing these required showers and supplies. 

The inspection also revealed data integrity issues in Border Patrol’s electronic records system, E3. During an inspection of a sample of twenty custody logs, OIG found gaps in entries of when meals, blankets, and hygiene items were provided. When attempting to locate a detainee for interviews, CBP officials were unable to locate the person due to E3 discrepancies.

In a February 2023 follow-up visit, at a time when the El Paso sector was receiving far fewer migrants, OIG inspected the facility once again and considered all of its recommendations resolved.

—“Results of Unannounced Inspections of CBP Holding Facilities in the El Paso Area” (Washington: DHS Office of Inspector-General, September 15, 2023) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2023-09/OIG-23-50-Sep23.pdf.

Sector(s): Border Patrol, CBP, El Paso, El Paso Field Office

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Cleared by DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Single Adult

September 20, 2021

Politico revealed the existence of a DHS Inspector-General report, which would not be publicly released until October (original link). The report finds that CBP improperly targeted U.S. advocates and journalists whom the agency believed had some involvement with 2018-19 migrant caravans through Mexico. These individuals were subjected to more intrusive inspections when crossing the border into the United States, and “sensitive information” about them was shared with the Mexican government.

An October 11, 2021 article about the report at ProPublica focused on the Tactical Terrorism Response Teams, secretive CBP intelligence units that are “trained in counterterrorism, not immigration issues.” It found, “[A]t least 51 U.S. citizens were flagged for interrogation-often based on evidence as flimsy as once having ridden in a car across the border with someone suspected of aiding the caravan.” The Tactical Terrorism Response Teams were the subject of a September 4, 2021 investigation by The Intercept, which found that they had detained and interrogated 600,000 travelers at ports of entry between 2017 and 2019.

On January 8, 2022, the DHS Inspector-General published a heavily redacted report focusing on CBP’s revocations of “trusted traveler” status for those singled out as under suspicion (original link). Officers, the report concluded, “did not evaluate unsubstantiated information, and made unsupported conclusions” when they revoked the “trusted” status of two U.S. citizens whom they believed were aiding the 2018-19 migrant caravans.

On January 11, 2022, NBC’s San Diego affiliate spoke to a pastor who was suing because CBP officers, believing she was tied to a caravan, requested that the Mexican government deny her entry.

The intelligence episode was the subject of an August 11, 2022 investigation by Palabra, which cites John Sandweg, the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Obama administration:

“One of the things CBP needs to be careful about is … they have great discretion to conduct warrantless searches at the border,” Sandweg said. “Stories like this can undermine that authority. The courts start believing this isn’t a tool that’s reserved only for those who are high risk travelers or have a criminal history … you start seeing it’s lawyers and journalists who are only doing their jobs who are getting secondaried 12 times, that’s the kind of thing that gets courts to start eroding the authorities CBP relies on today to stop terrorist from entering the country.”

— Daniel Lippman, “Watchdog: CBP improperly targeted Americans as caravans approached border” (Washington: Politico, September 23, 2021) https://www.politico.com/news/2021/09/23/cbp-americans-caravans-border-513829.

CBP Targeted Americans Associated with the 2018–2019 Migrant Caravan, OIG-21-62 (Washington: DHS Office of the Inspector-General, September 20, 2021) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2021-09/OIG-21-62-Sep21.pdf.

— Dara Lind, “A Secretive Counterterrorism Team Interrogated Dozens of Citizens at the Border, Government Report Finds” (Washington: ProPublica, October 11, 2021) https://www.propublica.org/article/a-secretive-counterterrorism-team-interrogated-dozens-of-citizens-at-the-border-government-report-finds.

Trusted Traveler Revocations for Americans Associated with the 2018-2019 Migrant Caravan, OIG-22-13 (Washington: DHS Office of the Inspector-General, January 8, 2022) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-01/OIG-22-13-Jan22-Redacted.pdf.

— Meredith Royster, Tom Jones, Mari Payton, Alexis Rivas, “CBP Officer Who Asked Mexico to Deny Entry to Some US Citizens Speaks Under Oath” (San Diego: NBC 7 San Diego, January 11, 2022) https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/investigations/cbp-officer-who-asked-mexico-to-deny-entry-to-some-us-citizens-speaks-under-oath/2835644/.

— Jason Buch, “Bad Intelligence” (Palabra, August 11, 2022) https://www.palabranahj.org/archive/bad-intelligence.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, Tactical Terrorism Response Teams

Event Type(s): Intimidation of Humanitarian Workers, Misuse of Intelligence Capability

Last Known Accountability Status: Cleared by DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Advocate or Humanitarian Worker, Journalist, U.S. Citizen or Resident

January 27, 2021

Relatives of Anastasio Hernández Rojas filed a brief before the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, contending that Border Patrol covered up, and improperly interfered with the investigation of, agents’ role in Hernández’s 2010 death. Video showed numerous Border Patrol agents and CBP officers beating and tasing a hogtied and handcuffed Hernández to death.

The brief contended that the acting deputy chief patrol agent in Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector at the time, Rodney Scott, signed a potentially illegal subpoena to obtain Hernández’s autopsy. (Scott went on to be Border Patrol chief from 2020 to 2021.) It argued that David Aguilar, then the commissioner of CBP, also argued that the use of force against Hernández was justified. It cited John Edward Dupuy, DHS’s assistant inspector general for investigations from 2012 to 2015, who called the DHS Inspector-General’s role “an example of a pattern of dereliction of duty that I observed from the DHS OIG Office of Investigation San Diego field office in investigations involving allegations of use of force by federal agents.”

“The affidavits show that the Border Patrol’s ability to cover its tracks in use-of-force cases, including killings, was built into the agency’s structure,” read an overview published on February 4, 2021 by the Intercept.

— Roxanna Altholtz, Andrea Guerrero, “Additional Observations on Merits” (San Diego: International Human Rights Law Clinic, University of California, Berkeley School of Law and Alliance San Diego, January 27, 2021) https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/alliancesandiego/pages/3138/attachments/original/1612382784/210127_Additional_Observations_on_Merits_Case_14042.pdf?1612382784.

— “Death on the Border: Shocking Video Shows Mexican Immigrant Beaten and Tased by Border Patrol Agents” (United States: Democracy Now! April 24, 2012) https://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/24/death_on_the_border_shocking_video.

— Ryan Devereaux, “Border Patrol Beat an Immigrant to Death and Then Covered It Up” (United States: The Intercept, February 4, 2021) https://theintercept.com/2021/02/04/border-patrol-killing-impunity-iachr/.

Sector(s): San Diego, San Diego Field Office

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Before Inter-American Human Rights System, Cleared by DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

February 16, 2020

A Guatemalan woman and her family said that, while being processed in the Chula Vista Border Patrol station near San Diego, she was left to give birth “while standing up, holding on to the side of a trash can,” BuzzFeed reported. The woman, pregnant and experiencing contractions, had repeatedly asked the agents for help. “She was repeatedly told to sit down and wait to be processed, she said. …After about 30 minutes, her husband could hear the baby crying through the fabric of her pants.”

The family—father, mother, and two small children—had been sent to Tijuana in May 2019 under the Remain in Mexico program, where they had “spent nine months in a camp” and reported to the port of entry to attend three separate immigration hearings. Their next hearing was scheduled for May 2020; in February the family reported that their Guatemalan persecutors had found them in Tijuana and were threatening them, leading them to cross the border outside the port of entry.

While crossing the desert, the woman went into contractions. “They were soon apprehended by a Border Patrol agent,” BuzzFeed reports.

The woman was in clear distress, and her husband begged the agent for medical attention, the complaint says, but instead the agent loaded the family into his car and giving them a “rough ride” (an abusive practice in which some border agents reportedly purposefully drive badly so as to fling detainees around the car), the complaint says, and brought them to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station for processing.

“The apprehending agent could visibly see that the woman was pregnant; however, the mother did not appear to be in distress and did not request any medical attention,” read a release from CBP (original link). In April 2020, the ACLU and Jewish Family Service submitted a complaint to the DHS Inspector-General (original link). Thirteen Democratic senators signed a letter to the Inspector-General calling for investigations of this and other recent allegations of mistreatment in custody (original link).

Border Patrol San Diego Sector Chief Aaron Heitke tweeted, “CBP strongly disagrees with the unsubstantiated allegations against our agents & supports what appear to be nothing short of heroic actions by those on scene” (original link).

A July 2021 DHS Inspector General report found that the woman gave birth 17 minutes after arriving at the Border Patrol Station, concluding, “we found Border Patrol provided adequate medical assistance to the mother and her newborn and complied with applicable policies” (original link). The report did find that, after the woman’s release from the hospital, video footage showed her left to sleep overnight with her newborn on a bench in a holding cell at the Chula Vista station.

— Ema O’Connor, “A Woman Gave Birth In A Border Patrol Station Still Wearing Her Pants. Now The Agents Involved Are Being Accused Of Abuse.” (United States: BuzzFeed, April 8, 2020) https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/emaoconnor/pregnant-woman-birth-border-patrol-aclu-complaint.

—” Migrant Mother Gives Birth at Border Patrol Station” (Chula Vista, California: Customs and Border Protection, February 19, 2020) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/local-media-release/migrant-mother-gives-birth-border-patrol-station.

— Monica Y. Langarica, Kate Clark, Dr. Kay Daniels, “U.S. Border Patrol’s Abuse and Mistreatment of [Redacted]” (San Diego: ACLU San Diego and Imperial Counties and Jewish Family Service, April 8, 2020) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6827805-2020-04-07-OIG-Cmplt-Final-Redacted.html.

Letter from 13 Democratic Senators to DHS Inspector-General (Washington: U.S. Senate, April 8, 2020) https://www.blumenthal.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2020.04.08%20DHS%20OIG%20Letter%20re%20CBP%20Mistreating%20Pregnant%20Detainees.pdf.

— “Review of the February 16, 2020 Childbirth at the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station” (Washington: DHS Office of the Inspector-General, July 20, 2021) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2021-07/OIG-21-49-Jul21.pdf.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Rough Rides

Last Known Accountability Status: Cleared by DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Guatemala, Pregnancy