14 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct involving “Border Patrol” where the event type is “Confiscation of Documents”

October 3, 2022

A coalition of Arizona-based groups led by ACLU Arizona sent a letter to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus, summarized by the Border Chronicle, asking his agency to cease the practice of requiring asylum-seeking migrants to relinquish their personal belongings, which often get discarded.

The letter’s appendix includes numerous examples, from Border Patrol’s Tucson and Yuma sectors, of items taken from migrants. Among them:

  • Turbans confiscated from Sikh asylum seekers, denounced earlier in an August 1 letter from ACLU of Arizona. Through September 2022, the organizations had “documented at least 95 cases in which Arizona Border Patrol agents confiscated and did not replace turbans from members of the Sikh faith.”
  • Prayer rugs that migrants were forced to abandon, “sometimes in dumpsters. One of these individuals had to discard a prayer rug that had been in their family for over a hundred years.”
  • Several cases of rosaries and bibles, including “multi-generational family bibles,” that migrants were forced to deposit in dumpsters.
  • 42 cases of vital medications confiscated and not replaced between November 2021 and September 2022, including “those for HIV, high blood pressure, diabetes (types 1 and 2), and epilepsy. Agents also took migrants’ asthma inhalers and prenatal and hormonal vitamins from women with high-risk pregnancies. Most of the individuals whose medications for high blood pressure and diabetes were confiscated were released to shelter providers with (sometimes extremely) elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels.”
  • “At least 15 separate instances in which elderly individuals were forced by Border Patrol agents in Arizona to abandon medical assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.”
  • Reports, received by a New Mexico shelter provider, that El Paso Border Patrol Sector agents were seizing “critical medications and medical devices, such as epi-pens and inhalers.”
  • In Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector, “The National Butterfly Center (located in Mission, Texas) has found photo identification, birth certificates, and bank account information at its facility or on the perimeter, where migrants are often apprehended. The organization has collected at least ten sets of identification documents in the last year alone. Other advocates who operate in the Rio Grande Valley Sector report finding discarded police reports, medical records, passports, immigration papers, and other documents that could be vital to substantiating an asylum claim.”
  • Between January and October 2022, “A New Mexico shelter provider that receives migrants from El Paso Sector Border Patrol reports that Border Patrol has sometimes confiscated cellphones and either not returned them or returned them in damaged condition.”
  • Between May and September 2022, the Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative “encountered at least 29 cases in which migrants’ cell phones were confiscated by Arizona Border Patrol agents.”
  • In March 2022, the AZ-CA Humanitarian Coalition “encountered several families who were forced by Border Patrol agents to discard their children’s toys and stuffed animals with their children in line-of-sight.”

— Several Arizona Non-Governmental Human Rights Groups. “Letter to CBP Regarding Treatment of Migrants’ Personal Belongings,” October 3, 2022. <https://www.acluaz.org/sites/default/files/2022.10.03_letter_to_cbp_regarding_treatment_of_migrants_personal_belongings.pdf>.

Sector(s): El Paso, Rio Grande Valley, Tucson, Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

Late August, 2022

The Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative reported a case of Border Patrol agents’ non-return of a Mexican migrant’s belongings.

BP apprehended Ronel [name changed to protect privacy] and brought him to Florence, AZ to be detained. BP agents took all of his belongings- his cell phone, money, and legal documents- and did not return them upon his deportation. Ronel was thus stranded in Nogales, Sonora without any identification, money or way to contact his family. 

— “September 1 update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, September 1, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

Late August, 2022

The Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative reported a case of Border Patrol agents’ non-return of a Mexican migrant’s belongings and identification documents.

BP apprehend Brayan [name changed to protect privacy] and confiscated all his personal belongings- $1,800 pesos ($89 USD), a chain with a diamond ring that his father had given to him, a Bible, the keys to his home, his cell phone with all of his contacts, his Mexican IDs, and birth certificate. BP thus deported Brayan to Nogales, Sonora without any of the resources necessary to return home and without the personal items with sentimental value that had helped sustain him in his journey.

— “September 1 update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, September 1, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

Late August, 2022

The Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative reported a case of Border Patrol agents’ non-return and destruction of a Mexican migrant’s belongings and identification documents.

When BP apprehended Samuel [name changed to protect privacy], agents confiscated all his belongings. They took his phone and removed the SIM card and pocketed it, took his wallet that had $300 in it and removed the credit cards and pocketed them as well. They ripped up his birth certificate in front of him.The agents were speaking in English amongst themselves, so he couldn’t understand what they were saying. He was only able to save his Mexican ID because he had previously hid it in his shoe.

— “September 1 update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, September 1, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

Mid-June, 2022

The Nogales, Arizona-based Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported on a Mexican couple whose belongings and medicine were confiscated while in Border Patrol custody.

Humberto [Name changed to protect privacy] together with his wife fled corruption in southern Mexico to migrate to the US and reunite with their US citizen children. …Once they turned themselves in to Border Patrol, the agents took their belongings and threw away their suitcase with clothing and medicine and their wallets. They tried to ask for asylum, but US officials ignored them and expelled them back to Mexico the next day.

— “June 23 Update on Asylum, Border, and Deportations from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, June 23, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Married Adults, Mexico

May 24, 2022

Activist Scott Nicol reported finding five COVID vaccination cards and other personal possessions in a trash pile beside a table Border Patrol agents use to process asylum-seeking migrants alongside the border wall in Hidalgo, Texas. The items, discarded by agents, were the personal belongings of asylum-seeking migrants who regularly turn themselves in at this site.

— ”Scott Nicol @Scott_NicolTX on Twitter” (United States, Twitter, May 24, 2022) https://twitter.com/Scott_NicolTX/status/1529247504717471745.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

May 3, 2022

Activist Scott Nicol reported finding a Nicaraguan birth certificate, a cell phone, and a child’s stuffed animal beside the border wall in Hidalgo, Texas. The items, discarded by Border Patrol agents, were the personal belongings of asylum-seeking migrants who regularly turn themselves in at this site.

That day, the Border Chronicle featured Nicol’s documentation of items he has recovered near the wall in south Texas. “What really got to me were the x-rays I found. They were for a six-year-old boy, and it showed a steel rod in his spine. It was obviously for an asylum claim. Why would anyone part with those?”

— ”Scott Nicol @Scott_NicolTX on Twitter” (United States, Twitter, May 3, 2022) https://twitter.com/scott_nicoltx/status/1521488561165504513.

— Melissa del Bosque, “The Things They Carried: Is the Border Patrol discarding asylum seekers’ documents?” (United States: The Border Chronicle, May 3, 2022) https://www.theborderchronicle.com/p/the-things-they-carried-is-the-border.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Nicaragua

Late March, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about a woman whom Border Patrol expelled to Nogales though she had proof of being raped by her smugglers. The agent, she said, confiscated her medical document:

Border Patrol expelled a young Guatemalan woman to Nogales, Mexico last week despite the fact that she had been repeatedly raped by the guides that brought her across the border into the US. Her attackers threatened her life if she went to the authorities. One Border Patrol agent insinuated that the woman was lying about the attack, and tried to convince her not to undergo a forensic examination that would verify the abuse. When she showed paperwork from the hospital examination to a Border Patrol agent as proof of the attack, asking that he not send her back to Mexico, the Border Patrol agent confiscated the paperwork and did not return it to her.

An October 3, 2022 letter from a coalition of Arizona-based groups, led by ACLU Arizona, to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus included further information about this case.

She handed the one of the Border Patrol agents the paperwork in the hope that it might persuade them to let her apply for asylum, but the agent did not return it and the woman was expelled back to Mexico without the documentation. The Guatemalan consulate later attempted to help the woman apply for a U-Visa since she experienced the crime in the United States, but she no longer had any of the medical documentation to substantiate it.

— “March 31 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 31, 2022).

— Several Arizona Non-Governmental Human Rights Groups. “Letter to CBP Regarding Treatment of Migrants’ Personal Belongings,” October 3, 2022. <https://www.acluaz.org/sites/default/files/2022.10.03_letter_to_cbp_regarding_treatment_of_migrants_personal_belongings.pdf>.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Return of Vulnerable Individuals

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Guatemala, Sexual Abuse Victim, Single Adult

Late March, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) spoke with five migrants, removed to Nogales, who had been traveling with Carmelo Cruz-Marcos, a Mexican migrant who was shot to death by a Border Patrol agent on February 19:

Five members of the group traveling with the migrant who was murdered by Border Patrol on February 19th arrived at Kino earlier this month. They had all been held a month and a half in detention as witnesses to the crime. One of those in the group was a cousin of the victim, and was not informed for a week that his cousin had died.

When the group was expelled to Nogales, Sonora, Border Patrol did not return their identification or the money they had with them when they were detained.

— “March 31 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 31, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

Early March, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about a Honduran man expelled to Nogales by Border Patrol without most of his belongings:

A Honduran man expelled under Title 42 last week shared with KBI staff that he had fled threats in his hometown and then attempted to cross into the US to seek asylum. When Border Patrol detained him, they took most of his belongings, including the humanitarian VISA he had been granted in Mexico, and did not return it when they expelled him to Nogales, MX. He expressed concern that without a valid ID in Mexico, he would not be able to travel or access work, housing or public services.

— “March 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Honduras, Single Adult

Mid-September, 2021

A report from Human Rights First discussed the separation of a 16-year-old Nicaraguan child from his parents near Eagle Pass, Texas.

In September 2021, DHS separated a 16-year-old Nicaraguan child from his parents when the family sought asylum at the border near Eagle Pass, Texas, and jailed him alone in adult ICE detention facilities in Mississippi and Louisiana for one-and-a-half months. CBP officers ripped up the boy’s birth certificate, interrogated him about his age, threatened to imprison him for 10 years, and forced him to sign a document stating that he was 18. At the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center, ICE held the boy in an isolation cell for 18 days. He told Telemundo News: “To spend 24 hours in there, locked up, with the doors locked, without going out. It was terrible. There was no hope of leaving that place.”

Noticias Telemundo described the 16-year-old’s treatment at the hands of the Border Patrol agents who apprehended him.

They doubted that they were a family. The son burst into tears, as he recounts. “They started telling me ‘tell us your real age.’ And for about twenty times I repeated the same thing: 16 years old, 16 years old. They got mad at me and told me that they were going to hold me and my family in prison for ten years, and that they were going to deport me.”

“Angel” says he signed a rudimentary, makeshift piece of paper the agents handed him, on which they only wrote his name and that he was 18 years old. He says he felt intimidated and forced to sign by the two agents’ shouting and threats.

…The mother, Luz Zelaya, says that she, meanwhile, had her son’s birth certificate torn up. It is a printed document stating that the minor was born in a municipality in northern Nicaragua in 2005, issued by local authorities days before his departure at the end of August 2021.

“This is no good’. And ra, ra, he tore it to pieces and put it in the trash. ‘You’re lying to me. I’m not dumb,’ he tells me,” recalls Zelaya, a 29-year-old mother who had her son almost as a child and has been with her current husband, who is not Angel’s biological father, for more than a decade. “We never saw him again.”

The minor was detained for a few days in Border Patrol custody in Texas, along with some 80 adult men, in a room where “you had to stand up, you couldn’t even sleep on your stomach,” as he describes it. From there, he was shackled by his hands, feet and waist to be put on a plane bound for an ICE detention center for single adults, Adams County Detention Center, in Mississippi.

“I’m a Prisoner Here”: Biden Administration Policies Lock Up Asylum Seekers (New York: Human Rights First, April 21, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/i-m-prisoner-here-biden-administration-policies-lock-asylum-seekers.

— Damià Bonmatí, Belisa Morillo, “Aislado en una prisión con solo 16 años: la odisea de un menor que fue separado de sus papás en la frontera” (United States: Noticias Telemundo, December 15, 2021) https://www.telemundo.com/noticias/noticias-telemundo/inmigracion/separacion-bajo-el-gobierno-biden-asi-fue-la-odisea-de-un-menor-de-16-rcna8638.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Confiscation of Documents, Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Nicaragua

July 5, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described a Guatemalan asylum seeker’s experience with her children while in Border Patrol custody in Arizona.

A Guatemalan woman with her four children crossed into the United States with a big group and encountered a Border Patrol agent in a vehicle. That agent was very nice to them, gave them water and said they could have whatever they needed. He called for more vehicles to carry them all, and they were transferred to a Border Patrol facility that was very cold. Then they were put on buses to Tucson.

At the Tucson border facility, the woman approached an agent asking how they should apply for asylum and informing him that her son has a medical condition and needs medical care. She showed him the documents (a diagnosis, x-rays, etc.) to prove that her son was in need and that he needed surgery within the next two months. The agent took the documents and threw them in the trash. When she went to retrieve them from the trash, he took them again and told her “they belong in the trash.” When she protested, he became angry and told her to go away and gave her a sleeping mat. The mat was soaking wet so that she could not use it. She never got her documents back.

Hours later, she and the children were expelled to Nogales, Sonora.

KBI filed a July 15, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On August 6, CRCL emailed that “they received the complaint and forwarded it to the OIG. No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.”

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Confiscation of Documents, Denial of Medical Care, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Guatemala, Medical Condition

March 7, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK detailed the experience of a Cuban asylum seeker in Border Patrol custody in Yuma, Arizona and Campo (Pine Valley), California.

A Cuban man and his wife crossed into the United States and were detained. He was searched and their documents were confiscated. The man was separated from his wife, even though his wife told the agents they were together.

He was transferred to Campo BP Station in California, and when he was being transferred he was told he would be reunited with his wife at the detention center. While in detention, he was not allowed to shower for five days, and the lights were always kept on.

There, a border patrol agent interviewed him in Spanish. The agent asked him about his relatives but did not ask anything about asylum. The man asked if he could present his case. The CBP agent said no, as that was for a courtroom with a lawyer. The man asked why the agent didn’t ask him why he left Cuba, and the agent still said no. After five days, they transported the man to expel him, very early in the morning.

The man says he was disoriented but once he heard he was being expelled he said he can’t leave without his wife. He was told his wife would be joining him soon. This was not true. He was not reunited with his wife and was expelled to Tijuana, Baja California in the early morning hours. A week later, he tried to cross again at Yuma as his wife was still in CBP custody. He was then expelled to Nogales.

KBI filed a March 24, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On April 23, CRCL emailed that “they received the complaint and forwarded it to the OIG. No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.”

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): San Diego, Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Confiscation of Documents, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Family Separation, Lying or Deliberate Misleading, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Cuba, Family Unit

Late May 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

Last week KBI received a Guatemalan child who had traveled north with the hope of attending school in the US. Although CBP officials have repeatedly told KBI that Border Patrol agents are directed not to expel unaccompanied children, this 16-year-old was expelled to Nogales, Sonora. The Border Patrol agent that interviewed him took away his birth certificate, told him it was fake, and accused him of lying about his age, before expelling him to Nogales, Sonora.

— “May 27 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, May 2020).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Expulsion of Unaccompanied Minor

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Unaccompanied Child