333 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct

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

November 6, 2022

A feature on the CBS program 60 Minutes, about Venezuelan migrants bused to New York, found that 12 of 16 migrants interviewed had important documents taken from them by U.S. border law enforcement personnel, and not returned.

Like many migrants we spoke with, Edward and Maria no longer have their Venezuelan passports, ID cards, or birth certificates, they say they were told to hand them over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Texas and never got them back. 

Edward (Translation): Well, they put it in a folder They said, “Whenever you go to court, you can ask for them there.”

… We interviewed 16 migrants who arrived in New York by bus from Texas. All but four said they had important documents taken and not returned. And volunteers, case workers, and lawyers who work with the migrants also told us the problem is widespread.

In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was reviewing its “policies and practices to ensure that… documents are returned to the migrant absent a security or law enforcement reason.”

A subsequent CBS News report quoted some of the affected migrants.

Beberlyn, 33, a migrant from Venezuela who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year, said Border Patrol agents kept several of her family’s personal documents, including their passports, Venezuelan identification cards, her children’s birth certificates and her husband’s drivers license.

…Like other migrants, Beberlyn said border agents told her they would receive their documents during their  immigration court hearing. But her family has yet to receive a court appointment, and attorneys said it’s unlikely that documents confiscated along the southern border will be transferred to courts across the U.S.

“I do need them,” Beberlyn said regarding the documents. Her surname is being withheld due to her pending immigration case. “Passports are very important here. To open an account, to identify yourself, and I don’t have that document. I don’t have the children’s birth records because they took them from me. That makes me feel terrible.”

…Maria, another Venezuelan migrant living in a New York City shelter with her family, said Border Patrol agents failed to return her children’s birth certificates and vaccine records, as well as her and her husband’s passports and identification cards. She asked for her surname to be omitted, citing her pending case.

During a recent check-in appointment at the ICE office in Manhattan, Maria said she was told their documents were still in Texas when she asked about their whereabouts. She said her 1-year-old daughter’s vaccination has been delayed since they longer have records showing what shots she has received and when.

Maria said she was also told her family’s documents would be returned in immigration court, but she does not think she’ll see them again. 

“I haven’t heard anyone say that they got their documents back,” she added.

— “Migrants Bused from Southern Border to New York City Enter a Backlogged and Broken Asylum System.” 60 Minutes. New York: CBS, November 6, 2022. <https://www.cbsnews.com/news/migrant-buses-southern-border-new-york-city-60-minutes-2022-11-06/>.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez, Andy Court, Julie Holstein, and Annabelle Hanflig. “Accounts of Migrants’ Documents Being Confiscated by Border Officials Prompt Federal Review.” CBS News, November 7, 2022. <https://www.cbsnews.com/news/immigration-migrants-documents-confiscated-border-officials/>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Venezuela

November 4, 2022

Four Democratic House members, including key committee chairs, sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) asking the agency to investigate “concerns about Border Patrol agents confiscating asylum seekers’ religious headwear as well as not returning or improperly discarding personal property belonging to apprehended individuals.” (Original link)

They ask GAO to look into how Border Patrol collects, stores, transfers, and returns apprehended migrants’ property, as well has how Border Patrol oversees its agents’ handling of personal property and what complaint mechanisms are in place for individuals whose property is not returned to them.

— Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, and Rep. Joaquin Castro. “GAO Request Personal Property,” November 4, 2022. <https://democrats-homeland.house.gov/imo/media/doc/gao_request_personal_property.pdf>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Under GAO Investigation

Victim Classification:

October 17, 2022

In fiscal year 2022, “Immigration Court judges dismissed a total of 63,586 cases”—1 out of every 6 that year—“because Department of Homeland Security officials, chiefly Border Patrol agents, are not filing the actual ‘Notice to Appear’ (NTA) with the Immigration Court,” reported Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration program. Such failures to file were rare, TRAC noted, “until Border Patrol agents were given the authority to use the Immigration Court’s Interactive Scheduling System.” Meanwhile, “the public has also been left in the dark as to what ultimately happens to these cases and the immigrant involved.”

“This is exceedingly wasteful of the Court’s time,” TRAC explained. “It is also problematic for the immigrant (and possibly their attorney) if they show up at hearings only to have the case dismissed by the Immigration Judge because the case hasn’t actually been filed with the Court.”

— “Over 63,000 DHS Cases Thrown Out of Immigration Court This Year Because No NTA Was Filed.” Syracuse: TRAC Immigration, October 17, 2022. <https://trac.syr.edu/reports/699/>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Falsification or Negligent Handling of Asylum Paperwork

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

October 17, 2022

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), summarized by the Washington Post, looked at “Notices to Report” that Border Patrol issued to 94,000 migrant family members released into the United States between May and September 2021. (The documents, which involved little paperwork at a time of heavy migrant arrivals, required migrants to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office within 60 days.)

It found that on about 60 percent of the “Notices” issued during the first 3 months of the process, Border Patrol agents had entered incorrect or incomplete address information for the migrants’ intended destinations. Entries often left streets or even city names off of addresses, as well as apartment numbers.

About 75 percent of migrant families required to “report” did indeed show up, which overwhelmed many ICE offices in migrants’ destination cities. GAO noted a lack of coordination between CBP and ICE. In November 2021, CBP stopped issuing “Notices to Report” and now relies more on “alternatives to detention” with electronic monitoring.

— “Southwest Border: Challenges and Efforts Implementing New Processes for Noncitizen Families.” Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, September 28, 2022. <https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-22-105456>.

— Miroff, Nick. “GAO Examines U.S. Border Practices in Facing Record Numbers of Migrants.” Washington Post, October 18, 2022. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/10/17/border-report-migrants/>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Falsification or Negligent Handling of Asylum Paperwork

Last Known Accountability Status: GAO Investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

October 4, 2022

Border Patrol agents shot and killed a Mexican migrant inside the Ysleta Border Patrol station in eastern El Paso, Texas. Manuel González Morán, a 33-year-old man from Ciudad Juárez, was shot twice and pronounced dead at an El Paso hospital.

According to CBP’s release, dated October 15, 2022 (original link):

The man exited a detention cell, forced his way past an agent, and got a pair of scissors from a desk in the migrant processing area. Agents issued verbal commands, and one agent deployed an Electronic Control Weapon, which had no effect on the man. The man advanced towards two other agents with the scissors in his hand and two agents discharged their firearms, striking the assailant which successfully stopped his advance.

Agents reportedly sought to subdue González by firing a taser at him, with no apparent result. An agent or agents then shot González at close range. One bullet grazed his arm, another pierced his temple.

“A security camera in the room was not functioning at the time of the incident,” a “person with knowledge of the investigation” told the Washington Post. CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) “is obtaining more information regarding the operational history of the station’s video recording system,” the agency reported.

The FBI is investigating the incident, along with OPR. The DHS Office of Inspector-General was notified, and CBP’s National Use of Force Review Board will review the incident.

The FBI’s October 5, 2022 statement noted, “In 2011, Moran was arrested by the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office in Pueblo, Colorado, on charges of attempted first-degree murder and was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon resulting in serious bodily injury. In May of 2022, Moran was paroled after serving 11-years of his 17-year sentence and was removed from the U.S. to Mexico.” (Original link)

— “Border Patrol Agents Fatally Shoot Apprehended Man after He Arms Himself, Ignores Commands and Advances towards Agents.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, October 15, 2022. <https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/border-patrol-agents-fatally-shoot-apprehended-man-after-he-arms>.

— Miroff, Nick. “Border Agents Fired Fatal Shots after Migrant Grabbed Weapon, FBI Says.” Washington Post, October 6, 2022. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/10/04/border-patrol-agent-fatally-shoots-migrant-us-custody/>.

— “FBI Investigative Update on the U.S. Border Patrol Agent Involved Shooting at Ysleta Border Patrol Station.” Federal Bureau of Investigation, October 5, 2022. https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/elpaso/news/press-releases/fbi-investigative-update-on-the-us-border-patrol-agent-involved-shooting-at-ysleta-border-patrol-station.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under FBI Investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

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:

September 29, 2022

A report from the DHS Inspector-General praises Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector’s handling of migrants’ personal property. The sector’s Eagle Pass processing facility uses “a bar-coded wristband system to track the handling, retention, retrieval, and return,” along with “requirements to communicate with detainees about their property while in custody and at their eventual departure.” (Original link) The system was first implemented in February 2022 “to supplement Border Patrol Headquarters’ April 2021 national guidance on managing the personal property of detainees.”

This system, however, is unique to Eagle Pass: CBP does not plan to expand it throughout the sector, the Inspector-General reports. “Although it is possible that several other stations can implement the same procedures associated with the handling and storage of property, due to its dependence on individual station resources, CBP believes that the assignment of volunteers and caregivers to this specific task at all stations sector-wide in DRT [Del Rio Sector] is not practicable.”

— “Del Rio Area Struggled With Prolonged Detention, Consistent Compliance With CBP’s TEDS Standards, and Data Integrity.” Washington: Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, September 22, 2022. <https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-10/OIG-22-80-Oct22.pdf>.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

September 23, 2022

Staff at DHS’s troubled Inspector-General’s Office, which oversees DHS’s border law enforcement agencies, sent an anonymous letter to President Biden asking him to remove their boss, embattled Trump appointee Joseph Cuffari. “We need help,” the letter reads. “We can no longer be silent when faced with continuous mismanagement of DHS OIG at its highest levels.”

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), which has revealed concerning examples of weak DHS oversight under Cuffari, shared the letter, which cites “decisions that have demoralized his staff and damaged the organization.” The letter’s authors describer themselves as “concerned DHS OIG employees representing every program office at every grade level.”

In 2016 Cuffari, then an advisor in the Arizona governor’s office, “was so enthusiastic about what he called Donald Trump’s ‘huge win’ in the 2016 presidential election that he applied for a job with the incoming administration within days,” the Washington Post reported in September.

“On the campaign trail in 2020, in reaction to a spate of highly criticized watchdog removals by then-President Donald Trump, Biden made a promise that he would not remove inspectors general,” POGO observed.

— Nick Schwellenbach. “DHS Watchdog Staff Call on Biden to Fire Inspector General Cuffari.” Washington: Project on Government Oversight, September 23, 2022. <https://www.pogo.org/investigation/2022/09/dhs-watchdog-staff-call-on-biden-to-fire-inspector-general-cuffari.>

— Sanchez, Yvonne Wingett, Maria Sacchetti, and Lisa Rein. “How DHS Watchdog under Fire in Jan. 6 Investigation Pushed to Get His Post.” Washington Post, October 2, 2022. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/09/15/homeland-cuffari/>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

September 19, 2022

“Border Patrol did not issue A-numbers to 107 of 384 migrants in our statistical sample,” reads a report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector-General. (An A-number is a unique number that DHS assigns to every migrant, the report explains, “which allows immigration and law enforcement officials to track and locate a migrant’s A-File for a complete history of their immigration encounters.”)

Of those 107 migrants without A-numbers, Border Patrol paroled 104 into the U.S. interior. The Inspector-General noted that this was a result of the agency operating near capacity at moments of heavy migration. As a result, however, “Border Patrol and USCIS could not provide 80 migrant files we requested because the files were either lost, disposed of, or in transit.”

— “U.S. Border Patrol Screened Migrants at the Southwest Border but Could Strengthen Processes.” Washington: DHS Office of Inspector-General, September 19, 2022. <https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-09/OIG-22-71-Sep22.pdf>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Falsification or Negligent Handling of Asylum Paperwork

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

September 15, 2022

Fronteras Desk interviewed Yuma, Arizona-based advocate Fernando Quiroz, who monitors Border Patrol apprehensions of asylum-seeking migrants in the Yuma Sector. Quiroz discussed Border Patrol’s widely denounced confiscation of migrants’ belongings in the sector.

They [hundreds of migrants per day] bring backpacks, clothes, supplies, toys, money, important documents, and starting last year, Quiroz says much of it was being thrown in the trash when they were taken into custody. He took pictures of entire dumpsters filled with their belongings and he asked Border Patrol about it.

“They would say, ‘We here at this Yuma sector, we are not travel agents. We do not have the manpower, we don’t have the people, we don’t have the storage and it’s also a safety issue for us for these individuals to carry their backpacks or their belongings into our sector,’” Quiroz said. “So every single one, imagine every single day, from 400 to 1,000 individuals who are told, ‘Throw your backpack in the trash.’ It is heartbreaking. It typically is very heartbreaking. We’re talking about — this is all they have.”

…“I have here things that I have collected of individuals that have thrown in the trash, from prayer rugs to Bibles to Qurans to religious artifacts. It is sad,” Quiroz said.

— Lauren Gilger. “Border Patrol Made Migrants Throw Away Backpacks, Passports, Birth Certificates.” Fronteras Desk, September 15, 2022. <https://fronterasdesk.org/content/1810080/border-patrol-made-migrants-throw-away-backpacks-passports-birth-certificates>.

Sector(s): Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

September 15, 2022

A letter from several non-profit organizations and an article at BuzzFeed point to border law enforcement officials inventing addresses around the United States and adding them to asylum seekers’ immigration paperwork, when those asylum seekers lack U.S. relatives, contacts, or specific destinations. In most cases, the addresses that officials—usually Border Patrol agents—add to documents like immigration-court hearing notices and Notices to Appear are those of non-profit service providers in cities around the United States.

CBP and Border Patrol do not inform those service providers. “Catholic Charities in New York, City received over 300 such notices,” the letter reads. It adds that asylum seekers are showing up at nonprofits or churches around the country with paperwork, issued by CBP, Border Patrol or ICE, showing those entities’ locations as migrants’ intended residences.

An October 2022 Associated Press review of 13 migrants’ documents found addresses including those of “administrative offices of Catholic Charities in New York and San Antonio; an El Paso, Texas, church; a private home in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts; and a group operating homeless shelters in Salt Lake City.”

In many cases, the non-profits are not prepared for the migrants’ arrival or to receive walk-ins. In some cases, service providers receive notifications that migrants may be headed their way, but are unable to locate them. “These immigrants and asylum-seekers, most of them from Venezuela, then show up to random buildings confused and unsure of what to do next,” BuzzFeed reported. “It’s definitely been happening, and there’s hundreds of cases,” BuzzFeed reporter Adolfo Flores told Texas Standard.

“The DHS [Department of Homeland Security] agent will just seem to invent an address from thin air to put on their release paperwork,” immigration attorney and asylum advocate Taylor Levy told BuzzFeed. At times, she said, the Border Patrol agent or ICE officer will mislead the migrant, telling them that shelter and other services will be available at the address.

Reports about eight Venezuelan men arriving, baffled, at a Sacramento, California office building were apparently one of these cases. They were flown there by a San Antonio, Texas service provider that had purchased plane tickets based on the addresses that U.S. border law enforcement personnel had added to the migrants’ immigration forms. A Venezuelan migrant told the New York Times that he and his brother “had no family in the United States. ‘The officials picked Denver for us, and that was it.'”

This practice jeopardizes asylum-seekers’ immigration cases. If the migrant does not receive notifications for court hearings or other required appearances they cannot follow through with their cases, which can lead to in-absentia deportation orders. All correspondence regarding such appearances gets mailed to the address on these forms, unless the migrant goes to a nearby ICE office to change it, a complex process.

Some of the problem stems from agencies’ need to process large numbers of asylum seekers quickly, at a time of record migration. “I’m sure that Border Patrol agents, they’re just trying to get people out of their facilities. They don’t want to hold them there any longer than they have to, and without an address, in some cases I’m sure the agents tell them it’s either ‘I put this address or you stay here longer,’” Flores of BuzzFeed told Texas Standard.

Still, Levy told Flores, “it is certainly wrong—and appears illegal—for federal agents sworn to uphold the law to randomly choose addresses of churches, legal service agencies, and immigration nonprofits from crude google searches and then record them as alleged ‘residential’ addresses for desperate asylum-seekers.”

— American Immigration Lawyers’ Association and coalition partners. “AILA and Partners Submit Recommendations to Fix Erroneous Addresses on Asylum Seekers’ Documents,” September 15, 2022. <https://www.aila.org/infonet/organizations-urge-administration-to-address>.

— Flores, Adolfo. “Border Agents Keep Sending Immigrants To Wrong Addresses With Little Regard For How It Could Affect Their Court Cases, Advocates Say.” BuzzFeed News, September 21, 2022. <https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/adolfoflores/immigrants-border-wrong-addresses-shelter>.

— Kristen Cabrera. “Federal Immigration Agents Are Writing Wrong Addresses on Some Migrants’ Documents, Creating Confusion.” Texas Standard (blog), September 27, 2022. <https://www.texasstandard.org/stories/federal-immigration-agents-writing-wrong-addresses-migrants-documents-creating-confusion/>.

— Clauda Torrens and Vanessa A. Alvarez. “US Border Patrol Sends Migrants Places Where No Help Waits.” Associated Press, October 24, 2022. <https://apnews.com/article/texas-new-york-manhattan-religion-immigration-6d400698888dc0797f1883176baf12c7>.

— Robles, Justo. “No Money or Options: A Migrant’s Unexpected Journey to California.” The Guardian, September 24, 2022, sec. US news. <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/24/migrant-plane-venezuela-sacramento>.

— Jordan, Miriam, and Brittany Kriegstein. “Abrupt New Border Expulsions Split Venezuelan Families.” The New York Times, November 6, 2022, sec. U.S. <https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/06/us/venezuelan-families-separated-border.html>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP, ICE

Event Type(s): Falsification or Negligent Handling of Asylum Paperwork

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Venezuela

September 15, 2022

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus voicing concerns about the electronic privacy of travelers who pass through U.S. ports of entry, including land border crossings and airports. Sen. Wyden accused CBP of “pressuring travelers to unlock their electronic devices without adequately informing them of their rights” and “downloading the contents of Americans’ phones into a central database, where this data is saved and searchable for 15 years by thousands of Department of Homeland Security employees, with minimal protections against abuse.”

The Washington Post and Gizmodo reported on the letter, and on CBP’s apparent exception to the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment allowing it to carry out “advanced searches” of travelers’ phones—including those of U.S. citizens—if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is breaking the law or poses a “national security concern.” “It’s not immediately clear what a ‘national security concern’ is, or what differentiates it from reasonable suspicion, an already low evidentiary standard,” Gizmodo reported.

Even without such suspicion, CBP claims the power to access travelers’ electronic devices, looking at “anything that ‘would ordinarily be visible by scrolling through the phone manually,’ including contact lists, calendar entries, messages, photos and videos,” the Washington Post explained citing a 2018 CBP “Privacy Impact Assessment Update.” With the “reasonable suspicion” standard, CBP can copy the entire contents of the phone or device. “That data is then stored in the Automated Targeting System database, which CBP officials can search at any time.”

CBP is collecting further, “advanced” data from “less than 10,000” border-crossers’ devices each year, Sen. Wyden’s letter indicates that agency personnel told his office. The number appears to refer only to the “advanced” searches: CBP’s Enforcement Statistics web page indicates that the agency subjected 45,499 international travelers to “electronic device search” in fiscal year 2022, a 21 percent increase over 2021. In the case of “advanced” searches, CBP retains the copied data for 15 years.

Sources told the Washington Post that about 2,700 or 3,000 CBP personnel have access to this collected data, all without a warrant. CBP personnel are not required to record the purpose of their searches, Sen. Wyden noted, “even though auditable records of this sort are an important safeguard against abuse.”

Sen. Wyden’s letter called on CBP to change its policy, laid out in a January 2018 directive, and halt warrantless searches of U.S. citizens’ phones. The Senator asked the CBP Commissioner for “a written plan,” by October 31, 2022, describing the steps that CBP would take to address his concerns.

CBP officials declined to answer Washington Post questions “about how many Americans’ phone records are in the database, how many searches have been run or how long the practice has gone on, saying it has made no additional statistics available ‘due to law enforcement sensitivities and national security implications.’”

— Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). “Wyden Letter to CBP on Border Searches of Devices,” September 15, 2022. <https://www.wyden.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Wyden%20letter%20to%20CBP%20on%20border%20searches%20of%20devices.pdf>.

— Harwell, Drew. “Customs Officials Have Copied Americans’ Phone Data at Massive Scale.” Washington Post, September 19, 2022. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/09/15/government-surveillance-database-dhs/>.

— Dell Cameron and Lauren Leffer. “Border Agents Are Taking Data From Americans’ Phones Without Warrants.” Gizmodo, September 15, 2022. <https://gizmodo.com/border-patrol-surveillance-cell-data-no-warrants-1849540504>.

— “Privacy Impact Assessment Update for CBP Border Searches of Electronic Devices.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, January 4, 2018. <https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/PIA-CBP%20-%20Border-Searches-of-Electronic-Devices%20-January-2018%20-%20Compliant.pdf>.

Screenshot from CBP Enforcement Statistics web page, January 14, 2023 (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, January 14, 2023) <https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/cbp-enforcement-statistics>.

— “CBP Directive 3340-049A: Border Search of Electronic Devices.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, January 4, 2018. <https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2018-Jan/CBP-Directive-3340-049A-Border-Search-of-Electronic-Media-Compliant.pdf>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Civil Liberties or Privacy Infringement

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

September 10, 2022

CBP stopped updating its “@CBPWestTexas” Twitter account after an unidentified employee used it to share former Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s view that “Biden’s eradication of our border means we are no longer a Republic,” and to issue “likes” to homophobic tweets.

“The tweets do not reflect the values of this administration and our work to rebuild a humane, orderly and secure immigration system,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a statement.

— “Border Patrol halts tweets from agency’s West Texas region” (United States: Associated Press, September 11, 2022) <https://apnews.com/article/biden-texas-donald-trump-immigration-pete-buttigieg-72a4b44c5a50f7917f9ea925b46472da>.

Screen capture of CBP West Texas @CBPWestTexas Twitter account, September 10, 2022 <https://twitter.com/CBPWestTexas/>.

CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus @CBPChrisMagnus on Twitter (September 10, 2022) <https://twitter.com/CBPChrisMagnus/status/1568780563099664388>.

Sector(s): El Paso Field Office

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification:

September 1, 2022

“The Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector has a new challenge coin that features concertina wire around the Border Patrol’s badge,” wrote Pedro Rios, of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program, at the San Diego Union-Tribune. “In its description on its website, it says the concertina wire symbolizes ‘a new way of thinking about border security in San Diego.’” Rios added, “That the Border Patrol would promote coils of razor-sharp wires made for a battlefield as its emblem to display its philosophy is concerning.”

On September 3, CBP removed the challenge coin from the Border Patrol Sector’s website. “That challenge coin is not in keeping with the agency’s mission and values, and we are reviewing the process by which it was produced and displayed on our website,” read a statement from CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.

The “challenge coins” issue had come up earlier in 2022, when reports emerged of unofficial coins being sold online with defiant messages, some celebrating a controversial incident involving mounted Border Patrol agents and Haitian migrants in September 2021.

— Pedro Rios, “The Border Patrol emblem promotes razor-sharp wires made for a battlefield. Why is it allowed?” (San Diego: San Diego Union-Tribune, September 1, 2022) <https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/community-voices-project/story/2022-09-01/the-border-patrol-emblem-promotes-coils-of-razor-sharp-wires-made-for-a-battlefield>.

— Pedro Rios @Pedroconsafos on Twitter, September 3, 2022 <https://twitter.com/Pedroconsafos/status/1566199248818843648>.

Internet Archive copy of “San Diego Sector California” (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, July 25, 2022) <https://web.archive.org/web/20220827001221/https://www.cbp.gov/border-security/along-us-borders/border-patrol-sectors/san-diego-sector-california>.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct

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 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

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 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

August 16, 2022

“Family members are still being separated under some circumstances” at the border during the Biden administration, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, “including if a parent has a criminal history, has health issues, or is being criminally prosecuted.” A DHS report to Congress counted 227 family separations in 2021 (original link).

— Kate Morrissey, Family Separations at the Border Continue Under Biden (San Diego: The San Diego Union-Tribune, August 16, 2022) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2022-08-16/family-separations-at-the-border-continue-under-biden.

Family Unit Actions Report October 1, 2020-September 30, 2021 (Washington: Department of Homeland Security Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans, March 23, 2022) https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/2022-03/22_0323_plcy_family_unit_actions_report_fy21_September_0.pdf.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit

Early August, 2022

“In the past 2 weeks, Kino has served 16 people that DHS has deported between 12 am and 3 am,” the Nogales, Arizona-based Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported on August 18.

Julia [name changed to protect privacy] and her 7 year old daughter fled Guerrero due to threats of sexual violence toward herself and her daughter. When they crossed into the US, BP detained them and Julia explained she wanted to seek asylum due to violence in Mexico. But BP just took their bio information, without asking further inquiring about their fear, and deported them to Mexico at 3 a.m., placing Julia and her daughter in danger of potentially experiencing the very sexual violence they were fleeing. 

— “August 18 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, August 18, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Female, Mexico

Early August, 2022

“In the past 2 weeks, Kino has served 16 people that DHS has deported between 12 am and 3 am,” the Nogales, Arizona-based Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported on August 18.

Esmeralda [name changed to protect privacy] fled violence in Nicaragua and entered the US to request asylum, she was forced to wait in Mexico under MPP, due to the dangers and inhuman conditions on the Mexican northeast border, she tried to request asylum again in Arizona,  Border Patrol expelled her to Nogales at midnight, upon which Mexican police robbed her. 

— “August 18 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, August 18, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Nicaragua, Single Adult

August 9, 2022

A DHS Inspector-General report, based on seven October 2021 unannounced inspections of El Paso-area CBP facilities, found Border Patrol holding hundreds of migrants in custody for longer than the normal 72-hour limit, despite a lack of overcrowding (original link). In addition, “Border Patrol held some migrants placed for expulsion under Title 42 authorities for longer than 14 days, which is inconsistent with Border Patrol policy,” and CBP was “inconsistent” in its separation of juveniles from unrelated adults in custody.

El Paso Sector Border Patrol Struggled with Prolonged Detention and Consistent Compliance with TEDS Standards (Washington: Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector-General, August 9, 2022) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-08/OIG-22-57-Aug22.pdf.

Sector(s): El Paso, El Paso Field Office

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

August 5, 2022

“White men are in charge of 21 of the 22 Border Patrol outposts on the northern, coastal, and southern borders despite the agency being comprised of mostly Hispanic employees,” and only 1 of the 22 sector chiefs is female, the Washington Examiner reported.

““One Hispanic Chief out of 22. That one is female. So an organization with so many Hispanic males they cannot find any qualified to be a chief?” a senior Border Patrol official in Washington told the Examiner. “Of course we shouldn’t promote based on race, but there are a lot of things that seem off.” Former Tucson Sector Chief Victor Manjarrez “said the social hierarchy of agents, or politics, played a significant role and still affects who gets picked for promotions.”

— Anna Giaritelli, “Hispanic agents make up majority of Border Patrol yet white men dominate leadership posts” (Washington: Washington Examiner, August 5, 2022) https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/immigration/hispanic-agents-majority-border-patrol-white-men-dominate-leadership.

Sector(s): Border-Wide, Northern Border

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Racial Discrimination or Profiling

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

August 3, 2022

Arizona Luminaria recounted the mistreatment of a Sikh asylum seeker who turned himself in to Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents.

On Aug. 3, a Sikh asylum-seeker crossed the border along with his wife and two young children near Yuma to turn themselves in to Border Patrol, according to Ahluwalia. After waiting more than 12 hours near the border wall, they were finally bused to the nearby station for processing.

After waiting all day in the sun — with the parents taking turns holding their young children, ages 2 and 4 — the man was feeling weak and ill, and was beginning to struggle to breathe. He was given water and allowed to sit down as two officers, one of whom he described as rude and aggressive ordered him to remove his turban, according to Ahluwalia.

He explained that he was happy to take it off and let them search it, but he wanted it back afterward. The officers took it off, took photos of him with his hair loose, and confiscated the turban. He said he felt humiliated.

As the processing continued, he told the officers he was feeling worse. They pressured him into signing paperwork he didn’t understand, telling him, “You need to sign this,” in a manner he felt was threatening, according to the case notes. They accused him of pretending to be sick, and one officer pulled him to his feet, pushed him against the wall, and handcuffed him.

His wife, who witnessed the aggression, began crying. When he tried to console her and his children, speaking to them in Punjabi, the officer who handcuffed him said, “You need to speak f—ing English,” he later told his attorney.

The officer then escorted him to a small solitary confinement cell and left him alone. He was in the room for a few hours, during which he threw up two to three times. Though he said there were cameras in the room, and he was banging on the door for help, nobody came. Finally, about three hours later, he was taken back to his family and an officer unshackled him.

He asked multiple times if he could have his turban back, according to Ahluwalia, but he never saw it again. He also repeatedly asked for medical attention, but was denied, with an officer explaining to him that he had already been given Tylenol. Four or five days later, after he was released, a volunteer at a welcome center in Tucson gave him cloth to cover his head.

“I wanted to cry,” he told his attorney. At the welcome center he tested positive for COVID-19, he told Ahluwalia.

— Washington, John. “Border Patrol Has New Orders Not to Trash Sikh Turbans but Isn’t Sharing Guidance Publicly, Advocates Say.” AZ Luminaria, September 19, 2022. <http://azluminaria.org/2022/09/19/border-patrol-now-instructing-agents-to-stop-taking-sikh-turbans/>.

Sector(s): Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Non-Return of Belongings, Religious Freedom Violation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Sikh

August 1, 2022

Data obtained by the Cato Institute show that, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, CBP personnel have used the Title 42 health provision to expel thousands of families with toddlers and babies into Mexico in the post-midnight hours, despite safety risks. The statistics “show that as of May 31, CBP had used its Title 42 ‘health’ authority to expel 30,806 children ages 3 and under—with about 41 percent of these expulsions occurring at midnight or later,” noted a blog post from Cato’s associate director of immigration studies, David Bier.

Under normal circumstances, CBP’s repatriation agreements with Mexico prohibit removals to Mexican border towns between 10:00 PM and 5:00 AM, except under emergency circumstances. Title 42 expulsions have occurred without regard to these repatriation restrictions. “The Biden Administration is actually expelling more children at night than even the Trump Administration did,” Cato noted.

— David J. Bier, “CBP Is Expelling Thousands of Infants and Toddlers to Mexico After Midnight” (Washington: Cato at Liberty, August 1, 2022) https://www.cato.org/blog/cbp-expelling-thousands-infants-toddlers-mexico-after-midnight.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Endangerment

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit

August 1, 2022

A letter from the ACLU of Arizona, first covered by the Intercept and Arizona Luminaria, contended that Border Patrol agents in Yuma had confiscated at least 64 turbans from asylum seekers of the Sikh faith so far this year, including at least 50 in the prior 2 months.

These, the letter argues, are “serious religious-freedom violations” against members of the world’s fifth-largest organized religion, most prevalent in India’s Punjab region. “Forcibly removing or targeting a Sikh’s turban or facial hair has symbolized denying that person the right to belong to the Sikh faith and is perceived by many as the most humiliating and hurtful physical and spiritual injury that can be inflicted upon a Sikh,” the letter notes.

Citing interns at an Arizona migrant shelter, Arizona Luminaria reported on August 5 that “the number of turbans confiscated and discarded by Border Patrol is in the hundreds, far beyond the number reported earlier this week.”

CBP often faces allegations of throwing away migrants’ personal belongings. The ACLU letter called it a “universal, well-documented, and recurring practice by agents in the Yuma Border Patrol Sector of forcing apprehended migrants to discard nearly all of their personal property in advance of processing.” The Intercept adds: “Word has begun circulating among those seeking asylum in the Yuma area: Border Patrol is forcing everyone to throw away all personal belongings, except for cellphones, wallets, and travel documents.”

CBP officials told the Washington Post that “they have recently reminded Border Patrol supervisors that agency policies require agents to exercise care when handling ‘personal property items of a religious nature.’” The Border Patrol’s Tucson sector chief told advocates that agents “were being retrained,” according to the Intercept, and CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a statement cited by the Post that the agency has opened an internal investigation.

In an August 17 update on this story, “the national Sikh Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona told Arizona Luminaria they are aware of at least 12 new cases of turban confiscation this month alone” in Arizona.

“There are good agents and bad ones,” Fernando Quiroz, a Yuma-based volunteer with the AZ-CA Humanitarian Coalition, told the Border Chronicle. “Some can care less that there’s been a policy change.”

On September 19, 2022, Arizona Luminaria reported that CBP had issued new interim guidance instructing Border Patrol agents to stop confiscating Sikh asylum seekers’ turbans. “When for security reasons agents need to inspect the turban, the interim guidance requires that they subsequently return it to the Sikh person.” The agency did not make this temporary order public; it went into effect on August 6 and CBP shared it with ACLU Arizona and the Sikh Coalition on September 6.

“Whistleblowers working with a Tucson agency that aids migrants and refugees also shared accounts of Border Patrol agents verbally harassing Sikh asylum seekers and denying them their religiously required diets,” Arizona Luminaria added.

— Noah Schramm, Vanessa Pineda, Heather L. Weaver, Daniel Mach, “ACLU of Arizona Letter on Border Patrol Confiscating Sikhs’ Turbans” (Arizona: DocumentCloud, August 1, 2022) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22125092-aclu-of-arizona-letter-on-border-patrol-confiscating-sikhs-turbans.

— John Washington, “Border Patrol Agents Are Trashing Sikh Asylum-Seekers’ Turbans” (Arizona: Arizona Luminaria, The Intercept, August 2, 2022) https://theintercept.com/2022/08/02/sikh-turban-border-patrol/.

— Angela Cordoba Perez, “’I Understood His Pain’: Advocates Denounce Confiscating Belongings From Migrants at Border” (Phoenix: The Arizona Republic, August 5, 2022) https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2022/08/05/asylum-advocates-denounce-confiscating-belongings-from-migrants-at-border/10230819002/.

— John Washington, “Whistleblowers say Arizona Border Patrol practice of trashing Sikh turbans is widespread” (Arizona: Arizona Luminaria, August 5, 2022) https://azluminaria.org/2022/08/05/whistleblowers-say-arizona-border-patrol-practice-of-trashing-sikh-turbans-is-widespread/.

— Nick Miroff, “Border Officials Investigating Claims Sikh Turbans Were Confiscated” (Washington: The Washington Post, August 3, 2022) https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/03/border-patrol-turban-yuma/.

— John Washington, “Despite Border Patrol leader’s promise to stop, Congress members call out agents still confiscating Sikh asylum-seekers’ turbans” (Arizona: Arizona Luminaria, August 17, 2022) https://azluminaria.org/2022/08/17/congress-members-call-out-border-patrol-agents-still-confiscating-sikh-asylum-seekers-turbans/.

— Melissa del Bosque, “A New Campaign to Get the Border Patrol to Stop Trashing Asylum Seekers’ Possessions” (United States: The Border Chronicle, August 16, 2022) https://www.theborderchronicle.com/p/a-new-campaign-to-get-the-border.

— Washington, John. “Border Patrol Has New Orders Not to Trash Sikh Turbans but Isn’t Sharing Guidance Publicly, Advocates Say.” AZ Luminaria, September 19, 2022. <http://azluminaria.org/2022/09/19/border-patrol-now-instructing-agents-to-stop-taking-sikh-turbans/>.

Sector(s): Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Non-Return of Belongings, Religious Freedom Violation

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

Victim Classification: Sikh