10 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in October 2020

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

October 30, 2020

A New York Times, citing “a sharply critical internal email from a senior Border Patrol official,” revealed that U.S. border agencies have been using the Title 42 pandemic expulsion authority to send non-Mexican unaccompanied migrant children alone across the border into Mexico.

“Recently, we have identified several suspected instances where Single Minors (SM) from countries other than Mexico have been expelled via ports of entry rather than referred to ICE Air Operations for expulsion flights,” Border Patrol Assistant Chief Eduardo Sanchez wrote.

This appeared to violate agreements with Mexico for Title 42’s implementation. In addition, the Times explained,

The expulsions put children from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador at risk by sending them with no accompanying adult into a country where they have no family connections. Most appear to have been put, at least at first, into the care of Mexican child welfare authorities, who oversee shelters operated by religious organizations and other private groups.

The number of times non-Mexican children have been expelled alone was not clear, the Times reported:

The human rights organization Women’s Refugee Commission, working with several other advocacy organizations, filed a public records request with Mexican authorities and received data suggesting that at least 208 Central American children had been returned to the custody of Mexican authorities between March 21 and June 5. But the Mexican authorities did not specify how many of the children were traveling alone, and not accompanied by adults.

Title 42 was employed much more frequently during the pandemic’s first eight months to expel unaccompanied non-Mexican children to their home countries by plane. That, the Times noted, involved being

held only briefly in Border Patrol facilities or in hotels before being sent to their home countries, often without any notification to their families ahead of time. Some have had to borrow cellphones when they arrive at airports to look for family members who may be willing to take them in.

— Caitlin Dickerson, “U.S. Expels Migrant Children From Other Countries to Mexico” (New York: The New York Times, October 30, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/30/us/migrant-children-expulsions-mexico.html.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Expulsion of Unaccompanied Minor, Inappropriate Deportation, Return of Vulnerable Individuals

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Unaccompanied Child

Late October, 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

Although DHS has not released official numbers by location, local partners estimate about 100 migrants a day are being returned to Sasabe, Sonora, Mx under Title 42 expulsions. This border town, with a population around 2,500, does not have a shelter for migrants who find themselves expelled and without resources. Organized crime has significant control in Sasabe, and there is no official headquarters for Instituto National de Migración (INM). Rather, INM officials have been traveling regularly from their office in Nogales, Sonora to Sasabe to attend to migrants who have been expelled.

— “October 29 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, October 29, 2020).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: No Steps Taken, Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees

Victim Classification:

Late October, 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A middle-aged Salvadoran woman who left San Salvador in August is one of over a dozen migrants who arrived in Nogales in the last two weeks and reported multiple abuses during their journey. In Mexico, she suffered poor conditions in detention, where detainees slept 15 to a room on the floor, and were not provided toilet paper, soap, toothpaste or any personal protective equipment, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she attempted to request international protection with US Border Patrol agents twice, both times agents refused to hear her fear claim or connect her to an official who could provide the appropriate fear assessment.

— “October 29 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, October 29, 2020).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable

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

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Female, Single Adult

Late October, 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A Guatemalan man who arrived in Nogales this week after being returned to Mexico under Title 42 reported that a Border Patrol Agent went through his belongings, took away the pills prescribed to regulate his diabetes, and threw them in the trash. When the man arrived at our Migrant Aid Center, he had gone several days without taking his prescribed medication.

— “October 29 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, October 29, 2020).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Medical Care, Non-Return of Belongings

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

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Single Adult

October 23, 2020

The New York Times, citing Customs and Border Protection, reported that “Border Patrol agents shot and killed the driver of a car that had been carrying unauthorized immigrants in Laredo, Texas, on Friday, after the car reversed into an agent and pinned him against another vehicle.” Border Patrol acknowledged that an “agent-involved shooting” took place at approximately 10:00 PM (original link).

The agents were reportedly responding to a possible human smuggling incident, along with officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI) and the Webb County, Texas Constable’s Office.

The Times reported:

Border Patrol agents and officials from Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of ICE, identified themselves as they approached the car, officials said.

But the driver “suddenly accelerated in reverse,” pinning a Border Patrol agent and a person whom he had been interviewing against another vehicle, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

The driver did not respond to orders to stop and “agents deployed lethal force to stop the threat,” the statement said.

The driver, who was not identified by name, died at the scene. The Border Patrol agent, who sustained leg injuries, was taken to a hospital and later released.

Two other people in the car were injured. In a video posted to Facebook, Border Patrol Laredo Sector Chief Matthew Hudak said that “agents from both agencies deployed lethal force so stop that threat.” The Laredo Police Department and FBI, he added, were leading the investigation into the incident. “Agents did what they needed to do to protect their fellow agent and to protect the suspect that was being interviewed,” Hudak concluded.

— Michael Levenson, “Border Patrol Agents Fatally Shoot Driver in Texas” (New York: The New York Times, October 25, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/25/us/border-patrol-shooting-texas.html.

— Matthew Hudak, “Initial Statement on an Agent-Involved Shooting in Laredo” (Laredo: U.S. Border Patrol Laredo Sector, October 23, 2020) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/initial-statement-agent-involved-shooting-laredo.

— U.S. Border Patrol Laredo Sector, “Agent Involved Shooting Update-Chief Patrol Agent Matthew Hudak” (Laredo: Facebook, October 24, 2020) https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=262600961857758&ref=sharing.

Sector(s): Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, ICE

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Under FBI Investigation, Under Local Police investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult

October 23, 2020

Border Patrol agent Ryan Gonsalves shot and killed David Angel Villalobos-Baldovinos, a Mexican citizen and Tijuana resident who allegedly tried to enter the United States illegally. Gonsalves confronted Villalobos-Baldovinos near the Las Américas outlet mall next to the San Ysidro port of entry. “An alleged scuffle unfolded, and the agent shot Villalobos-Baldovinos once in his upper body,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. “The agent suffered minor injuries, though police did not elaborate on the extent of the injuries.”

San Diego police were investigating the shooting. “We’re still putting the pieces together on this,” police Lt. Andra Brown told the Union-Tribune on October 27.

Villalobos-Baldovinos reportedly had family on both sides of the border. He was briefly jailed in San Diego in 2019 for the misdemeanor charge of improper entry (original link).

This would be the first of two Border Patrol-involved fatal shootings in the agency’s San Diego sector within the space of six months. Agents would shoot and kill Silvestre Vargas Estrada on May 14, 2021.

— Brenda Gregorio-Nieto, “One Dead in Shooting Involving Border Patrol Near Las Americas Premium Outlets” (San Diego: NBC 7 San Diego, October 25, 2020) https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/us-border-patrol-involved-in-shooting-in-san-ysidro/2430349/.

19-2881 – USA v. Villalobos-Valdovinos (San Diego: U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, July 30, 2019) https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/USCOURTS-casd-3_19-cr-02881/context.

— David Hernandez, “Police release name of man fatally shot by Border Patrol agent” (San Diego, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 27, 2020) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2020-10-27/police-release-name-of-man-fatally-shot-by-border-patrol-agent.

— “Border Patrol Agent Who Fatally Shot Suspected Border-Jumper ID’d” (San Diego: City News Service, NBC 7 San Diego, November 3, 2020) https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/border-patrol-agent-who-fatally-shot-suspected-border-jumper-idd/2435819/.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

October 14, 2020

A report from the Border Network for Human Rights included the testimony of “A.P.M.R.,” who said she was invasively strip-searched and harassed by CBP Field Operations personnel at El Paso’s Santa Fe (Paso del Norte Bridge) Port of Entry.

On Oct. 14, between 4 and 5 p.m., I crossed the international port of entry. At the port of entry, the officer asked me the reason for my visit to Juarez, to which I responded that I had gone to see a dentist. He asked me to take off my mask and my glasses, then asked me if I had something to declare. I responded I didn’t. He also asked me when was the last time I had been to Juarez. I told him I did not remember, possibly three months ago.

That bothered the officer. He yelled at me, “How are you not able to remember!” Then the officer asked if I had ever had problems. I assumed the question was if I had ever had any issues with the police in the United States, so I answered I had not.

He then called another officer and claimed I was lying to them. They said that I had an issue with immigration back in 2000. I did have an issue 20 years ago, but I had applied for my legal residency and I was approved. I thought it was a thing of the past.

The officer never specified if I had immigration issues; it was just a misunderstanding on my end. However, they took my fingerprints and my picture.

She called another officer and took me into a room. She yelled at me; told me she was going to check me. I thought she was referring to my purse, but no. She yelled at me to raise my hands against the wall and began to inspect me and touch my private parts. She smacked my left thigh and yelled at me to open my legs further. She asked if there was anything in between, referring to my vagina, and I said no.

I was embarrassed, harassed, and sexually assaulted without a reason, motive, or warning. I did nothing wrong or illegal to deserve this treatment. After the officer searched me, she went through my purse and travel bag and found nothing illegal. She questioned me about some pills that I had, and I told her they were for my migraine.

She was yelling at me the whole time, trying to intimidate me, embarrass me, and harass me. Throughout this whole situation, there was another female officer inside the room just looking at us. In the end, the last officer told me that every time I cross the border, I have to declare that I’ve been deported. I was never told this before; I took it as intimidation.

I was treated like a criminal, like an animal that didn’t deserve respect over a simple misunderstanding. None of the officers were wearing masks. They took my fingerprints, took my picture, told me to take my shoes and mask off, and exposed me to potentially catching Covid-19.

The Border Network for Human Rights stated that it shared this and other testimonies in its February 2022 abuse monitoring report “with the agencies involved.”

The State of Human Rights at the U.S. – Mexico Border: Abuse Documentation 2022 Campaign Report (El Paso, Border Network for Human Rights, February 22, 2022) https://bnhr.org/abuse-documentation-2022-campaign-report/.

Sector(s): El Paso Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Disregard of Public Health, Wrongful Strip Search

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Single Adult, U.S. Citizen or Resident

October 13, 2020

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff issued a scathing report about the activities of CBP personnel in Guatemala in January 2020 (original link). The CBP agents were in Guatemala on a support mission funded by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

According to the report, the CBP personnel deployed near Guatemala’s border with Honduras and confronted a “caravan” of Honduran migrants directly, apprehending many of them—including families—and transporting them back into Honduras aboard unmarked, rented vehicles.

For months, the report alleges, the Department of Homeland Security failed to respond to Foreign Relations Committee staff inquiries, and lied to the State Deparment—which funded the agents’ presence—about the role that the CBP agents had played.

DHS Run Amok? A Reckless Overseas Operation, Violations, and Lies (Washington: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff, October 13, 2020) https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Final%20INL%20DHS%20Report.pdf.

Sector(s): Outside the United States

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Inappropriate Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Congressional Investigation Closed

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras

October 5, 2020

Border Patrol agents, including members of the Border Patrol’s SWAT team-like Tactical Unit (BORTAC), carried out another raid on the Byrd Camp, a desert facility near Arivaca, Arizona operated by the faith-based humanitarian group No More Deaths (NMD). This follows a raid just over two months earlier, on July 31.

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild described the operation:

After staking out the Byrd Camp for nearly two days, Border Patrol agents stormed the Camp in a convoy of vehicles that included a Bearcat tank. A Border Patrol helicopter buzzed the camp, flying so low that its rotor wash destroyed a NMD tent and storage shed. Agents detained at least a dozen people, including at least six NMD volunteers.

BORTAC “came in, guns drawn, in full camouflage. The sun had just gone down, so it was totally pitch-black. They detained all of the volunteers,” No More Deaths volunteer Paige Corich-Kleim told the Nation. “All of the people [migrants] that were at camp receiving [humanitarian] aid were chased in the darkness. Border Patrol detained 12 people there.” Corich-Kleim noted an increase in aggressive behavior from the agency:

We’ve been documenting their abuses since 2008, but under the Trump administration, more explicitly racist and violent policies and tactics are more widely accepted and endorsed by the president and by the political institutions. They’ve been able to normalize and escalate all of these tactics over the years. I think what we’re seeing now is Border Patrol is able to operate with even more impunity and in even more violent ways, and still get away with it.

— Tory Johnson, “Border Patrol is Going After Humanitarian Aid in the Arizona Desert—Again” (United States: Immigration Impact, American Immigration Council, October 15, 2020) https://immigrationimpact.com/2020/10/15/border-patrol-raid-humanitarian-camp/.

— Sirine Shebaya, Joseph Meyers, Matthew S. Vogel, Khaled Alrabe, Letter to Customs and Border Protection (Washington: National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, October 5, 2021) https://nipnlg.org/PDFs/2021_05Oct_NMD-letter.pdf.

— Jessica Suriano, “The Border Patrol Is Cracking Down on Humanitarian Aid” (United States: The Nation, December 15, 2020) https://www.thenation.com/article/society/no-more-deaths-arizona/.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, BORTAC

Event Type(s): Intimidation of Humanitarian Workers, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

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

Early October, 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

At the beginning of October, a pregnant woman migrating with her husband in the Sonoran desert was experiencing pre-term contractions when CBP officials encountered her. CBP transported the mother to Tucson Medical Center to undergo an emergency cesarean section, and detained the father, separating him from the rest of the family. CBP removed him to Mexico within a few days. The Florence Project feared that the mother, upon discharge from the hospital, would be returned to Mexico pursuant to Title 42 while her newborn, nursing son remained in the neonatal intensive care unit. Thankfully, through Florence Project representation and congressional advocacy, CBP granted the mother parole. The father remains separated from his family, and it is unclear whether the mother would have remained with her newborn without significant intervention from a third party.

— “October 15 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, October 15, 2020.)

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Pregnancy