6 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in May 2021

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

May, 2021

A report from Human Rights First discussed the separation of an 19-year-old Venezuelan from the rest of her family at the border.

DHS separated a 19-year-old Venezuelan asylum seeker from her parents and younger brother in May 2021, who were paroled into the United States to apply for asylum. ICE then detained her for nearly two months at the Imperial Regional Detention Facility. The family fled Venezuela after the young woman was kidnapped and beaten by Venezuelan government agents and her brother murdered because of the family’s political opposition work. DHS denied a request for parole filed by her attorney in June 2021, according to Adam Howard, who assisted in representing her.

“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.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, ICE

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Venezuela

May 16, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK reported a Mexican asylum seeker’s allegations that CBP used violence during one of his several unsuccessful attempts to ask for protection at a Nogales, Arizona port of entry.

A Mexican man presented himself at the DeConcini Port of Entry seeking asylum several times over a period of two days. He received threats that made him believe his life was in danger and even survived an attempted kidnapping in Nogales.

On May 16, he ran toward the port of entry, near where cars were crossing because he was afraid of his pursuers. CBP officers apprehended him there. He was punched, kicked, and beaten by about twelve officers. He told them that he wanted asylum because there were people in Mexico who were trying to kill him. CBP did not give him an opportunity to talk to anyone else and he was immediately expelled back to Mexico.

CBP called the Mexican police, who never came. They then called the Mexican Red Cross to take him to the General Hospital of Nogales in Sonora. The hospital did not take care of his wounds.

When released from the hospital, he tried again to enter the United States at the port of entry because people were following him. He tried asking for asylum to the 9 agents who detained him. However, the agents told him he had no right to be in the United States and asked him to be silent. The agents then took him to a room and questioned him but did not ask him about asylum. He was then expelled back to Mexico again.

KBI filed a May 25, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On June 2, 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 Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

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

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

Victim Classification: Kidnap Victim, Mexico, Single Adult

May 14, 2021

Three Border Patrol agents shot 26-year-old San Diego resident Silvestre Vargas Estrada through the windshield of his car in Campo, California. Vargas Estrada was killed. Two passengers, believed to be Mexican men who had entered the country illegally, were not injured.

A release from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department reported:

Just before 10:30 p.m. on May 14, 2021, agents with the U.S. Border Patrol were involved in a pursuit with a vehicle containing three adult males. The pursuit ended in a gas station parking lot at the intersection of State Route 94 and Buckman Springs Road in Campo. A confrontation ensued, resulting in three agents discharging their firearms. The driver of the vehicle was struck by gunfire. The man was transported by ambulance to a local area hospital. Unfortunately, he was pronounced deceased shortly after arriving at the hospital (original link).

The Sheriff’s Department homicide unit was leading the investigation, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on May 18, 2021. “The FBI, Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility also responded to the scene and will review the investigation.”

It was the second Border Patrol-involved fatal shooting in the agency’s San Diego sector in six months. An agent shot and killed David Angel Villalobos-Baldovinos following a reported altercation on October 23, 2020.

— Thomas Seiver, “U.S. Border Patrol Agents Involved Shooting – Update 1” (San Diego: San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, May 18, 2021) https://www.sdsheriff.gov/Home/Components/News/News/384/16.

— Alex Riggins, “Authorities ID San Diego man shot, killed by Border Patrol agents” (San Diego, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 18, 2021) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2021-05-18/authorities-id-san-diego-man-shot-killed-by-border-patrol-agents.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force, Vehicle Pursuit

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

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

May 12, 2021

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

My nightmare started on Wednesday, May 12, at 2:00 p.m., when I was coming over by the Paso del Norte Port of Entry. I was coming from Juárez because I had surgery on one eye. I had to wear special glasses.

The CBP officer started questioning me and asking me why I was so nervous. To which I responded, “I just had an eye surgery, and I can’t be without my glasses for long.” The CBP officer then asked if I had illegal drugs on me. I told her I had nothing on me. The CBP officer then sent me to get inspected in a room where they touched my whole body, including my private parts. I felt so bad and humiliated. I did not deserve to be treated that way. I felt like they took advantage of me; I felt so helpless.

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): Wrongful Strip Search

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

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

May 11, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK discussed a Guatemalan asylum seeker’s separation from her brother and inability to request asylum while in Border Patrol custody in Arizona.

A Guatemalan woman traveling with her son and brother were detained by Border Patrol once they entered the United States and processed at an open-air border facility. At the open-air facility, they did not ask them why they were in the US or give them a chance to claim asylum.

There, she was separated from her brother. She was told this was because he was a minor and not her son. She told the agent she had a power of attorney paper signed by her mother to care for her brother and presented the papers. They didn’t accept the papers.

They transferred them to Tucson. The three of them had fled Guatemala because of the murder of family members. In the Tucson facility, she could see her brother detained separately with the other minors. That was the last time she saw her brother as of the time this complaint was filed.

At the Tucson facility, she told an agent she was afraid to return to Guatemala and she tried to show documentation of violence, the death certificates of her family members killed by organized crime. The CBP agent told her that her documents were likely fake because she comes from a “corrupt” country. In addition, the CBP agents said that every day, immigrants come to the facility with this type of paperwork. She tried to persuade him to look up the names of the murders online so he could see she was telling him the truth and the documents were real. He did not. She and her son were expelled to Nogales, Sonora.

KBI filed a May 19, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On June 1, 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, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Family Separation

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

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Guatemala