12 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in August 2021

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

August 2021

“In August 2021,” a Human Rights First report documented, “DHS expelled Cynthia, a 21-year-old pregnant Honduran woman to Mexico, without providing her water or medical attention after she had begged for something to drink and to see a doctor for stomach pain.” The case is mentioned briefly in the Texas Observer, which identified Border Patrol as the expelling agency. At a Catholic migrant shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, “doctors administered antibiotics for Cynthia’s infection.”

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks.

— Arianna Flores, “Border Patrol Ignored Migrants’ Pleas for Medical Help” (Texas: Public Health Watch, The Texas Observer, October 14, 2021) https://www.texasobserver.org/migrants-say-border-patrol-agents-ignored-pleas-for-medical-help/.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Food or Water, Denial of Medical Care

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Honduras, Medical Condition, Pregnancy, Single Adult

Late August 2021

“DHS continues to carry out some Title 42 expulsions to dangerous Mexican border cities in the middle of the night, when businesses are closed and humanitarian services are unavailable, increasing the risk that expelled individuals will be attacked,” according to a Human Rights First report.

For example, Border Patrol agents expelled more than 20 people through the DeConcini port of entry to Nogales, Mexico around 2:00 a.m. in late August 2021, leaving them stranded. Several of those expelled told Kino Border Initiative that when they eventually managed to reach a migrant shelter, they were denied entry because they did not have proof of a negative COVID-19 test, which was impossible to obtain in the middle of the night. With no other options, they were forced to spend the night sleeping on the street.

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

August 2021

“In August 2021, DHS subjected three Nicaraguan political dissidents to a lateral expulsion flight after they sought protection near McAllen, Texas,” reads a Human Rights First report.

DHS officers verbally abused them, threatening to release dogs to attack them. The officers woke the men at 1:00 am, handcuffed them, and forced them to stand for more than two hours before the expulsion flight. The officers lied to the men telling them that they would be sent to California and permitted to pursue their asylum cases, but instead expelled them to Tijuana. From there, Mexican immigration officials transported them to Mexico’s southern border and attempted to deport them to Guatemala, but Guatemalan immigration authorities refused to accept them, leaving them stranded in southern Mexico, according to Anaís Catalina, an advocate assisting them.

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley, San Diego

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Lying or Deliberate Misleading, Threat of Violence

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Nicaragua, Single Adult

Mid-August, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A woman who had severely injured her leg in the desert required emergency medical attention. Border Patrol took her to a hospital where she could be treated, but took her out of the hospital after a day and a half, despite the doctor’s recommendation that she stay for two weeks. Since her clothes were cut to treat her injury, she did not have anything left to wear. BP agents provided her with oversized disposable scrub pants and shirt, and no underwear. They then took her to their processing center, without any consideration for her or her injury. She was expelled into Mexico without proper clothing nor her prescribed medications.

— “August 19 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, August 19, 2021).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation, Denial of Medical Care

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

Victim Classification: Female, Medical Condition, Single Adult

Mid-August, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A Guatemalan man who was migrating due to extreme poverty attempted crossing into the U.S. near McAllen, Texas. Border Patrol apprehended him, held him under a highway bridge for several days [Border Patrol’s “Temporary Outdoor Processing Site” (TOPS) facility in Mission, Texas], then told him they would arrange transport to his family members in the United States.

They flew him to Tucson, and when they took him off the flight, told him they would take him to a place where he could sign papers for the transport to his family. Instead, they put him on a bus to Nogales, where he was expelled. He did not know he was being expelled until he reached the port of entry.

— “August 19 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, August 19, 2021).

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley, Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Lying or Deliberate Misleading

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

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Single Adult

Mid-August, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A woman from Guatemala who was migrating with her younger sister was expelled to Nogales last week after Border Patrol apprehended the sisters in the desert. Because the younger sister was a minor and her older sister was not her legal guardian, the sisters were separated when they were apprehended. The younger sister was kept in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and the older sister was expelled to Nogales. Border Patrol gave her no information whatsoever about what they had done with her younger sister, and she had no idea how to locate her. She was one of three women who came through KBI recently in the same situation.

— “August 19 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, August 19, 2021).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Family Separation

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

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Guatemala, Single Adult

August 7, 2021

For nearly an hour, Border Patrol vehicles, aided by CBP and National Guard helicopter surveillance, pursued a jeep that circumvented a checkpoint near Tucson.

A CBP release described how this pursuit ended in a fatal crash on a major interstate highway (original link).

With the assistance of air support, BPAs [Border Patrol agents] located the vehicle on I-10. At approximately 7:57 PM, a BPA attempted to stop the Jeep Liberty by deploying a Vehicle Immobilization Device (VID) on I-10, approximately 39 miles northwest of Tucson near Picacho Peak. The driver of the Jeep Liberty lost control, crossed the median and struck a tractor trailer in the eastbound lanes of travel. As a result of the impact, the vehicle traveled back into the median and caught fire. BPAs immediately requested emergency medical services (EMS), pulled several occupants from the vehicle, and rendered aid. There was a total of eleven occupants in the vehicle, to include two unidentified individuals who were declared deceased on the scene.

A third passenger in the jeep crash died after being transported to a hospital.

“This incident is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and reviewed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility,” read CBP’s release. “The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General was notified of the incident.”

It was the second Border Patrol pursuit ending in a fatal crash in four days. Two people died in a crash following an August 3, 2021 chase in New Mexico.

— “CBP Statement – Three fatalities in Arizona motor vehicle accident” (Washington: CBP, August 9, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-three-fatalities-arizona-motor-vehicle-accident.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

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

Victim Classification: Single Adult

August 5, 2021

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

Today (8/5/2021), I went to Ciudad Juárez with my 5-month-old son, Nathan, because he had an appointment with the pediatrician at the Family Clinic at 1:30 p.m. for a stomach infection and flu. When I returned to El Paso, I arrived at the Santa Fe bridge around 2:20 p.m. When it was my turn to see the officer, he told me he would take my photo, which I agreed to. He asked for my documents; I gave him my Texas identification. When he asked for my son’s papers, I showed him the papers from our visit to the clinic, which had my full name and my son’s social security number. He told me that I would have to go in for a routine check-up. I told him that was fine; I had no illegal things with me.

They put me in the inspection room with three officers, two females and a male officer sitting on the computer. The male officer stated that my son did not look like me and that my son’s papers were invalid. He asked me, “how do we verify that he is your son? We would have to do a DNA test, and that would take a week.” Therefore, he said they were going to take my son to a detention place. I asked him where they were going to take him. The officer, an older man, mockingly told me that he would put him in a cage. The way he expressed himself was not funny to me at all.

They told me to take my money and all my belongings and put them inside my son’s diaper bag. One of the female officers checked the diaper bag, put it in a blue box, and then took my son. The other female officer inspected me thoroughly. She put me against the wall and told me to lower my pants to my knees. She physically checked my whole body. She put her hands under my bra and touched my parts in front and behind.

The male officer told me that, since I couldn’t prove that he was my son, they would accuse me of child trafficking and arrest me. I told him that I knew a person from CPS who could verify that the child is indeed my son and that he is an American citizen. At that moment, he turned around, looked at me, and repeated, “CPS?”

The officer then gave me back my documents and told me to leave. He said that he did not want to see me crossing the border with my son, that the next time, they would take him away from me. One of the female officers accompanied me to the door to leave. I was detained for approximately 40 minutes.

The truth is that I felt denigrated because of the way they abused my rights and those of my son. I was only taking him to the doctor; I was not doing anything illegal. I showed him the doctor’s prescription, but he did not mind exposing my son to a closed place where there were more people and possible contagious viruses. My son is a baby; he was sick.

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): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language, Disregard of Public Health, Wrongful Strip Search

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Female

August 3, 2021

An August 25 letter to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the ACLU of Texas described an August 3 Border Patrol vehicle pursuit that led to two fatalities in New Mexico.

Early in the morning of August 3, 2021, a Border Patrol agent assigned to the Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S. Border Patrol Station was reportedly patrolling New Mexico State Road 185 approximately six miles south of the Border Patrol checkpoint, which is located approximately 69 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. According to CBP, the agent witnessed a northbound vehicle pull to the side of the road and then proceed north. The Border Patrol agent reportedly followed the vehicle without activating his emergency equipment.

The vehicle reportedly evaded the Border Patrol checkpoint by driving onto the southbound lanes of New Mexico State Road 185 and then continued north, at which time the Border Patrol agent activated his emergency equipment and attempted to stop the vehicle. Another Border Patrol unit also reportedly pursued the vehicle.

Approximately three miles north of the Border Patrol checkpoint, the vehicle crashed. Several occupants were ejected from the vehicle. The agency’s statement simply claims “the driver lost control and crashed,” but does not indicate the location or conduct of Border Patrol agents’ vehicles immediately preceding the crash.

A CBP release, issued two weeks later, reported that one passenger aboard the vehicle, a male citizen of Ecuador, died (original link). The vehicle’s driver, a male U.S. citizen, died of his injuries 12 days after the crash. Eight other passengers were hospitalized.

“This incident is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the New Mexico State Police, and reviewed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility and the El Paso County Office of the Medical Examiner,” CBP’s release continued. “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General was also notified.”

It was the first of two Border Patrol pursuits ending in fatal crashes in four days. Three people died in a crash following an August 7, 2021 chase in Arizona.

This incident would be featured in a January 10, 2022 front-page New York Times story about Border Patrol vehicle pursuit tactics. The Times account included the role of Border Patrol’s secretive Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs), which advocates accuse of having helped to frustrate investigations into abuses committed by agents:

Body camera footage from a state police officer captured one of the Border Patrol agents saying: “Our critical incident team is coming out. They’ll do all the crime scene stuff—well, not crime scene, but critical incident scene.” The agent said that he and his colleague would give statements to the team, which it would share with the police.

On June 7, 2022, the ACLU of Texas and ACLU of New Mexico confirmed that Border Patrol Critical Incident Team personnel were at the scene of the crash within about an hour. Through state-level public records requests, the ACLU obtained the first-ever publicly available copy of a BPCIT incident report. The 162-page document “raises more questions than it answers,” the organization observed (original link). It pointed out several inconsistencies in the BPCIT report’s findings, including its descriptions of the distance at which the Border Patrol vehicle was following, when it activated its lights and sirens, whether “spike strips” were used to disable the pursued vehicle, and even the number of miles over which the chase took place.

The quality of the incident report, the ACLU offices concluded, raises concerns about CBP’s plan to terminate the BPCITs by absorbing their personnel into CBP’s Office of Public Responsibility (OPR) by the end of September 2022. “While OPR is tasked with conducting independent and impartial investigations, confidence in their results is wholly undermined by the involvement of Border Patrol’s CITs as investigators.”

Times reporter Eileen Sullivan identified the vehicle’s driver: 25-year-old Erik A. Molix, who was transporting nine undocumented migrants in a sport utility vehicle. Agents chased him at speeds reaching 73 miles per hour. A Border Patrol vehicle clipped Molix’s SUV, sending it tumbling off the road. Molix’s mother, a 5th-grade teacher in El Paso, found out about her son’s death from a CBP news release. While he may have been doing something illegal, she told the Times, “That doesn’t mean you have to die for it.”

The ACLU’s August 2021 letter called on CBP to carry out “robust and independent investigations” into the pursuit incident, and that the agency publicly release its written vehicle pursuit policy and review whether Border Patrol agents deviated from it during the August 3 chase.

CBP made its vehicle pursuit policy public, in redacted form, for the first time in November 2021 (original link). On May 24, 2022, the Associated Press reported that CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus “developing a new policy for vehicle pursuits with an eye toward increasing safety.”

— Rebecca Sheff, Shaw Drake, “CBP’s Vehicle Pursuit Policy and Border Patrol’s Deadly Pursuit of a Vehicle on August 3, 2021 near Las Cruces, New Mexico” (New Mexico and Texas: ACLU of New Mexico, ACLU of Texas, August 25, 2021) https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/aclu_letter_to_cbp_re_las_cruces_vehicle_pursuit.pdf.

— “Smuggler loses control of vehicle while evading checkpoint, causing a death and injuries to ejected passengers” (Las Cruces: CBP, August 17, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/smuggler-loses-control-vehicle-while-evading-checkpoint-causing.

— Eileen Sullivan, “A Rise in Deadly Border Patrol Chases Renews Concerns About Accountability” (New York: The New York Times, January 9, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/09/us/politics/border-patrol-migrant-deaths.html.

Emergency Driving Including Vehicular Pursuits by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Personnel (Washington: CBP, January 16, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2021-Nov/CBP-directive-emergency-driving-Including-vehicular-pursuits-us-cbp-personnel-redacted.pdf.

— Elliot Spagat, “Border agency plans vehicle pursuit policy to raise safety” (Donna: Associated Press, May 24, 2022) https://apnews.com/article/politics-us-customs-and-border-protection-texas-law-enforcement-agencies-694e39abaca42abbee4f1093484b9b76.

— Shaw Drake, Rebecca Sheff, “Border Patrol is Investigating Itself Following Deaths, Report Reveals” (Texas and New Mexico, ACLU of Texas and ACLU of New Mexico, June 7, 2022) https://www.aclu.org/news/immigrants-rights/border-patrol-is-investigating-itself-following-deaths-report-reveals.

Report as prepared by EPT CIT including all facts pertaining to the case listed above (El Paso: U.S. Border Patrol, 2021) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22016802-us_cbp_final_report_redacted.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Critical Incident Teams

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

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

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

August 2, 2021

A CBP statement related the death in Border Patrol custody of a Salvadoran man near Eagle Pass, Texas (original link). The man had become “unresponsive” after being restrained for having reportedly become “unruly.”

The following statement pertains to an in-custody death that occurred near Eagle Pass, TX, on Monday, August 2, 2021. This information is based on a preliminary review and may be corrected or updated in the future. Additional information may also be released by other agencies investigating this incident.

On August 2, 2021, Border Patrol Agents (BPAs) were alerted to the presence of a group of suspected undocumented migrants inside a ranch approximately 17 miles south of Eagle Pass, Texas near Highway 277. BPAs assigned to the Eagle Pass South (EGS) Border Patrol Station responded and began tracking the group of migrants. After approximately nine hours of tracking the group, BPAs located and apprehended seven migrants while several other individuals fled. BPAs continued to search for these individuals.

Shortly thereafter, BPAs apprehended five more migrants, to include a male citizen of El Salvador. The man was initially handcuffed together with two other migrants using two sets of handcuffs. The man reportedly became unruly and was causing discomfort to the other two individuals to whom he was attached. When BPAs removed the handcuffs to separate him from the others, he attempted to escape, running a short distance before being apprehended again by BPAs. BPAs restrained him with his hands behind his back and placed him on the hood of a nearby Border Patrol vehicle. BPAs placed two other migrants on the front bumper area of the vehicle and two in the rear of the vehicle and drove back to the location where the first group was apprehended to await a transport vehicle.

Upon arrival at that location, BPAs removed all the migrants from the Border Patrol vehicle to await the transport vehicle; the El Salvadoran man remained restrained. When the Border Patrol transport vehicle arrived approximately one hour later, BPAs discovered the man was unresponsive. The BPAs began chest compressions and requested emergency medical services. When the Eagle Pass Fire Department arrived on the scene, medical personnel determined the man was deceased.

Consistent with agency procedures for reviewing in-custody deaths, CBP OPR immediately responded to the scene, interviewed migrants involved in the incident, and subsequently notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the DHS Office of Inspector General, and the Dimmit County Sheriff’s Department. The Webb County Medical Examiner’s Office and CBP OPR are reviewing this incident which is under investigation by the Texas Rangers. CBP is fully cooperating with all agencies reviewing or investigating this incident.

All CBP personnel involved in the incident have been reassigned to non-field enforcement activities, pending the results of the investigation and subsequent actions that may be warranted. Additionally, U.S. Border Patrol has initiated a full review of their transport and detention procedures to assure they are fully compliant with the CBP Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS) policy.

CBP Statement: Death in Custody at Eagle Pass, TX” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, August 6, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-death-custody-eagle-pass-tx-0.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Use of Force

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

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Single Adult

Early August, 2021

A report from Human Rights First discussed a Honduran asylum-seeking father’s prolonged separation from his family.

In early August 2021, DHS separated a 21-year-old Honduran asylum seeker from his wife and sick baby, who suffers from hydrocephalus and seizures, and detained the man at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Washington. CBP released the wife and child, who relocated to Virginia to continue their asylum case. The man remained detained one-and-a-half months later, according to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

“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, Honduras, Medical Condition

August 1, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described Border Patrol agents’ violent apprehension of a group of six migrants in Arizona.

A Guatemalan man in a group of six entered the United States and encountered Border Patrol agents. One of the agents pushed one of the men down with a knee on his back. Another man from the group was running, and the dog the agents brought with them attacked him and knocked him face down into a cactus. One of the spines penetrated near his eye, causing his face to bleed. When the man with eye injury asked for help, the agents said no, and that this is what happens to people who come here.

An agent grabbed the Guatemalan man who filed this complaint by the back of the neck and shoved him. The agent lunged to try to shove him again; when he ducked down the agent kept going forward and hurt himself on the cactus spines. Angered by this, the agent grabbed the Guatemalan man by the neck. The man said he felt like he was being choked. The Guatemalan man was injured as he had cactus spines stuck in his legs. He was not allowed to take them out until the next day.

The Guatemalan man’s brother-in-law was also in the group. He was dehydrated and vomiting. As he lay on the ground, begging for water, an agent put his foot on the man’s back and then kneeled on him. It was not until they arrived at a temporary outpost nearly two hours later that they got water.

The group was expelled to Nogales, Sonora the next morning, where Kino then took them to the hospital.

KBI filed an August 4, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). As of August 17, 2021, KBI had not yet received a response.

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): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Food or Water, Denial of Medical Care, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Medical Condition, Single Adult