100 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in “Border-Wide”

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

June 20, 2023

“As the Biden administration prepared to launch speedy asylum screenings at Border Patrol holding facilities this spring, authorities pledged a key difference from a Trump-era version of the policy: Migrants would be guaranteed access to legal counsel,” the Associated Press reported on July 2, 2023. A May 1 fact sheet from DHS had explained, “CBP and ICE have expanded holding capacity and set up equipment and procedures so that individuals have the ability to access counsel” (original link).

A report from the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) found otherwise. As of June 20, NIJC had carried out telephonic legal consultations with 23 asylum seekers compelled to defend their cases in rapid, telephonic credible fear interviews (CFIs) with asylum officers while in CBP custody, shortly after being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. The organization found that “CBP and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) continue to routinely and severely obstruct access to counsel for people attempting to seek asylum in CBP custody.”

All consultations with clients must happen over the telephone, as “CBP continues to deny attorneys physical access to CBP facilities,” NIJC noted, adding that this makes it impossible to return calls.

Even getting an agreement to represent an asylum seeker before their CFI has been made very difficult: USCIS requires migrants to physically (not electronically) sign a document agreeing to be represented. CBP, however, often fails to deliver those documents to asylum seekers in the agency’s custody, NIJC found:

CBP regularly fails to even respond to emails from NIJC attorneys requesting that they facilitate a client’s signature.

In four cases, CBP failed to respond to multiple emails from NIJC attorneys requesting assistance with obtaining their client’s signatures on a notice of appearance. In three of these cases, USCIS proceeded to conduct the clients’ CFIs without counsel present. In the fourth case, USCIS convinced NIJC’s client to return to Mexico on a voluntary return order, a decision with significant legal consequences.

In another case, “a CBP officer [probably a Border Patrol agent] pointed a person seeking asylum to the phone booths [in the holding facility] and told him that he could call either his family or an attorney — not both. The client called his family.”

Despite assurances that it would provide asylum seekers with pens and paper to take notes during their telephonic conversations with counsel, “in most cases CBP still refuses to allow people access to pen and paper during their consultations,” NIJC reported.

Of the 23 people for whom NIJC has conducted consultations, only six people had access to a pen and paper (half of whom received them only upon NIJC’s request). In one case, a CBP officer told an NIJC attorney that these basic supplies were in “short supply.” Pens and paper are critical to help people remember their attorney’s name and phone number in addition to complex legal information.

— U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “Fact Sheet: Update on DHS Planning for Southwest Border Security Measures as the Title 42 Public Health Order Ends,” May 1, 2023. https://www.dhs.gov/news/2023/05/01/fact-sheet-update-dhs-planning-southwest-border-security-measures-title-42-public.

— Spagat, Elliot. “The Biden Administration Guaranteed Attorney Access for All Migrant Screenings. Most Don’t Have It.” Associated Press, July 2, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/border-asylum-screenings-credible-fear-biden-c0cb41b512609b3894ebcfaa3ed3bb4c.

— National Immigrant Justice Center. “Obstructed Legal Access: June 2023 Update,” June 20, 2023. https://immigrantjustice.org/staff/blog/obstructed-legal-access-june-2023-update.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Denial of Access to Asylum, Denial of Access to Counsel

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

June 20, 2023

“One person I represented had been held in CBP custody for two weeks before she spoke with an asylum officer,” said National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) Supervising Attorney Lee VanderLinden, in an NIJC report about CBP blocking access to counsel for asylum seekers in the agency’s custody. “During that time, she was denied medical attention despite asking for treatment for her anxiety. She has since been deported, but the government has not told me or her mother to where she was deported.”

— National Immigrant Justice Center. “Obstructed Legal Access: June 2023 Update,” June 20, 2023. https://immigrantjustice.org/staff/blog/obstructed-legal-access-june-2023-update.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Access to Asylum, Denial of Access to Counsel, Denial of Medical Care

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female

June 20, 2023

As the National Immigrant Justice Center and the New York Times reported, asylum seekers placed in “expedited removal” are forced to defend their claims while in CBP’s jail-like holding facilities within days of apprehension, resulting in elevated rates of failing the “credible fear” screening interview that determines asylum eligibility (70 percent failure in June 2023, compared to 26 percent in June 2019). A denial can result in immediate deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) promised that people in CBP custody would have access to counsel for the interview, though this rarely happens, and that people would not be held for longer than 72 hours, yet numerous reports indicate people being held for 10 days and some for up to 30 days. Various groups have voiced concerns about the expedited removal process and the severe obstructions to access to counsel for people attempting to seek asylum including limiting access to phones for legal consultations, failing to notify attorneys of their clients’ scheduled screenings and immigration court reviews, denying asylum seekers in CBP custody access to pen and paper, and requiring that people physically sign a notice of entry of appearance to secure the attorney/client relationship, while often failing to facilitate the required signature. The Times observed:

Lawyers cannot meet with clients who are in the custody of Border Patrol. Or call them. Or leave messages for them. There is no system to find out where a client is being held. And the government sets the schedules for key meetings when a lawyer should be present and changes dates and times often without notification.


The failure to notify counsel of credible fear interviews has occurred within the context of persistent communication from attorneys requesting notification. Among cases cited:

An NIJC (National Immigrant Justice Center) attorney seeking to represent two asylum seekers in CBP custody emailed her notices of appearance and requested to attend her clients’ CFIs on three separate occasions over the span of five days. She received no acknowledgement or response. Only upon notifying officials at Department of Homeland Security (DHS) headquarters of these cases was she informed that both of her clients had already been interviewed without counsel present.


The NIJC described the re-traumatizing and destabilizing nature of a truncated screening process, notably for individuals with specific vulnerabilities. Their clients have included youth, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and survivors of sexual violence—each forced to recount their past trauma to an asylum officer within 24 hours of arriving in the United States, all while sitting alone in a phone booth in a carceral setting. Lee VanderLinden, NIJC supervising attorney described the process for one of their clients:

One person I represented had been held in CBP custody for two weeks before she spoke with an asylum officer. During that time, she was denied medical attention despite asking for treatment for her anxiety. She has since been deported, but the government has not told me or her mother to where she was deported.

— National Immigrant Justice Center. “Obstructed Legal Access: June 2023 Update,” June 20, 2023. https://immigrantjustice.org/staff/blog/obstructed-legal-access-june-2023-update.
—Sullivan, Eileen. “Lawyers Say Helping Asylum Seekers in Border Custody Is Nearly Impossible.” The New York Times, July 22, 2023, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/22/us/politics/biden-asylum-policies-border.html.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS

Event Type(s): Denial of Access to Asylum, Denial of Access to Counsel, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: LGBTQ, Sexual Abuse Victim, Single Adult, Teen

June, 2023

A July 12, 2023 Human Rights First report found that asylum seekers forced to undergo credible fear interviews by telephone from CBP custody, under the Biden administration’s new asylum rule, “face abysmal conditions — including inadequate access to food, hygiene, or medical care — which may lead some to abandon their claims for protection.”

The report related the case of a Venezuelan asylum seeker fleeing government persecution who “accepted voluntary return to Mexico in June 2023 while suffering horrendous medical neglect in CBP custody.”

His asthma was exacerbated by the extreme cold in the CBP jail and he had recently been ill with pneumonia, but he was denied access to an inhaler or other medical care by CBP officers who told him they didn’t care or to “shut up” when he begged for medical attention. Though he feared harm in Mexico because he witnessed Mexican police targeting other Venezuelan migrants due to their nationality, he felt compelled to accept voluntary return to Mexico because of the conditions in CBP detention, according to his attorney at NIJC [National Immigrant Justice Center].

— Asencio, Christina, Eleanor Acer, and Rebecca Gendelman. “Refugee Protection Travesty.” New York: Human Rights First, July 12, 2023. https://humanrightsfirst.org/library/refugee-protection-travesty/.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Medical Condition, Single Adult, Venezuela

May 25, 2023

“An NIJC attorney was only able to appear with a client in one of the three immigration judge review hearings,” read a National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) report about CBP blocking access to counsel for asylum seekers in the agency’s custody. “In this case, the NIJC attorney only knew the review was happening because his client’s wife informed him. CBP refused the attorney’s requests to speak to his client to prepare for the immigration judge review.”

— National Immigrant Justice Center. “Obstructed Legal Access: NIJC’s Findings From 3 Weeks of Telephonic Legal Consultations in CBP Custody,” May 25, 2023. https://immigrantjustice.org/staff/blog/obstructed-legal-access-nijcs-findings-3-weeks-telephonic-legal-consultations-cbp.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Denial of Access to Asylum, Denial of Access to Counsel

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

December 6, 2022

After President Biden told a Fox News reporter that he is not visiting the border “because there are more important things going on,” an unnamed Border Patrol agent texted the conservative Daily Caller: “MORE IMPORTANT THINGS? This is HIS disaster, he created this catastrophe. The border crisis is a total breach of National Security. Give me a f—ing break…I can’t wait for this clown to be out of office.”

— Taer, Jennie. “‘Give Me A F***ing Break’: Border Agents Rip Biden For Saying ‘There Are More Important Things’ Than Visiting Border.” Daily Caller. Accessed February 19, 2023. <https://dailycaller.com/2022/12/06/border-biden-immigration-mexico/>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

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 20, 2022

Human rights and humanitarian groups present in Mexican border cities voiced strong concerns about the way that Title 42 expulsions of Venezuelan migrants into Mexico had been occurring since they began on October 12.

Dana Graber Ladek, IOM’s Mexico chief of mission, told Reuters that those expelled include single mothers, pregnant women, and people with illnesses.

Media reports pointed to husbands and wives being separated, with the spouses expelled hundreds of miles apart. “The separations of at least three married couples, as well as a mother returned without her 20-year-old son, occurred during some of the first expulsions of Venezuelans,” Reuters found. From the Rio Grande Valley Monitor:

“Some people came with their wives and they were separated. And they didn’t know where their wives were,” Felicia Rangel-Samponaro said.… “While we were on the bridge, one gentleman received a call from his wife. She was up in Piedras Negras by herself. He was standing there in Matamoros,” Rangel-Samponaro said.

Venezuelan migrants interviewed by the Monitor spoke of poor conditions in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, held “for up to nine days but only receiv[ing] apples to eat and water to drink without access to showers.”

Others reported non-return of documents or damage to personal items like telephones. The Monitor cited a Venezuelan migrant, using a pseudonym:

“They would throw the phones into the bags, ‘plunck, plunck.’ A lot of phones broke or didn’t want to turn on, because in a lot of the places we were taken, they’d throw down our belongings and told us to get our property,” David said.

— Diaz, Lizbeth, and Jose Luis Gonzalez. “U.N. Agency Flags Concern over Mass Venezuelan Expulsions from U.S.” Reuters, October 20, 2022, sec. Americas. <https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/un-agency-flags-concern-over-mass-venezuelan-expulsions-us-2022-10-19/>.

— Gonzalez, Valerie. “Venezuelan Migrants Show up at International Bridge with Questions Following Changes in US Policy.” MyRGV.Com. October 15, 2022. <https://myrgv.com/local-news/2022/10/14/venezuelan-migrants-show-up-at-international-bridge-with-questions-following-changes-in-us-policy/>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide, Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): CBP

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Married Adults, Venezuela

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 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 14, 2022

The acting chief of Border Patrol’s Law Enforcement Operations Directorate “left his post quietly” amid allegations that he pressured subordinate female employees to perform sexual favors. As of January 2023, Tony Barker, an agent for over 20 years, was under investigation by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, NBC News and the New York Times reported.

Women make up about 5 percent of Border Patrol’s workforce. During his 2021-2022 tenure as CBP commissioner, Chris Magnus told the Times, many women said they did not trust the agency’s procedures for addressing sexual misconduct: “Mr. Magnus said that several women described the process to him as pointless, especially when it involves complaining to a supervisor who may be close friends with the accused. ‘Too many of these guys just sort of stick together and protect each other,’ Mr. Magnus said. ‘It’s a culture of a wink and a nod.’”

— Ainsley, Julia. “Border Patrol Official Quit after Allegedly Pressuring Women for Sex, Officials Say.” NBC News, January 21, 2023. <https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/border-patrol-official-barker-resigned-allegedly-pressuring-women-sex-rcna66841>.

— Sullivan, Eileen. “Top Border Patrol Official Resigned Amid Allegations of Improper Conduct.” The New York Times, January 22, 2023, sec. U.S. <https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/21/us/politics/top-border-patrol-official-resigned.html>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Sexual Assault or Harassment

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: DHS Employee, Female

October 12, 2022

A report published by Oxfam America and the Tahirih Justice Center included service providers’ accounts of CBP officers ridiculing and scolding victims of violence seeking to apply for asylum at land-border ports of entry, a right that had been curtailed by the Title 42 pandemic expulsion policy.

the behavior of CBP officers toward asylum seekers is often demeaning; a number of respondents recount instances where they ignored or belittled survivors:

“Yeah, I mean, we’ve had people who are victims of gender- based violence in Mexico, go to the port of entry and ask immigration officials if they could apply for asylum…[In some cases] immigration officials responded by laughing at the person. I’ve seen this personally in multiple cases.” [63]

Such behavior by CBP officers not only leaves survivors feeling degraded, but contrary to the dictates of the Refugee Convention, it can also discourage survivors from asking for asylum at all, even upon arriving at the border:

“She wanted to tell the officer, ‘I want to seek asylum. I’m afraid to return to my country.’ But the officer made it impossible for her to say that; he did not allow her [to speak], shut her down every single moment and said, ‘I am talking, you need to listen to me.’” [64]

— Duvisac, Sara, and Irena Sullivan. “Surviving Deterrence: How Us Asylum Deterrence Policies Normalize Gender-Based Violence.” United States: Oxfam America, Tahirih Justice Center, October 12, 2022. <https://www.tahirih.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Oxfam_Tahirh_Surviving-Deterrence_English_2022.pdf>.

Footnotes from above:

[63] Interview 7, February 2022.

[64] Interview 25, February 2022.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Domestic or Gender-Based Violence Victim, Female

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

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 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 13, 2022

“As of August 15, 2022, there have been 21 deaths related to CBP vehicle pursuits,” read a letter to CBP management from six Democratic members of Congress. (Original link) “This puts 2022 firmly on track to be the deadliest year on record for deaths related to Border Patrol pursuits, potentially surpassing the unprecedented 23 pursuit-related deaths that occurred over the course of 2021, according to publicly available data.”

The letter asks CBP for its “timeline for developing the updated vehicle pursuit policy.” The agency published its revised directive on January 11, 2023. (Original links to announcement and directive)

— Escobar, Rep. Veronica, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, Rep. Juan Vargas, Rep. Sara Jacobs, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky. “Letter to CBP on High Speed Pursuits,” September 13, 2022. <https://escobar.house.gov/uploadedfiles/8.15.22_letter_to_cbp_on_high_speed_pursuits.pdf>.

— U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “CBP Updates Emergency Driving and Vehicular Pursuits Directive,” January 11, 2023. <https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/national-media-release/cbp-updates-emergency-driving-and-vehicular-pursuits-directive>.

— “CBP Directive 4510–026A Emergency Driving Including Vehicular Pursuits.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, January 11, 2023. <https://www.cbp.gov/document/directives/emergency-driving-including-vehicular-pursuits-us-customs-and-border-protection>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status:

Victim Classification:

September 9, 2022

“When USBP [U.S. Border Patrol] records inaccurate migrant information, it can lead to unaccompanied children’s placement at facilities that are not suited for their unique circumstances,” read a report from the DHS Inspector-General. (Original link)

We identified cases of children who were pregnant or without limbs but were transferred to HHS facilities that were not prepared to support these conditions. Further, without accurate migrant data, such as family status, it is more difficult for DHS and HHS to ensure family members remain together. We identified one case in which USBP classified a 10-month- old child as “unaccompanied” in the e3 system and failed to document family member information in the accompanying I-213, although the child crossed the border with two family members.

— “DHS Technology Systems Do Not Effectively Support Migrant Tracking at the Southwest Border.” Washington: DHS Office of Inspector-General, September 9, 2022. <https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-09/OIG-22-66-Sep22.pdf>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Unaccompanied Child

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

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 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

July 25, 2022

Reuters and the Washington Examiner reported that CBP counted 151 “CBP-related” deaths during the 2021 fiscal year. The term refers to deaths in CBP custody, at a port of entry or checkpoint, or while trying to elude CBP personnel.

— Mica Rosenberg, Kristina Cooke, Daniel Trotta, “The Border’s Toll” (United States: Reuters, July 25, 2022) https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-immigration-border-deaths/.

— Anna Giaritelli, “Migrant deaths at southern border soar to new high under Biden” (Washington: Washington Examiner, July 25, 2022) https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/migrant-deaths-at-southern-border-soar-to-new-high-under-biden.

Notification and Review Procedures for Certain Deaths and Deaths in Custody (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, September 22, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/document/guidance/notification-review-procedures-for-certain-deaths-and-deaths-in-custody.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Fatal Encounter

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

July 18, 2022

Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) show that CBP was among DHS agencies that purchased large amounts of location data from a contractor that harvested it from hundreds of millions of mobile phones across the United States. “In just three days in 2018, the documents show that the CBP collected data from more than 113,000 locations from phones in the Southwestern United States—equivalent to more than 26 data points per minute—without obtaining a warrant,” Politico reported. “By searching through this massive trove of location information at their whim, government investigators can identify and track specific individuals or everyone in a particular area, learning details of our private activities and associations,” the ACLU warned.

— Shreya Tewari, Fikayo Walter-Johnson, “New Records Detail DHS Purchase and Use of Vast Quantities of Cell Phone Location Data” (United States: American Civil Liberties Union, July 18, 2022) https://www.aclu.org/news/privacy-technology/new-records-detail-dhs-purchase-and-use-of-vast-quantities-of-cell-phone-location-data.

— Alfred Ng, “Homeland Security records show ‘shocking’ use of phone data, ACLU says” (Washington: Politico, July 18, 2022) https://www.politico.com/news/2022/07/18/dhs-location-data-aclu-00046208.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS, ICE

Event Type(s): Civil Liberties or Privacy Infringement

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

July 7, 2022

On July 14, the Intercept reported on a July 7 CBP briefing memo prepared ahead of a leadership meeting with the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG). It advises non-cooperation with the oversight agency, instructing

on how to push back against what it calls the inspector general’s ‘persistent’ request for ‘direct, unfettered access to CBP systems,’ as part of its ‘high number of OIG audits covering a variety of CBP program areas.’ In a section titled ‘Watch Out For/ If Asked,’ the memo describes a number of exemptions Customs and Border Protection can rely on to evade records requests from the inspector general’s office—including national security exemptions.

Ken Klippenstein, “Secret Service Deleted Jan. 6 Text Messages After Oversight Officials Requested Them” (United States: The Intercept, July 14, 2022) https://theintercept.com/2022/07/14/jan-6-texts-deleted-secret-service/.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: