7 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in “Yuma”

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

August 1, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sector(s): Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

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

Victim Classification: Sikh

January 26, 2022

A Border Patrol agent surreptitiously recorded audio of a discussion between DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and agents assembled in Yuma, Arizona. The agent leaked the audio to TownHall.com, a right-wing website. It recorded agents complaining about policies that allow asylum-seeking migrants to remain in the United States while their cases are adjudicated. One agent turned his back while the Secretary spoke to him.

On January 28, agents leaked video of a tense exchange between Border Patrol Chief Raúl Ortiz and agents during Mayorkas’s visit to Laredo, Texas. An agent says, “For evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing… You’re allowing illegal aliens to be dropped off in communities.” CNN reported that an agent in Laredo confronted Mayorkas for wearing a jacket with the Border Patrol badge.

Border Patrol management circulated a 2010 memo reminding agents that surreptitious recording of coworkers “falls below the standards of integrity.”

— Julio Rosas, “DHS Secretary Had a Disastrous Meeting with Border Patrol Agents” (TownHall.com, January 26, 2022) https://townhall.com/tipsheet/juliorosas/2022/01/26/audio-recording-of-dhs-sec-mayorkas-disastrous-tense-with-yuma-border-patrol-agen-n2602386.

— Ali Bradley, “Tense exchange between US Border Patrol agents and USBP Chief Ortiz today in Laredo” (Facebook, January 28, 2022) https://www.facebook.com/AliBradleyTV/videos/512111106860585/.

— Geneva Sands, “Leaked audio and video show Border Patrol agents confronting Homeland Security secretary at meetings” (CNN, February 1, 2022) https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/01/politics/border-patrol-agents-mayorkas/index.html.

Sector(s): Laredo, Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

Mid-July, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

Recently, one of our legal service partners spoke with Maily Martinez, who attempted to cross the border with her husband and son near the Yuma port of entry in early July. Maily was eight months pregnant with twins at the time. When BP agents encountered the family, the woman expressed that she urgently needed medical attention, but the agents ignored her and expelled her back to Mexico. She realized shortly after that the twins had died, likely right around the time that Border Patrol denied her medical aid.

A Noticias Telemundo story about the Honduran woman’s case, citing the hospital in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, noted that the fetuses perished from “interruption of feto-placental circulation.” The news outlet asked Border Patrol about the case; the agency responded, “We do not comment on individual cases due to privacy issues.”

— “July 22 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, July 22, 2021).

— “Madre inmigrante pierde bebés tras ser deportada de EE.UU.” (United States: Noticias Telemundo, July 8, 2021) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXZ9e1jQTew.

Sector(s): Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Medical Care

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

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras, Medical Condition, Pregnancy

June, 2021

A report from Human Rights First discussed the separation of a Venezuelan asylum seeker from his wife in Yuma, Arizona.

In June 2021, DHS separated a Venezuelan asylum seeker from his wife when they entered the United States near Yuma, Arizona to seek protection. ICE detained the man in the Kandiyohi County Jail in Minnesota, where he remained detained as of September 2021 while his wife was living in a community in Utah pursuing her asylum claim, according to The Advocates for Human Rights.

“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): Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, ICE

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Venezuela

March 7, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK detailed the experience of a Cuban asylum seeker in Border Patrol custody in Yuma, Arizona and Campo (Pine Valley), California.

A Cuban man and his wife crossed into the United States and were detained. He was searched and their documents were confiscated. The man was separated from his wife, even though his wife told the agents they were together.

He was transferred to Campo BP Station in California, and when he was being transferred he was told he would be reunited with his wife at the detention center. While in detention, he was not allowed to shower for five days, and the lights were always kept on.

There, a border patrol agent interviewed him in Spanish. The agent asked him about his relatives but did not ask anything about asylum. The man asked if he could present his case. The CBP agent said no, as that was for a courtroom with a lawyer. The man asked why the agent didn’t ask him why he left Cuba, and the agent still said no. After five days, they transported the man to expel him, very early in the morning.

The man says he was disoriented but once he heard he was being expelled he said he can’t leave without his wife. He was told his wife would be joining him soon. This was not true. He was not reunited with his wife and was expelled to Tijuana, Baja California in the early morning hours. A week later, he tried to cross again at Yuma as his wife was still in CBP custody. He was then expelled to Nogales.

KBI filed a March 24, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On April 23, 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): San Diego, Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Confiscation of Documents, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Family Separation, Lying or Deliberate Misleading, Non-Return of Belongings

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

Victim Classification: Cuba, Family Unit

March 4, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported that upon releasing them into Yuma, Arizona, CBP has been dropping asylum-seeking migrants in areas far from shelter and services.

On several occasions, rather than transport migrants to other locations where they can access services, CBP has simply dropped off migrants in parking lots in Yuma. Since many of these migrants have traveled distances in the desert, they are often being abandoned with injuries, including a young man who Border Patrol left alone at a bus station with a recently amputated foot.

— “March 4 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 4, 2021).

Sector(s): Yuma

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Denial of Medical Care

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

Victim Classification:

February 1, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK told of a Guatemalan woman, fleeing violence with her two-year-old child, whom Border Patrol expelled into Mexico twice in two weeks without providing a chance to make her case for asylum.

The woman has photo evidence of violence that she has faced in Guatemala. She requested asylum the first time she crossed the border [January 15, 2021], but the agents only listened to the unaccompanied minors in the facility and did not speak to the adults or ask questions. She tried showing agents her documentation to no avail.

The second time [February 1, 2021], she and her daughter were taken to two different border facilities, and each time she was denied the opportunity to speak. She said that a man in a black uniform attempted to speak to them but was asked not to by male agents in green uniforms. She was expelled to Nogales, Sonora.

KBI filed a February 15, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On February 25, CRCL emailed “that they received the complaint, recorded it in their database, and no further actions would be taken. 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, Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, No Further Action

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Guatemala