310 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct

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

April 15, 2020

A complaint from the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and ACLU Border Rights Center reported on CBP’s failure to implement a detainee locator system, which complicates efforts to reunify separated families:

A detainee locator system allows family members, lawyers, and other advocates to pinpoint exactly where a particular person is being held.[31] Typically, the use of such a system requires knowledge of the detainee’s country of origin and “alien number” (“A number”), or their exact full name, country of origin and date of birth. Unlike ICE, CBP has never implemented a detainee locator system, nor does it facilitate visitation or communications with family or lawyers. CBP’s refusal to do these things aggravates the harms that stem from the agency’s practice of separating family members through processing and detention. Although ICE’s system is far from perfect, advocates and families rely on it to locate their clients and loved ones.

— “Separation of Families via CBP Detention and Processing, and the Agency’s Refusal to Implement a Detainee Locator System” (San Diego and El Paso, ACLU Foundation San Diego and Imperial Counties, ACLU Border Rights Center, April 15, 2020) https://cbpabusestest2.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/2020-04-15-dhs-oig-cmplt-3-final.pdf.

Footnote from above:

[31]: As CBP has recognized, “[t]he intent of creating a [detainee locator system] is to provide the general public with an accessible system that would allow the public to conduct online Internet-based queries to locate persons detained by CBP for administrative and/or criminal violations.” U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, ONLINE DETAINEE LOCATOR SYSTEM (FY2017 Report to Congress), ii (Dec. 4, 2017) [hereinafter “CBP Detainee Locator Report”], https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CBP%20- %20Online%20Detainee%20Locator%20System_0.pdf.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit

April 15, 2020

A complaint from the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and ACLU Border Rights Center, based on interviews conducted in San Diego and Tijuana, found “a number of troubling cases in which CBP processing and/or detention led to family separations, including:”

* A woman whose heart condition worsened when, during processing, the Border Patrol separated her and her sister and transferred her sister to a different detention center without any advance notice or opportunity to say goodbye;

* A mother and her two sons (one a minor) apprehended by the Border Patrol and detained in a nearby station; when the mother, who had seriously injured her knee during her journey to the United States, was taken to a hospital for surgery, she was separated from her boys, who were left detained separately at the Border Patrol station. After her return from the hospital, the Border Patrol released the mother and minor son into the United States together, but separated the older son from them and transferred him to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) detention; [12]

* A grandmother who Border Patrol agents separated from her nine-year-old grandson after agents told her that his birth certificate was insufficient to establish biological familial ties. The grandmother was left anguished and fearful that her grandson would be given up to a U.S. family for adoption; and

* A family of nine which CBP separated into three different family units—notwithstanding the fact that all nine family members initially entered the United States together—and subjected to the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols.” The entire family was forcibly removed to Mexico, with each of the three “units” then receiving different master calendar hearing dates. This, in turn, resulted in separate nonrefoulement interviews. The stress of this arbitrary and inefficient separation of family members led the mother in the family to experience hyperventilating, vomiting, headache, and chest pain while awaiting her own nonrefoulement interview.

— “Separation of Families via CBP Detention and Processing, and the Agency’s Refusal to Implement a Detainee Locator System” (San Diego and El Paso, ACLU Foundation San Diego and Imperial Counties, ACLU Border Rights Center, April 15, 2020) https://cbpabusestest2.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/2020-04-15-dhs-oig-cmplt-3-final.pdf.

Footnote from above:

[12]: This family also included a father and two additional minor children, who had been separated from the mother and sons while crossing into the United States. Although the father saw one of his sons through a glass window while detained at the Border Patrol station and tried to explain to agents that his wife and other children were on site, the Border Patrol made no effort to reunite the family, and did not tell the mother that her partner was detained at the same station.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit

March 27, 2020

A complaint filed with the DHS Inspector-General by ACLU Texas and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center raised concerns that, at its El Paso “Station 1” facility, Border Patrol had “failed to take even the most basic actions to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 or mitigate the risk of harm to migrants, particularly the most vulnerable.”

Specifically, notwithstanding the threat from COVID-19, Border Patrol has in its El Paso Station 1 facility:

* Held over 150 persons in a single room with persons exhibiting flu-like symptoms;

* Failed to provide information to detained individuals on the COVID-19 pandemic, such as recommended Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for preventing transmission of the virus; [1]

* Held people in cells where they are forced to be in close contact with each other, including by sleeping approximately three feet apart;

* Failed to provide detained individuals with sufficient soap. For example, migrants reported that in one bathroom, only one of six sinks had a soap dispenser that in fact contained soap;

* Provided only a single square of toilet paper per use;

* Denied detained individuals access to hand sanitizer;

* Failed to provide adequate medical screening of detained individuals no texhibiting symptoms of illness; and

* Failed to ensure uniform access to personal protective equipment for everyone in the detention facility.

— “Re: Border Patrol Station 1 in El Paso, Texas: Failure to Adequately Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic” (El Paso: ACLU of Texas, ACLU Border Rights Center, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, March 27, 2020): 169 https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/2021_03_03_aclu_complaint_appendix.pdf.

Footnote from above:

[1] CDC, “Interim Guidance on Management of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Correctional and Detention Facilities,” March 23, 2020, available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/correction- detention/guidance-correctional-detention.html.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Disregard of Public Health

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification:

March 23, 2020

Voice of San Diego reported:

On March 23, U.S. Border Patrol officers stopped Gilmer Barrios at a checkpoint on I-15 north between Fallbrook and Temecula. Barrios, who had a pending immigration case to gain legal status in the U.S., was on his way home to Temecula from San Diego County when he passed an immigration checkpoint residents say has been largely dormant for years, but has become active again during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Border agents quickly deported Barrios to Tijuana. Barrios had an open case in U.S. immigration court, no prior deportation order and is a Guatemalan citizen—so if he was going to be deported, it shouldn’t have been to Tijuana. After 21 days in Tijuana, with help of the Guatemalan consul general in Los Angeles, he was brought back to the United States.

— “Border Patrol Activity in Rural North County Alarms Farmworkers, Advocates” (San Diego: Voice of San Diego, May 27, 2020 https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/government/immigration-enforcement-efforts-in-rural-north-county-alarm-farmworkers-advocates/.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Inappropriate Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Single Adult

February 18, 2020

An ACLU complaint to the DHS Inspector-General cited the recent case of “Baby Sofía,” a six-week-old infant whose Honduran parents were apprehended in Border Patrol’s San Diego sector (original link).

The agent who transported the family to a nearby Border Patrol station subjected them to a reckless “rough ride,” causing Sofia to be jostled severely in her carrier as the Border Patrol vehicle traversed uneven terrain.[37] At the station, the agent who fingerprinted the family yelled at Gloria [the mother] and told her she was a terrible mother for bringing her baby to the United States.[38]

While the family was in custody, Sofía became ill. Agents brought the mother and daughter to a nearby emergency room, leaving the father in custody.

“At the emergency room, a doctor determined that Sofia was dehydrated and constipated. The doctor explained that there was little he could do for the baby, and insisted that the baby see a pediatrician as soon as possible. Instead—and in direct contravention of this medical advice—the Border Patrol returned Gloria and Sofia to detention.”

Through a second day in custody, the baby’s condition worsened. Mother and daughter were taken to a nearby children’s hospital.

“The examining physician again concluded that the infant was dehydrated and constipated, and administered a rectal suppository to help move the baby’s bowels. The doctor also scolded the Border Patrol agents who had accompanied Gloria and Sofia to the hospital, admonishing them that the conditions inside the facility (as Gloria had described them) ‘[were] no conditions for a newborn.'” Agents failed to follow doctors’ recommendation that the baby be given prune or fruit juice to soften her bowels.

Following two more days in custody and another visit to the emergency room, Border Patrol released the family to the San Diego migrant respite center. Sofía’s mother said that, since a final check-up in Tijuana, the baby’s weight had dropped in custody from 11.46 points to 8.82 pounds.

— ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, ACLU Border Rights Center, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol’s Abuse and Mistreatment of Detained Sick Children,” Letter to DHS Inspector-General Joseph V. Cuffari, February 18, 2020 https://cbpabusestest2.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/2020-02-18-dhs-oig-cmplt-2-final.pdf.

Footnotes from above:

[37] A “rough ride” is a euphemism for the practice of intentionally operating a vehicle in a manner that causes passengers physical harm, fear, or other discomfort. See, e.g., A.C. Thompson, “Dirtbag,” “Savages,” “Subhuman”: A Border Patrol Agent’s Hateful Career and the Crime That Finally Ended It, PROPUBLICA, Aug. 16, 2019, https://www.propublica.org/article/border-agents-hateful-career-and-the-crime-that-finally-ended-it; Ieva Jusionyte, Pain on the Border: Fieldnotes from a Migrant Aid Center in Nogales, Mexico, REVISTA: HARVARD REVIEW OF LATIN AMERICA (“Displacements” Issue) (Winter 2017), https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/pain-border.

Infants are uniquely vulnerable to head and spine injuries, especially traumatic brain injuries, even when in appropriate car seats during motor vehicle accidents. See, e.g., Camille L. Stewart et. al., Infant Car Seat Safety and Risk of Head Injury, 49 J. PEDIATRIC SURGERY 193, 195 (2014), https://www.jpedsurg.org/article/S0022-3468(13)00773-2/pdf.

[38] ACLU has additional identifying details about this agent, which it can share with OIG upon request.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Rough Rides

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

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras

February 16, 2020

A Guatemalan woman and her family said that, while being processed in the Chula Vista Border Patrol station near San Diego, she was left to give birth “while standing up, holding on to the side of a trash can,” BuzzFeed reported. The woman, pregnant and experiencing contractions, had repeatedly asked the agents for help. “She was repeatedly told to sit down and wait to be processed, she said. …After about 30 minutes, her husband could hear the baby crying through the fabric of her pants.”

The family—father, mother, and two small children—had been sent to Tijuana in May 2019 under the Remain in Mexico program, where they had “spent nine months in a camp” and reported to the port of entry to attend three separate immigration hearings. Their next hearing was scheduled for May 2020; in February the family reported that their Guatemalan persecutors had found them in Tijuana and were threatening them, leading them to cross the border outside the port of entry.

While crossing the desert, the woman went into contractions. “They were soon apprehended by a Border Patrol agent,” BuzzFeed reports.

The woman was in clear distress, and her husband begged the agent for medical attention, the complaint says, but instead the agent loaded the family into his car and giving them a “rough ride” (an abusive practice in which some border agents reportedly purposefully drive badly so as to fling detainees around the car), the complaint says, and brought them to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station for processing.

“The apprehending agent could visibly see that the woman was pregnant; however, the mother did not appear to be in distress and did not request any medical attention,” read a release from CBP (original link). In April 2020, the ACLU and Jewish Family Service submitted a complaint to the DHS Inspector-General (original link). Thirteen Democratic senators signed a letter to the Inspector-General calling for investigations of this and other recent allegations of mistreatment in custody (original link).

Border Patrol San Diego Sector Chief Aaron Heitke tweeted, “CBP strongly disagrees with the unsubstantiated allegations against our agents & supports what appear to be nothing short of heroic actions by those on scene” (original link).

A July 2021 DHS Inspector General report found that the woman gave birth 17 minutes after arriving at the Border Patrol Station, concluding, “we found Border Patrol provided adequate medical assistance to the mother and her newborn and complied with applicable policies” (original link). The report did find that, after the woman’s release from the hospital, video footage showed her left to sleep overnight with her newborn on a bench in a holding cell at the Chula Vista station.

— Ema O’Connor, “A Woman Gave Birth In A Border Patrol Station Still Wearing Her Pants. Now The Agents Involved Are Being Accused Of Abuse.” (United States: BuzzFeed, April 8, 2020) https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/emaoconnor/pregnant-woman-birth-border-patrol-aclu-complaint.

—” Migrant Mother Gives Birth at Border Patrol Station” (Chula Vista, California: Customs and Border Protection, February 19, 2020) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/local-media-release/migrant-mother-gives-birth-border-patrol-station.

— Monica Y. Langarica, Kate Clark, Dr. Kay Daniels, “U.S. Border Patrol’s Abuse and Mistreatment of [Redacted]” (San Diego: ACLU San Diego and Imperial Counties and Jewish Family Service, April 8, 2020) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6827805-2020-04-07-OIG-Cmplt-Final-Redacted.html.

Letter from 13 Democratic Senators to DHS Inspector-General (Washington: U.S. Senate, April 8, 2020) https://www.blumenthal.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2020.04.08%20DHS%20OIG%20Letter%20re%20CBP%20Mistreating%20Pregnant%20Detainees.pdf.

— “Review of the February 16, 2020 Childbirth at the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station” (Washington: DHS Office of the Inspector-General, July 20, 2021) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2021-07/OIG-21-49-Jul21.pdf.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Rough Rides

Last Known Accountability Status: Cleared by DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Guatemala, Pregnancy

February 4, 2020

Border Patrol agents apprehended 32-year-old James Paul Markowitz in his vehicle in Brackettville, Texas, “after he was identified as a suspect in an alien smuggling case,” a CBP statement read (original link). While it is unclear whether he was involved in the incident, Markowitz did have small amounts of methamphetamine and cocaine in his car, which he swallowed in an attempt to avoid detection.

During processing at the Brackettville Border Patrol station, Markowitz “began exhibiting signs of distress.” CBP’s notification to Congress stated that an ambulance was called at 6:00 PM. A CBS News records review revealed that “the ambulance wasn’t actually called for until 6:26 PM.” Markowitz died of a drug overdose.

Markowitz’s stepfather has been unable to get more information from CBP about the circumstances of his death.

In a March 3, 2020 letter to DHS, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) and CHC Immigration Task Force Chairwoman Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-California) accused DHS of having “failed to provide further clarity or transparency surrounding the death of a U.S. citizen in CBP custody.” (original link).

— Graham Kates, “Family of U.S. man who died after Border Patrol arrest says government has been tight lipped for a year” (CBS News, February 4, 2021) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/james-markowitz-border-patrol-arrest-government-silence/.

— Rep. Joaquín Castro and Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, “CHC Members Demand Answers Following Death of American Citizen James Paul Markowitz in CBP Custody” (Washington: Congressional Hispanic Caucus, March 3, 2020) https://chc.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/chc-members-demand-answers-following-death-of-american-citizen-james.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Medical Care, Fatal Encounter

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: U.S. Citizen or Resident

January 29, 2020

The Intercept reported:

On January 29, an Ecuadorian man was killed in a car crash near downtown El Paso, Texas, only yards from the U.S.-Mexico border. An Ecuadorian woman was gravely hurt and weeks later is just emerging from a coma. She’s missing part of her skull and half of her body appears to be paralyzed. Stuck in a hospital thousands of miles from her kin, she has had few visitors, but one has been a Border Patrol agent who feels grief-stricken by the accident and believes the Border Patrol played a major role in causing it. The agent recently had an emotional meeting with a family member of the severely injured woman and offered to testify if the family brings a lawsuit.

Police reports say the crash was caused by a drunk driver who picked up the Ecuadorians after they crossed into the U.S. illegally. The driver is said to have been a smuggler who was speeding to evade the Border Patrol, and crashed because he was driving too fast. But the agent says that the chase was improper. It occurred near downtown El Paso on West Paisano Drive, on a section of road so prone to crashes that local law enforcement officers call it a ‘deadly curve.’

…police reports and statements, as well as the Border Patrol’s own record of vehicle pursuits in the area, raise questions about the agency’s denial of a chase. An El Paso Police Department press release states that the driver was ‘traveling at a high rate of speed as Border Patrol agents drove towards the vehicle.’

…in the recent crash, Montañez said, the policy was ignored. ‘The supervisor should have ordered a stop to the pursuit,’ she said. ‘When you back off from your emergency lights, the driver tends to think, ‘Oh, he’s letting me go,’ and slows down. Then the agent follows him normally instead of being on a chase.’ On January 29, that back-off order didn’t come, she said. ‘Maybe the supervisor was busy and not listening to the radio. I don’t know what happened.'”

Another chase near downtown El Paso would result in seven fatalities on June 25, 2020.

— Debbie Nathan, “Border Patrol Agent Speaks out About a High-speed Chase That Ended in an Immigrant’s Death,” (The Intercept, February 28, 2020) https://theintercept.com/2020/02/28/border-patrol-el-paso-texas-car-chase/.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Ecuador, Single Adult

Early January 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

In the last week, at least two families were separated as a result of MPP, including a man who was returned while his pregnant wife was released in the US, and a woman with children returned whose husband remains detained.

— “January 9 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, January 9, 2020).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Family Separation

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

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Pregnancy

Early January, 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

Since MPP returns to Nogales began on January 2nd, CBP has already returned particularly vulnerable individuals, including 3 two-year-old children, 2 one-year-old babies and 3 families that are primarily Mam speaking (despite the fact that indigenous language speakers, especially of non-Mexican languages, shouldn’t be subject to MPP).

— “January 9 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, January 9, 2020).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Return of Vulnerable Individuals

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

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Indigenous