73 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the event type is “Conditions in Custody”

January 17, 2024

A January 17 Arizona Daily Star report described freezing temperatures and lack of access to basic necessities threatening asylum seekers gathered outdoors along the border, especially in southern Arizona. As many as 1,000 people were reported awaiting processing in the Tohono O’odham Nation lands along the border in the remote desert southwest of Tucson. A majority of the arrivals reported in this region, as cited by the Arizona Daily Star and described by Tohono O’odham Chairman Verlon Jose, are asylum seekers in family units, including young children. 

Since December, aid workers have coordinated daily presence in the Arizona border region, particularly in the context of freezing temperatures and heavy rains, often being the sole providers of food, water, shelter, medical care, and addressing the growing sanitation needs. A volunteer described his experience, “shoveling human excrement into [the] trenches that were dug”. Volunteers were also reportedly transporting asylum seekers experiencing medical emergencies, despite Border Patrol’s threats to arrest them, as volunteers described the lack of response by authorities even in dire situations. 

Volunteers from Southern Arizona humanitarian aid group, No More Deaths, built a make-shift encampment in the desert region east of Sásabe, with tents and a cooking area, and attached tarps to the border wall to create additional shelters from the cold. CBP subsequently placed “cease-and-desist” signs on the tarps, stating it was a safety hazard and interfered with law enforcement and construction crews’ access to the road, as well as obstructed visibility. 

After pressure from aid workers and the Tohono O’odham nation, Customs and Border Protection installed one large, heated tent, portable toilets, and a hand washing station near the San Miguel gate. 

“It’s solely their responsibility to be doing almost everything that we’re currently doing”, stated a humanitarian aid volunteer. 

Bregel, Emily. “Life-Threatening Cold, ‘sanitation Crisis’ for Migrants at Arizona-Mexico Border.” Arizona Daily Star, January 17, 2024. https://tucson.com/news/local/subscriber/arizona-mexico-border-tohono-oodham-asylumseekers-migrants-surge/article_52e4a176-b565-11ee-87a6-67208722eaeb.html.

Sector(s): Border Patrol, CBP, Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Disregard of Public Health, Endangerment

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico

Mid-September, 2023

NBC News, The Hill, and CBS News covered a September 15, 2023 report from a court-appointed juvenile care monitor, who found that CBP continues to separate migrant children from family members while they are in the agency’s custody.

A pediatrician associated with Stanford University, Dr, Paul Wise, interviewed families at a Border Patrol facility in Donna, Texas in August 2023, finding that many children, some as young as 8 years old, were separated from their parents for up to 4 days.

The Flores Settlement Agreement, which dates from 1997, mandates that “minors may not be held in immigration detention for more than 72 hours in most cases”. Wise’s report counted 737 minors who traveled as part of family units at Donna in July. Of these, 697 were held between three to five days, 39 were held for longer than 5 days, and 15 were held for more than 14 days.

Reports have shown that minors traveling as part of family units are detained alone more often, and for longer periods of time, than unaccompanied minors.

While Dr. Wise found that Border Patrol was providing basic necessities to the children in custody, some children were receiving adult meals and some families were not being provided sleeping mats. 

CBP blames a large volume of migrants requiring processing, resulting in overcrowding in CBP “pods,” or groups in which children are placed. When pods are overcrowded, CBP makes an assessment of a child’s age and gender and places them in a pod of children with similar backgrounds, which may involve temporary separations from parents.

In his 71-page report, Dr. Wise noted these separations could affect children’s mental health. After interviewing some of the children, he reported “significant emotional distress related to separation, including sustained crying and disorientation.” This largely arose from their inability to communicate with their parents. In many cases, he noted, both the children and their detention caretakers in the facility were unaware of their visitation rights, which grants families the right to request to see each other while in custody.

While these separations have not been permanent, Dr. Wise’s report reveals that even temporary separations have caused emotional distress.

—Wise, Paul H. “Notice of Filing of Juvenile Care Monitor Report by Dr. Paul H. Wise.” California: United States District Court Central District of California, September 15, 2023. https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.cacd.45170/gov.uscourts.cacd.45170.1360.0.pdf.

—Montoya-Galvez, Camilo. “U.S. Border Agents Are Separating Migrant Children from Their Parents to Avoid Overcrowding, Inspector Finds – CBS News.” CBS News, September 16, 2023. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/migrant-children-separated-parents-u-s-border-agents-overcrowding/.

—Bernal, Rafael. “Children Separated at US-Mexico Border Had ‘No Interaction’ with Their Parents: Report.” Text. The Hill, September 18, 2023. https://thehill.com/latino/4210694-children-separated-at-us-mexico-border-had-no-interaction-with-their-parents-report/.

—Ainsley, Julia. “Border Patrol Temporarily Separated Families This Summer, Court Filing Says.” NBC News, September 18, 2023. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/border-patrol-temporarily-separated-families-summer-court-filing-says-rcna105524.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit

Mid-July 2023

According to The Intercept, dozens of migrants arriving at the border were being detained outside, amid a record-setting heatwave in Arizona. Two hours west of Tucson, the Ajo Border Patrol Station received an influx of migrants over the course of the week, roughly beginning on July 16th. While the station can process a couple hundred people a day, The Intercept reported that over 1,000 people had been turning themselves in at the border wall.

Although migrants were being detained outside, Border Patrol officials claimed the outside area was only being used for men, and that migrants had access to meals, water, and a large fan. They confirmed that once these migrants were screened, they were transported to other locations for processing. According to CNN’s report, Border Patrol claimed zero migrants had died in their custody since the beginning of the heat wave, despite the influx of arrivals. 

However, The Intercept revealed that officials refused to answer questions regarding how long people were being kept outside, whether or not children were being detained outside, or if the people detained outside were given emergency medical care. Intercept’s report also states that there was not a canopy above the outside area as Border Patrol agents claimed. 
As the heat worsened, many advocates worried about the safety of the migrants One official stated that by failing to provide resources such as proper heating or cooling equipment, it is essentially impossible for agents to abide by regulations of humane treatment. When interviewing agents anonymously for their report, many officials revealed that they were unaware of who signed off for migrants to be held outside. Some agents believed the treatment was “what they get for coming here illegally”, other agents were appalled at the conditions of the outdoor holding pen, and had liability concerns.

Weisfeldt, Sara, and Rosa Flores. “US Customs and Border Protection Sends Resources to Remote Arizona Area after Increase in Migrant Crossings.” CNN, August 5, 2023. https://www.cnn.com/2023/08/05/us/arizona-border-crossing-migrants/index.html.
Sullivan, Eileen. “This Agency Was Created With a Terrorism Focus. Now It Also Has to Care for Migrants.” The New York Times, July 13, 2023, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/13/us/politics/cbp-border-migrants-immigration-el-paso.html.
Devereaux, Ryan. “Border Patrol Violating Court Order Against Inhumane Treatment of Migrants, Officials Say.” The Intercept, August 28, 2023. https://theintercept.com/2023/08/28/border-migrants-arizona-cages/.
Devereaux, Ryan. “Border Patrol Is Caging Migrants Outdoors During Deadly Arizona Heatwave.” The Intercept, July 21, 2023. https://theintercept.com/2023/07/21/arizona-heatwave-border-patrol-migrants/.
Bosque, Melissa del. “Ajo Residents, Activists Protest Inhumane Conditions for Asylum Seekers.” The Border Chronicle, February 23, 2023. https://www.theborderchronicle.com/p/ajo-residents-activists-protest-inhumane.

Sector(s): Border Patrol, Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Single Adult

June 22, 2023

 Reporting on June 22, 2023, the Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative (KBI), recounted the expansion of the U.S. administration’s immigration deterrence policies and its effects on migrants detained. 

Among cases cited:

Nicol*[name changed to protect privacy]  spent 3 months in detention, where she reported that guards pushed her and subjected her to inhumane detention conditions. At 3 am, detainees were forced to work in the kitchen and if they didn’t, they would be made to sleep on the floor without sheets or blankets. She was deported without her personal belongings and still in a jail uniform.

Kino Border Initiative. 2022. “Congressional Year End Report 2023.” Https://Www.Kinoborderinitiative.Org/Annual-Report/. Kino Border Initiative. https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/Congressional-Year-End-Report-2023_.pdf.

Sector(s): Border Patrol, CBP

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Disregard of Public Health, Inappropriate Deportation, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Single Adult

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, 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 17, 2023

Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez, an eight-year-old Panamanian daughter of Honduran parents, died on her ninth day of being held in CBP custody with her family in Border Patrol’s Harlingen, Texas Station. The likely cause was influenza.

The family had turned themselves in to Border Patrol in Texas on May 9, 2023, two days before the Title 42 pandemic expulsion policy came to an end, a time when the agency was apprehending about 10,000 people per day. This may have prolonged their time in custody, although the Associated Press reported that by May 14, the average time in custody border-wide had fallen to 77 hours as the rate of new apprehensions dropped rapidly. Under normal circumstances, migrants are meant to spend no more than 72 hours in Border Patrol’s austere holding facilities.

According to a series of CBP statements and updates about Reyes’s case, on May 14th Reyes voiced complaints of abdominal pain, nasal congestion, and cough. That day, CBP-contracted medical personnel reported a fever of 101.8 degrees and a positive test result for Influenza A. In accordance with CBP protocol, the family was transferred to Harlingen Border Patrol Station for communicable disease medical isolation.

Reyes’s mother, Mabel Álvarez Benedicks, told the Associated Press that Border Patrol personnel, including medical contractors, repeatedly denied her appeals for medical aid, including an ambulance and hospitalization, in some cases just administering fever-reducing medication.

CBP reported that the family requested the medical personnel review Anadith’s medical documents to understand her medical conditions: a history of heart problems and sickle-cell anemia (original link). The parents made four requests for an ambulance. All requests were denied.

CBP acknowledged that medical personnel at the Harlingen Border Patrol Station refused to escalate Anadith’s level of care, even as her fever rose to 104.9 degrees early on May 16, the day before she passed. “Contracted medical personnel did not consult with on-call physicians (including an on-call pediatrician) about the girl’s condition, symptoms, or treatment,” the agency’s June 1 statement continued. “The contracted medical personnel failed to document numerous medical encounters, emergency antipyretic interventions, and administrations of medicine.”

The statement went on to note that “the camera system at Harlingen Station was flagged for repair/replacement on April 13. The outage was not reported to CBP OPR as required by H.R. 1158, Fiscal Year 2020 DHS Consolidated Appropriation.”

CBP reported nine medical encounters while the family was in the Harlingen facility. The mother requested emergency attention three times on the 17th; that day, the girl had a seizure, became unresponsive, and was transported to a hospital, where personnel declared her deceased within minutes.

“They killed my daughter, because she was nearly a day and a half without being able to breathe,” Álvarez Benedicks told the Associated Press. “She cried and begged for her life and they ignored her. They didn’t do anything for her.”

When she reported her daughter’s bone pain to an agent, she said he responded, “‘Oh, your daughter is growing up. That’s why her bones hurt. Give her water.’”

“I just looked at him,” Alvarez Benedicks said. “How would he know what to do if he’s not a doctor?”

“I felt like they didn’t believe me,” she said.

In an interview with ABC’s GMA3 program, Álvarez Benedicks said “she felt like medical personnel thought she was lying about how sick her child was feeling… She says Anadith told the staff ‘I can’t breathe from my mouth or my nose.’” The mother added her belief that she received poor treatment because she is Black: “I feel that since I got there they discriminated against me because of my skin tone and because I am an immigrant.”

In a May 21 statement, CBP “Senior Official Performing the Duties of Commissioner” Troy Miller informed that the agency would review cases of “medically fragile” people being kept in custody for long periods, and “will immediately initiate a review of medical care practices at CBP facilities and ensure the deployment of additional medical personnel as needed” (original link). The statement added that CBP had added more than 1,000 medical contractors to its facilities since 2021.

In a June 1 statement, Miller pledged other changes like reducing family units’ time in custody, deploying clinicians from the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) to CBP sites, ordering a review of the medical contractor’s practices at CBP facilities, and prohibiting several medical providers involved in the incident from providing care at CBP facilities (original link).

The Washington Post reported that on June 15 CBP transferred its chief medical officer, David Tarantino, to another assignment at DHS. (Tarantino’s position was created in 2020, after, as the Associated Press put it, “at least six children died during a roughly yearlong period from 2018 to 2019 during the Trump administration.”)

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times reported on internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) documents finding fault with CBP’s care for medically fragile migrants in the agency’s custody. The Post reviewed a June 8 internal memo from DHS acting chief medical officer Herbert O. Wolfe that found the Harlingen Border Patrol station “lacked sufficient medical engagement and accountability to ensure safe, effective, humane and well-documented medical care.” The memo, according to the Post’s Nick Miroff, “describes an ad hoc system with little ability to manage medical records, poor communication among staff and a lack of clear guidelines for seeking help from doctors outside the border agency.”

In his response to Wolfe, CBP’s Miller stated that he had ordered the relocation of medically vulnerable migrants from the Harlingen station, and halted the facility’s use as an isolation unit. He added that CBP is reviewing its medical record-keeping system and has told its medical contractor to “take immediate action to review practices and quality assurance plans to ensure appropriate care.” That contractor, Loyal Source Government Services, “received a $408 million medical services contract from CBP in 2020,” the Post reported.

The Los Angeles Times obtained documents from DHS’s Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman (OIDO) indicating that officials at one of the Texas CBP detention facilities where Anadith’s family was held had been “complaining about the facility’s ‘overuse of hospitalization.’” A May 22 memo reported by the Times’s Hamed Aleaziz noted that the staff of CBP’s Donna, Texas processing facility “had a ‘tendency to send migrants to the hospital for things that could easily be treated on location,’ the investigators wrote.” Days earlier, agents refused Anadith Reyes’ parents’ repeated pleas for an ambulance and hospital care.

The August 25, 2023 Washington Post reported that Border Patrol had already decided not to renew a $25 million per month contract with the company providing medical services in its Harlingen, Texas station when Reyes passed there. The agency had not yet selected a company to take over duties performed by Florida-based Loyal Source Government Services, which had filed protests about the contracting process.

Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez was laid to rest in New Jersey on June 17. “We will let our baby rest and let her rest in peace. We want justice for her so that no one else has to go through this,” read a statement from the family. According to the Associated Press, attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Haitian Bridge Alliance have requested an independent autopsy to determine the cause of her death.

— U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “June 1, 2023 Update: Death in Custody of 8-Year-Old in Harlingen, Texas,” June 1, 2023. https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/june-1-2023-update-death-custody-8-year-old-harlingen-texas.

— U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Statement from CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller on the Investigation of the In-Custody Death of a Child,” June 1, 2023. https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/statement-cbp-acting-commissioner-troy-miller-investigation.

— U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Update: Death in Custody of 8-Year-Old in Harlingen, Texas,” May 21, 2023. https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/update-death-custody-8-year-old-harlingen-texas.

— U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Statement from CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller Regarding the Ongoing Investigation of In-Custody Death,” May 21, 2023. https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/statement-cbp-acting-commissioner-troy-miller-regarding-ongoing.

— U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Statement from CBP,” May 17, 2023. https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/statement-cbp.

— Gonzalez, Valerie. “Mother of 8-Year-Old Girl Who Died in Border Patrol Custody Says Pleas for Hospital Care Were Denied.” Associated Press, May 20, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/border-patrol-custody-death-harlingen-8da5429f39cb7ac0ff4c9184a42d8ba2.

— Garcia, Armando. “CBP Ignored Pleas for Help before Migrant Girl’s Death, Parents Say.” ABC News, June 22, 2023. https://abcnews.go.com/US/cbp-pleas-migrant-girls-death-parents/story?id=100271491.

— Miroff, Nick. “CBP Reassigns Chief Medical Officer after Child’s Death in Border Custody.” Washington Post, June 15, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/06/15/border-patrol-medical-care-child-death/.

— Spagat, Elliot. “Death of 8-Year-Old Girl in Border Patrol Custody Highlights Challenges Providing Medical Care.” AP News, May 22, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/border-patrol-custody-child-death-e6dbfde4986eb9e8a91284c3f80293df.

— Miroff, Nick. “Inquiry after Girl’s Death Reports Unsafe Medical Care in U.S. Border Facilities.” Washington Post, June 22, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/2023/06/22/medical-care-unsafe-border-facilities-migrants/.

— Aleaziz, Hamed. “Border Patrol Officials Complained of ‘overuse of Hospitalization’ as 8-Year-Old Died.” Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2023. https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2023-06-28/8-year-old-border-patrol-death-fever-hospital.

— Univision. “Entierran a la niña que murió en custodia de la Patrulla Fronteriza y sus padres aseguran: ‘Buscaremos justicia.’” Univision, June 17, 2023. https://www.univision.com/noticias/inmigracion/padres-nina-8-anos-murio-custodia-patrulla-fronteriza-entierran.

— Gonzalez, Valerie, and Liset Cruz. “Balloons, Tears and Hugs as Family of Girl Who Died in Border Patrol Custody Holds New York Funeral.” AP News, June 16, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/border-patrol-anadith-custody-death-8cfee1e24758eefc21086ff3a2215943.

— Miroff, Nick. “Before Child Died in Custody, CBP Tried to Replace Medical Contractor.” Washington Post, August 28, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/2023/08/25/border-medical-migrants-loyal-source/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Fatal Encounter

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

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Female, Panama

Early May, 2023

Reporting on May 11, 2023, the Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative (KBI), recounted a case of cruel treatment in custody and deliberately misleading conduct involving an asylum seeker.

Henry [name changed to protect privacy] turned himself in to the Border Patrol, where agents told him he would go to an interview to explain his case to a US official. However, that never happened and on the day of his expulsion, CBP agents handcuffed him at the hands, waist, and feet. The handcuffs were too tight and multiple people asked for them to be loosened, but the agents ignored him. “I never in my life have been treated like that: I never thought I’d be treated like a criminal upon arriving in the US,” Henry said. He arrived at KBI the day after his expulsion and still had indentations on his wrists from the handcuffs.

— “May 11 update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, May 11, 2023).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

Late April, 2023

Reporting on April 27, 2023, the Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative (KBI), which maintains a migrant shelter in Nogales, Sonora, stated, “Similar to reports Kino documented from people who were laterally expelled to Nogales, MX in 2021, expelled asylum seekers reported many common abuses, such as Border Patrol agents throwing away all their clothing, handcuffing them at the feet, waist and hands for hours at a time, denying basic hygiene items and access to showers for up to a week, and misleading them to believe they were going to see an immigration judge, only to be expelled through another part of the border.”

Among cases cited:

– Briseida [name changed to protect privacy] turned herself in to BP. She was detained for 5 days. She asked to be able to shower because she was menstruating, but the BP agent did not allow her to shower. She also requested sanitary pads, which they never provided to her.

– After turning himself in to BP, Jair [name changed to protect privacy] was detained for 10 days. He was only allowed to shower 1 time and he was never allowed to brush his teeth.

– Olivia [name changed to protect privacy] was detained for 5 days, during which she was allowed to shower only 1 time. She only had the clothes she was wearing when she arrived, as they took away all her other clothing. They confiscated the underwear she was wearing and gave her a pair of underwear that was too small. She had to rip them to be able to wear them. She was never allowed to make a phone call while she was detained, not even to let her family members know she was alive. BP put her on a plane and she could not eat or drink anything on the plane because she was chained at the hands, waist and feet the entire time.

— “April 27 update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, April 27, 2023).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Disregard of Public Health, Gender-Based Harm or Violence

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Single Adult

April, 2023

In early April, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Border Patrol agents had been keeping migrants out in the open, in the area between two layers of border wall, for days.

The agency was using the space as an open-air holding cell for extended periods of time since at least October of 2022, as media reports from Tijuana’s El Imparcial documented. The initial Union-Tribune investigation reported roughly 150 people held between the walls for up to 5 days, with agents providing them nothing to eat and very little water.

In the days leading up to the May 11, 2023 end of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, the area became a focus of media attention, as reports indicated about 1,000 migrants “stuck” between the wall layers for days before Border Patrol would process them, in the meantime relying on volunteers on the other side of the fence for basic needs.

The initial San Diego Union Tribune reports described the scene:

When a gate opened in the wall further into the United States, many of the migrants tried to walk or run out of the area. Border Patrol agents on ATVs and in cars quickly appeared and directed the group back inside the enclosure. That indicated that the migrants were not free to leave and thus in custody of the agents.

The group told the Union-Tribune that they’d been instructed to wait there to be processed by agents. The more than a dozen people interviewed by the Union-Tribune said they had crossed into the United States to seek asylum.

On May 13, the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) filed a complaint with DHS’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties alleging that CBP “is detaining migrants in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions in an open-air corridor in California.” The complaint added, “CBP agents have only given migrants one small bottle of water a day and one granola bar, far from adequate to endure, leading migrants to eat leaves to survive.” SBCC noted that “CBP has provided only one port-a-potty for hundreds of people, which filled up weeks ago and is unusable.” A vast majority of migrants agreed with the statement, “If I did not receive food and water from volunteers, I would not get enough food and water from Border Patrol to survive.”

People from at least 15 countries, including more than a few children, spent as many as 7 days, according to SBCC, out in the open air between the wall layers, fashioning shelters from bits of plastic. Some used their mobile phones—charged with the help of volunteers on the other side of the fence—to order food deliveries from Tijuana restaurants.

Several members of Congress wrote to CBP voicing strong concern, including a May 5th letter. (original link) The agency responded in early July:

The individuals in question had not made contact with U.S. Border Patrol personnel and were not constrained from further movement…At the time of this incident, the USBP San Diego Sector facilities were experiencing capacity issues and some transportation challenges which have since been remediated. Border Patrol Agents encountered and apprehended the migrants as soon as it was operationally feasible to do so.

Representative Robert Garcia (D-California) responded:

To say that it’s not happening or that they’re not aware of the incident I think is not acceptable…There are human beings here who need help and assistance. This idea that they can’t fess up to something that’s really an issue and really happening is very concerning. I hope that the department isn’t lying to us in Congress with these claims.

Rep. Garcia affirmed he was moving to launch an investigation through his work on the Homeland Security Committee.

Over the weekend of May 13-14, CBP started to empty out two San Diego encampments, processing migrants 30 to 50 at a time.

In September 2023, as migration began increasing again to levels last seen in April, Border Patrol began to hold migrants in between the border wall layers again. Border Patrol was sending around 50 migrants at a time on buses to be processed, which was “a faster circulation of people than what we saw back in May,” Pedro Rios of AFSC told San Diego’s local CBS affiliate.

September reports indicate that the wait for processing was 24 to 36 hours. Border Patrol agents were handing out water bottles, cheese, and crackers. Volunteers provided all other supplies, from blankets to diapers to phone charging equipment, through the slats of the border wall.

As of late September 2023, migrants continued to await processing out in the open in an encampment between layers of the double border wall between San Diego and Tijuana. “An official familiar with the situation” told the Los Angeles Times, in a story published on September 16, “that the number of people between the walls is growing faster than agents can move them out.”

— Cuéllar, Mireya. “Trasladan a Los Retenidos Entre Los Dos Muros de La Línea Tijuana-San Diego.” La Jornada, May 15, 2023. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2023/05/15/politica/004n1pol.

— Garcia, Robert, Juan Vargas, and Delia C. Ramirez. “Letter to Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz,” May 5, 2023. https://ramirez.house.gov/sites/evo-subsites/ramirez.house.gov/files/evo-media-document/2023-05-05_letter-border-outdoor-detention-.pdf.

— Hernandez, David. “Open-Air Holding Areas at the Border Cleared as Processing of Migrants Ramps Up.” The San Diego Union Tribune, May 14, 2023. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2023-05-14/open-air-holding-areas-at-the-border-cleared-as-processing-of-migrants-ramps-up.

— Karlamangla, Soumya. “Visiting the Migrant Camp at the San Diego-Tijuana Border.” The New York Times, May 15, 2023, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/15/us/migrants-title-42-san-diego-tijuana.html.

— Morrissey, Kate. “Border Patrol Leaves Migrants Stranded in San Diego as Shelters Reach Capacity.” Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2023. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-09-16/border-patrol-leaves-migrants-stranded-in-san-diego-as-shelters-reach-capacity.

— Morrissey, Kate. “In Letter to Congressmembers, CBP Denies Holding Migrants in Custody between Border Fences in San Diego.” San Diego Union-Tribune, July 12, 2023. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2023-07-12/letter-congressmembers-cbp-migrants-between-border-fences-san-diego.

— Morrissey, Kate. “Migrants Say Border Patrol Is Keeping Them between the Border Walls for Days without Food or Shelter.” San Diego Union-Tribune, April 13, 2023. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2023-04-13/migrants-say-border-patrol-is-keeping-them-between-the-border-walls-for-days-without-food-or-shelter.

— Reyes, Khennia. “Cumplen migrantes tres días detenidos en el muro de Estados Unidos.” Noticias de Tijuana | EL IMPARCIAL, October 17, 2022. https://www.elimparcial.com/tijuana/tijuana/Cumplen-migrantes-tres-dias-detenidos-en-el-muro-de-Estados-Unidos-20221016-0023.html.

— Southern Border Communities Coalition. “BREAKING: Border Advocates File Complaint Alleging CBP Has Violated Custody Standards, Putting Lives at Risk in the California Corridor Between Border Walls,” May 13, 2023. https://www.southernborder.org/border_advocates_file_complaint_alleging_cbp_has_violated_custody_standards_putting_lives_at_risk_in_the_california_corridor_between_border_walls.

— Southern Border Communities Coalition. “BREAKING: Migrants in CBP Custody Speak About Their Conditions in Open-Air Detention Sites in California in a New Report by U.S. Immigration Policy Center,” May 15, 2023. https://www.southernborder.org/migrants_in_cbp_custody_speak_about_their_conditions_in_open_air_detention_sites_in_california_in_a_new_report_by_us_immigration_policy_center.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees

Victim Classification:

November 2022

In November 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted unannounced inspections of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities. OIG personnel inspected two facilities of Border Patrol’s El Paso sector and one CBP Office of Field Operations port of entry. On September 15th, 2023, OIG published a 40-page report of its findings. 

The visits took place at a time of heavy migration to the El Paso sector. At the time of the inspection, Border Patrol had 1,903 people in custody at its El Paso processing center (M-CPC). Inspectors interviewed a random sample of 10 percent of those being held.

The inspection broadly revealed that the Border Patrol facilities met Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS) standards to provide basic amenities including drinking water, meals, access to toilets, hygienic supplies, and bedding. 

However, CBP was out of compliance with detention time requirements, as well as the provision of regularly scheduled meals and showers. More than half of those surveyed were held in CBP custody for more than the 72 hours required in non-emergency circumstances.

TEDS standards require facilities to provide showers to juveniles at most every 48 hours and to adults at most every 72 hours while in CBP custody. While detainees were provided with showers during intake, they were not provided with showers every 48 or 72 hours thereafter. Detainees were also not given hygienic materials like toothpaste and toothbrushes. According to a CBP official, the facility faced limited shower capacity, insufficient staffing, and overcrowding that prevented officers from providing these required showers and supplies. 

The inspection also revealed data integrity issues in Border Patrol’s electronic records system, E3. During an inspection of a sample of twenty custody logs, OIG found gaps in entries of when meals, blankets, and hygiene items were provided. When attempting to locate a detainee for interviews, CBP officials were unable to locate the person due to E3 discrepancies.

In a February 2023 follow-up visit, at a time when the El Paso sector was receiving far fewer migrants, OIG inspected the facility once again and considered all of its recommendations resolved.

—“Results of Unannounced Inspections of CBP Holding Facilities in the El Paso Area” (Washington: DHS Office of Inspector-General, September 15, 2023) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2023-09/OIG-23-50-Sep23.pdf.

Sector(s): Border Patrol, CBP, El Paso, El Paso Field Office

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Food or Water

Last Known Accountability Status: Cleared by DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Single Adult

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 12, 2022

A report published by Oxfam America and the Tahirih Justice Center includes this example of gender-based harm in Border Patrol custody, gathered from a February interview with a migrant woman.

A painful example, shared by a provider recalling a client who had been detained by CBP [59] at the border, highlights the ways in which US officials ignore women’s needs. This client, a young woman, was forced by CBP to spend over 72 hours in a cell without access to sanitary items she needed for menstruation while being harassed by a CBP officer:

“She was held in a holding cell that you’re not supposed to be in for more than 72 hours, like right at the border, but she was there for…maybe five days…She was held for significantly longer than she was supposed to be and was only allowed to be in her underwear. She was on her period and was given no menstrual sanitary items—pads, tampons or anything…[She was] forced to sit there cold in her underwear with this one officer that she said she felt like had it out for her…[he would] say really mean things to her and not let her sleep and make her get her little kid up who’s only five.” [60]

— 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:

[59] We use the term “CBP” because the vast majority of our interview respondents refer to US officials at the border as “CBP.” These officials are most likely Border Patrol agents.

[60] Interview 13, February 2022.


Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Gender-Based Harm or Violence

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Single Adult

September 29, 2022

A report from the DHS Inspector-General, based on inspection visits in March, found fault with the conditions migrants had to endure in Border Patrol custody during a time of record arrivals in the agency’s Del Rio, Texas sector. (Original link) It detected 1,164 people held for more than the federal maximum of 72 hours in 4 Border Patrol “short-term” facilities.

Though held for several days, migrants—including some minors—were unable to shower, made to clean themselves with wet wipes. “TEDS [transportation, escort, detention, and search] standards require that reasonable efforts be made to provide showers, soap, and clean towels to juvenile detainees who are approaching 48 hours and adult detainees who are approaching 72 hours in detention,” the report recalled. Agents falsely claimed in stations’ “e3” custodial logs that migrants had showered. Some logs even showed that male migrants were provided with feminine hygiene products.

Due to a lack of female agents at the Del Rio Sector’s processing facility in Eagle Pass, male agents often carried out searches and medical examinations of non-male migrants.

The report notes that migrants who do not speak English or Spanish at times did not have “instructions and relevant information” communicated to them.

One detainee we interviewed in the Senegalese language Wolof (with the assistance of contracted interpretation services) said that in his case, efforts were not made by Border Patrol agents or medical staff to provide interpretation services. The detainee indicated that he had asthma and was having shortness of breath but was not able to effectively communicate this. He also said that he had a religious dietary need and was not able to make this known to agents.

“However,” the report reads, “Border Patrol met standards related to management of personal property, prescription medications, and basic amenities, such as a clean change of clothing, mats and blankets, meals three times a day, water, and snacks.”

— “Del Rio Area Struggled With Prolonged Detention, Consistent Compliance With CBP’s TEDS Standards, and Data Integrity.” Washington: Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, September 22, 2022. <https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-10/OIG-22-80-Oct22.pdf>.

—Trovall, Elizabeth. “Migrants Denied Showers, Held for Days Past Federal Standards at Overcrowded Centers in Del Rio.” Houston Chronicle, October 4, 2022. <https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/immigration/article/Migrants-denied-showers-held-for-days-past-17484325.php>.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed

Victim Classification: Senegal

August 9, 2022

A DHS Inspector-General report, based on seven October 2021 unannounced inspections of El Paso-area CBP facilities, found Border Patrol holding hundreds of migrants in custody for longer than the normal 72-hour limit, despite a lack of overcrowding (original link). In addition, “Border Patrol held some migrants placed for expulsion under Title 42 authorities for longer than 14 days, which is inconsistent with Border Patrol policy,” and CBP was “inconsistent” in its separation of juveniles from unrelated adults in custody.

El Paso Sector Border Patrol Struggled with Prolonged Detention and Consistent Compliance with TEDS Standards (Washington: Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector-General, August 9, 2022) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-08/OIG-22-57-Aug22.pdf.

Sector(s): El Paso, El Paso Field Office

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

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

May 2, 2022

A brief May 9 statement from CBP noted the arrest of a Del Rio Sector Border Patrol agent “on a warrant stemming from an indictment on a charge of Official Oppression in connection with the alleged assault and mistreatment of a juvenile in custody.” (original link) No further details appeared.

— “CBP Statement on Arrest of Del Rio Sector Border Patrol Agent” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, May 6, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-arrest-del-rio-sector-border-patrol-agent.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Conditions in Custody, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Pending

Victim Classification:

March, 2022

An April 2022 report from Human Rights First, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Al Otro Lado recounts the days-long separation of a Haitian family in CBP custody, along with allegations of racist language.

An asylum-seeking Haitian family expelled under Title 42 to Haiti and forced to flee again reported in March 2022 that during the expulsion CBP officers separated the parents from their 16-year-old daughter and subjected the girl to racist abuse. The family was detained for days in freezing cold CBP holding cells, with the teenager held separately with other children. She told Human Rights First that during the painful days she was detained away from her parents U.S. officers called her racist names including the N-word.

Extending Title 42 Would Escalate Dangers, Exacerbate Disorder, and Magnify Discrimination (New York: Human Rights First, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Al Otro Lado, April 27, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/extending-title-42-would-escalate-dangers-exacerbate-disorder-and-magnify-discrimination.

Sector(s): San Diego Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Family Separation, Racial Discrimination or Profiling

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Black, Family Unit, Female, Haiti

March, 2022

An April 2022 report from Human Rights First, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Al Otro Lado recounts the experience of a Honduran asylum-seeking family that spent three days in CBP custody before being expelled into Mexico under Title 42.

CBP held an asylum-seeking Honduran family in freezing cells for days before expelling them under Title 42 without their belongings to Mexico where they were kidnapped just prior to attempting to seek asylum near Calexico. During their three days in CBP custody, the family of three children and their mother were forced to sleep on the floor of a freezing cold holding cell with nothing but foil blankets to keep warm. When CBP expelled the family under Title 42 to San Luis Río Colorado, the officers did not return the family’s possessions, including money, luggage, and medications. They received only their shoes, which were soaking wet and covered in dirt causing painful blisters to develop as the family walked in search of a bus to take them to a shelter.

Extending Title 42 Would Escalate Dangers, Exacerbate Disorder, and Magnify Discrimination (New York: Human Rights First, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Al Otro Lado, April 27, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/extending-title-42-would-escalate-dangers-exacerbate-disorder-and-magnify-discrimination.

Sector(s): El Centro, San Diego Field Office

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

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras

Late March, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) spoke with five migrants, removed to Nogales, who had been traveling with Carmelo Cruz-Marcos, a Mexican migrant who was shot to death by a Border Patrol agent on February 19:

Five members of the group traveling with the migrant who was murdered by Border Patrol on February 19th arrived at Kino earlier this month. They had all been held a month and a half in detention as witnesses to the crime. One of those in the group was a cousin of the victim, and was not informed for a week that his cousin had died.

When the group was expelled to Nogales, Sonora, Border Patrol did not return their identification or the money they had with them when they were detained.

— “March 31 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 31, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

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

Victim Classification: Single Adult

February 14, 2022

The August 16, 2022 San Diego Union-Tribune recounted the story of “Lucy” (real name withheld), a Salvadoran mother who crossed the eastern California border with her children. According to her attorney, Lucy was fleeing death threats.

She claimed that a Border Patrol agent beat her during her apprehension, that she was denied medical attention, and that agents separate her from her 10-year-old daughter.

They were with a group of other migrants resting along a train line in Calipatria — a city about 35 miles north of Calexico — on Feb. 14 when Border Patrol agents found them.

Lucy said she went to wake up her 18-year-old son Anner as the other migrants fled. A Border Patrol agent caught her and began beating her, she said.

“The truth is I thought he was going to kill me because he had hit me so much,” she told the Union-Tribune.

Her children watched in horror and begged another agent to get him to stop, she said, but the other agent said that he couldn’t because of who the agent attacking her was.

Lucy, who is less than 5 feet tall, attempted to free herself from the agent to save herself, she said. Anner threw a couple of rocks near the agent to try to get him to stop.

The agent did stop, and Lucy escaped to where the other agent was standing with her children, she said.

They were taken to a Border Patrol station, and though Lucy was bleeding from the head and lip and already quite bruised, she did not receive medical attention, she said.

She recalled the agents bullying her and laughing at her.

She was placed in a holding area with her daughter, but soon agents came to take Lucy away. It would be more than a month before she even had an idea of where her daughter ended up.

“They didn’t even give me a chance to say goodbye,” Lucy said. “They took me out and handcuffed me.”

She was taken to a federal facility in Arizona to wait because she was being charged with assaulting and intimidating the agent that she says attacked her, a felony. Anner was charged with a misdemeanor and held in another facility.

The FBI agent who investigated the incident noted in a court filing that Anner told him that the Border Patrol agent was punching his mother.

In May, the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked the judge to dismiss the charges, and the case was dropped.

— Kate Morrissey, “Family Separations at the Border Continue Under Biden” (San Diego: The San Diego Union-Tribune, August 17, 2022) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2022-08-16/family-separations-at-the-border-continue-under-biden.

Sector(s): El Centro

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Medical Care, Family Separation, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Family Unit

January 13, 2022

A January 2022 Human Rights First report recounted the experience of four Nicaraguan and Venezuelan asylum seekers who were laterally flown from McAllen to El Paso, Texas, detained for more than 10 days, then placed into the “Remain in Mexico” (RMX) program.

The men had crossed the border near the Rio Grande Valley in November 2021, where CBP initially detained them in horrible conditions in hieleras (extremely cold cells), woke them in the middle of the night, shackled them by their hands, feet, and waists, and then flew them to El Paso. There they were held in CBP cells for several more days before being sent to Ciudad Juárez under RMX. CBP falsely told some of the men that they were being transferred for release to family members in the United States.

A Shameful Record: Biden Administration’s Use of Trump Policies Endangers People Seeking Asylum (New York: Human Rights First: January 13, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/shameful-record-biden-administration-s-use-trump-policies-endangers-people-seeking-asylum.

Sector(s): El Paso, El Paso Field Office, Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Nicaragua, Single Adult, Venezuela

January 13, 2022

According to a January 2022 Human Rights First report on the “Remain in Mexico” (RMX) program in El Paso, “Some migrants and asylum seekers said CBP officers refused to provide masks to detainees who requested them and that some CBP officers were themselves not consistently wearing personal protective equipment.” In San Diego in early January 2022, one man “reported that CBP officers refused to provide him a mask when he requested one.”

A Shameful Record: Biden Administration’s Use of Trump Policies Endangers People Seeking Asylum (New York: Human Rights First: January 13, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/shameful-record-biden-administration-s-use-trump-policies-endangers-people-seeking-asylum.

Sector(s): El Paso, El Paso Field Office, San Diego, San Diego Field Office

Agency(ies): CBP

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

January 13, 2022

A January 2022 Human Rights First report, discussing implementation of the “Remain in Mexico” (RMX) program in El Paso, reported that “CBP did not permit detained migrants and asylum seekers, many of whom were detained for nearly two weeks, to call their families to inform them of their whereabouts.”

After their return to Mexico under RMX, many learned that CBP officers had lied to them when the officers claimed that CBP would contact their family members in the United States, leaving their families in anguish for weeks uncertain as to the fate of their loved ones.

A Shameful Record: Biden Administration’s Use of Trump Policies Endangers People Seeking Asylum (New York: Human Rights First: January 13, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/shameful-record-biden-administration-s-use-trump-policies-endangers-people-seeking-asylum.

Sector(s): El Paso, El Paso Field Office

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

January 5, 2022

In the January 8, 2022 San Diego Union-Tribune, reporter Kate Morrissey recounted the experience of two Colombian men who, on January 5, were the first to be sent back to Tijuana under the revived “Remain in Mexico” program. She found that what they underwent “included many of the issues that plagued the program under the Trump administration.”

The Biden administration’s December 2 guidance for the restarted program promised access to counsel. But Morrissey found that “the two Colombian men were not allowed to speak with attorneys while in U.S. custody.” The wife of one of the men, a green card holder in the United States, could have hired an attorney for him to support his claim of fear of return to Mexico, but officials denied his request to call her.

The men, who had turned themselves in to U.S. personnel in order to seek protection after receiving urgent threats in Colombia, recounted poor treatment in CBP custody. They were placed in a cell in a Border Patrol station with “dozens of other men,” forced to sleep on the floor for nearly a week, with lights always on, for lack of bed space. They were not given an opportunity to bathe or shower. “Though they do not speak much English, they realized that agents were speaking badly about them, they said. They recognized words like ‘stupid’ and phrases like ‘go back to your country.’”

As required by the new guidelines, a Border Patrol agent asked the men if they were afraid to return to Mexico, although they said “another agent tried to keep that official from asking the question.” Under the Biden administration’s new guidance, after expressing fear the men were entitled to 24 hours to contact an attorney before speaking with an asylum officer. It was during those 24 hours, they said, that CBP personnel refused to allow them “to make any calls or otherwise access legal counsel.”

They said an agent told them that no matter what happened, they would be sent back to Mexico. So, when the asylum officer asked if they wanted to wait longer in custody in order to access attorneys, the men waived that right, not wanting to spend more time in the crowded cell with their fate already decided.

The men added that they were not asked detailed questions about their medical history, even though the Biden administration’s new guidelines specify medical conditions for exemption from the program (original link). Though the guidance directs that those subject to Remain in Mexico are to receive COVID-19 vaccinations if they need them, one man who had only received the first of his two shots was sent over the border before officials could administer his vaccine.

CBP meanwhile confused the men’s paperwork, Morrissey found. Each man had the first page of the other’s notice to appear in court. And at first, they were scheduled for hearings months beyond the six-month limit that the Biden administration had agreed with Mexico. They managed to reschedule for February after raising the issue with their asylum officer.

Now in Tijuana, the Colombian men told Morrissey that they are “confused and terrified.” They refused to provide their names, fearing that their notoriety leaves them exposed to extortion or attack. “We’re the two from Colombia,” one said. “Everyone knows we’re them. We already have problems.”

— Kate Morrissey, “U.S. failure to follow Remain in Mexico rules show program hasn’t changed as promised” (San Diego, The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 8, 2022) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2022-01-08/remain-in-mexico-returns-to-tijuana.

— Robert Silvers, “Guidance regarding the Court-Ordered Reimplementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols” (Washington: Department of Homeland Security, December 2, 2021) https://www.dhs.gov/publication/court-ordered-reimplementation-mpp-policy-guidance.

Sector(s): San Diego, San Diego Field Office

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

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Dangerous Deportation, Denial of Access to Counsel

Last Known Accountability Status: No Steps Taken

Victim Classification: Colombia, Single Adult

2021, all year

Four children’s defense organizations filed complaints in a California district court after hearing unaccompanied migrant children narrate abuse and poor treatment while in short-term CBP custody during 2021 (original link). The complaints were filed on April 11, 2022 and shared by VICE News on May 2, 2022.

Between 2019 and 2021, attorneys from Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) interviewed approximately 12,731 unaccompanied migrant children at Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilities. The organization’s complaint includes numerous examples from 2021 and 2022 of mistreatment of children while in CBP custody.

“50% of children reported cold temperatures where the children describe their lips becoming chapped, bodies trembling, and/or becoming sick with a fever or cold,” reads the AI Justice complaint, citing the following examples:

  • N.T.M., 13, asked to be moved because she was so cold in her cell that her skin went purple, and her lips were so dry they cracked and bled.
  • K.P.R., 9, reported feeling so cold his “bones hurt.”
  • D.C.L., 16, reports being so cold he trembled. He said he did not have a sweater and all they were given were mylar blankets that often broke. When they tried to grab another blanket, the officers would yell at them. He stated he felt desperate to get out of the cold.
  • A.B.B., 17, echoed the stories of many when she reported that she was very cold during her time in CBP custody and that the mylar blanket provided was not enough to keep warm.

— Jennifer Anzardo, Maite García, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Consistent Failure to Comply with the Terms of the Flores Settlement Agreement and Their Own Standards on the Transport, Escort, Detention and Search of Unaccompanied Children” (United States: Americans for Immigrant Justice, April 6, 2022) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21694269-alleged-abuse-of-unaccompanied-minors-in-customs-and-border-protection-custody.

— Keegan Hamilton, “Kids Allege Medical Neglect, Frigid Cells, and Rotten Burritos in Border Detention” (United States: VICE, May 2, 2022) https://www.vice.com/en/article/93b4vv/border-patrol-abuse-migrant-children.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Conditions in Custody

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child