2 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the event type is “Conditions in Custody” where the accountability status is “No Steps Taken”

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

October 13, 2021

The Central American website ContraCorriente published a Honduran family’s account of being held in Border Patrol custody in south Texas, then expelled on a flight to southern Mexico under the Title 42 pandemic policy.

For Fernando and his family, the American dream had ended just as it was beginning. As he tells us, they and about 150 other people were forced to walk from the border to the city of McAllen, Texas. They walked for about two hours and then boarded a bus that took them to the famous “hieleras” [“freezers”], as the migrants call the detention centers, whose characteristic is that they are very cold. They remained there for four days.

During their stay in the “hieleras” they had to bathe at 2 a.m. Fernando says that his girls got sick with respiratory problems. They were fed flour tortillas and lettuce. Before entering the detention center they were asked for the contact and address of the people who were waiting for them in the great country to the north. “Supposedly they were going to call them to pick us up, but from then on there was nothing, they kept us in the hielera for four days without knowing anything,” he told us.

On Wednesday, October 13, Fernando and his family were called to a room where there were other people. He’s assured that they even called his relatives, and he thought he was going to be reunited with them. They were put on a bus, taken to the airport in McAllen, and once on the plane Fernando knew something was wrong. They asked the immigration officials what was going on and they answered that they did not know: “When I least expected it, the plane landed and we saw that the airport said welcome to Villa Hermosa” [in southern Mexico].

Once they landed in the aforementioned city, jurisdiction of the State of Tabasco, the migrants demanded to know why they were left on Mexican soil if they were not originally from that country. At the airport they were picked up by Mexican immigration and boarded onto a new bus, in which they traveled to Corinto, on the border of Guatemala and Honduras. “They brought us here on bread and water,” says Fernando, touching his stomach. “They tricked us because we were supposedly going to our family, they even called them. Now they were surprised when I told them I was in Honduras. I was able to call because they gave us back our phones,” he adds.

— Allan Bu, “En la Madrugada, e Ignorados por el Estado, Llegan a Corinto Miles de Hondurenos Deportados” (Honduras: ContraCorriente, October 15, 2021) https://contracorriente.red/2021/10/15/en-la-madrugada-e-ignorados-por-el-estado-llegan-a-corinto-miles-de-hondurenos-deportados.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: No Steps Taken

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras