7 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in “Rio Grande Valley” where the event type is “Conditions in Custody”

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

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

September 14, 2021

The DHS Inspector General completed an unpublished report, obtained in part and revealed in February 2022 by ProPublica and El Paso Matters, sharing findings about the May 2019 in-custody death of Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez (original link). As the journalistic outlets put it, the victim, a 16-year-old unaccompanied Guatemalan migrant, “died of the flu after writing on the floor of his cell” in the Weslaco, Texas Border Patrol station.

Hernández had a 103-degree fever, tested positive for influenza, and a nurse practitioner had instructed agents in writing “that he should be checked again in two hours and taken to the emergency room if his condition worsened.” Only one medical staff person was on overnight duty at the Weslaco Station, which was being used as a makeshift sick ward and had “60-70” flu patients among 210 ill detainees at the time. Agents logged regular “welfare checks” on the boy, but video footage of his cell showed no evidence of checks during a period of nearly four and a half hours.

The log entries were false, the Inspector-General’s report determined. The lead agent told Inspector General investigators that he made hourly checks of the cell, but

added that at that time, it was impossible for him to conduct welfare checks on 300 to 350 detainees every hour. According to [redacted] common practice, Team Leads check the “select all” tab in the [redacted] system and press enter, reporting all detainees received an hourly welfare check.

“Falsifying federal records to impede administration of an agency’s function is a crime,” ProPublica and El Paso Matters point out. “But the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas declined to prosecute anyone in Hernandez’s death, the report said.” The report did not specify whether anyone involved in Hernández’s case had been disciplined. CBP “declined to comment on whether any agents have faced discipline stemming from Hernandez’s death or whether any changes had been made as a result of the inspector general report,” noting that it is continuing an internal investigation of the nearly three-year-old case.

On July 20, 2021, the DHS Inspector-General had reported that, in 98 cases examined of ill people in custody, “CBP could not always demonstrate staff conducted required medical screenings or consistent welfare checks” (original link).

Report of Investigation, Carlos Gregorio Hernandez-Vasquez, U.S. Border Patrol Weslaco Station, Weslaco, Texas (Washington: DHS Office of Inspector General, September 14, 2021) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21196072-dhs-oig-report-carlos-hernandez-vasquez.

— Robert Moore, “Internal Investigation Confirms Border Patrol Failures Leading Up to a 16-Year-Old’s Death on the Floor of His Cell” (ProPublica and El Paso Matters, February 8, 2022) https://elpasomatters.org/2022/02/08/internal-investigation-confirms-border-patrol-failures-leading-up-to-a-16-year-olds-death-on-his-cell-floor/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed, Under OPR Investigation, Unknown

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Medical Condition, Unaccompanied Child

August 2021

“In August 2021, DHS subjected three Nicaraguan political dissidents to a lateral expulsion flight after they sought protection near McAllen, Texas,” reads a Human Rights First report.

DHS officers verbally abused them, threatening to release dogs to attack them. The officers woke the men at 1:00 am, handcuffed them, and forced them to stand for more than two hours before the expulsion flight. The officers lied to the men telling them that they would be sent to California and permitted to pursue their asylum cases, but instead expelled them to Tijuana. From there, Mexican immigration officials transported them to Mexico’s southern border and attempted to deport them to Guatemala, but Guatemalan immigration authorities refused to accept them, leaving them stranded in southern Mexico, according to Anaís Catalina, an advocate assisting them.

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley, San Diego

Agency(ies): DHS

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Nicaragua, Single Adult

July 30, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described the experience of a Honduran family while in custody at Border Patrol’s “Temporary Outdoor Processing Site” (TOPS) facility under a bridge in Mission, Texas, and their subsequent lateral expulsion via Nogales, Arizona.

A Honduran man, wife and daughter entered the United States and were detained in [across from] Reynosa. They told the agents who detained them that they wanted to seek asylum. The agents said “no,” that there was nothing the agents could do for them; however, the agents asked the family to write down their names.

The family was taken under a bridge, where they were told to sleep outdoors, on the concrete. They were not given food or water for 10 hours. There were several hundred other migrants under the bridge with no access to running water. All the migrants were confined in a small space where they could touch each other. There were three toilets (port-o-potties) for several hundred migrants. There were no facilities for them to bathe under the bridge.

On the fourth day, the family was flown to Tucson where they were finally able to wash themselves, though they were detained there for four days and only allowed to wash that one time. In Tucson, they asked again to be considered for asylum but were again told no. The agents also shouted at the immigrants asking them to shut their kids up.

The agents told the family that since they came to the US illegally, they had no right to asylum, and that they should attempt to seek asylum at the nearby port of entry. From there, they were expelled to Nogales, Sonora.

KBI filed an August 11, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). As of August 17, KBI had not yet received a response.

KBI and NETWORK recorded a similar account, for July 23, 2021, of a Honduran family that spent three days at TOPS before being laterally expelled via Nogales.

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley, Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras

July 23, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described the experience of a Honduran family while in custody at Border Patrol’s “Temporary Outdoor Processing Site” (TOPS) facility under a bridge in Mission, Texas, and their subsequent lateral expulsion via Nogales, Arizona.

A Honduran man, his wife, and daughter entered the United States near McAllen, Texas where they were detained. They were kept under an overpass with hundreds of other migrants. The agents took their temperatures and biometric data.

There was a medical tent, but the family could not get medical attention. Their infant daughter became sick while they were there. Although they asked for medical attention for their baby, the agents refused to provide any.

They were held there for three days. This family was exposed to the elements and went without basic necessities like running water, beds to sleep in, etc. They were only fed twice a day.

Border Patrol would periodically call names to board buses; if you missed your name, you had to wait until next time they came to call your name. Because of this, people chose to remain awake rather than risk missing their chance to leave. The father recalls the brutal sleep deprivation this caused.

After three days the Border Patrol transferred them to a facility. At the facility the agents confiscated all their belongings (clothes, medicine, diapers, phone chargers, etc.). They were not given anything to eat at the facility for the whole day. The father was temporarily separated from his wife and daughter and placed in a separate holding facility with about fifty others, who had been at the facility for some time.

Eventually, the agents took down details of the family members they had in the US and told them they could leave once their family members had paid for their travel. This was a lie. The family was instead taken to the airport and flown to Tucson, AZ and then expelled to Nogales, Sonora.

KBI filed an August 3, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On August 6, CRCL emailed “that they received the complaint and forwarded it to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.”

KBI and NETWORK recorded a similar account, for July 30, 2021, of a Honduran family that spent three days at TOPS before being laterally expelled via Nogales.

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley, Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

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

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras

January 23, 2021

As migration, most of it asylum-seeking, increased in south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, Border Patrol began keeping hundreds of families for days at a time under the Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission, Texas, while they awaited processing. The ACLU described the outdoor site as “buried deep on federal property and out of public view.”

The March 24, 2021 Los Angeles Times reported, “Up to 600 families were assembled in recent days at the site under the Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission, Texas, sleeping in the dirt, exposed to the elements, without much food or access to medical care.”

“We asked them why we were there for so long,” Karen Coello, 24, of Honduras, who had been kept at the site for three days with her 5-year-old daughter, Valeria, said Tuesday after being released to a local shelter. “All they told us was, ‘That’s your problem.’”

Border Patrol chose the location for this “Temporary Outdoor Processing Site” (TOPS) “so that agents could easily expel eligible migrants to Mexico via the bridge” using the Title 42 pandemic authority, according to the Times.

The ACLU reported on a visit to the TOPS site months later:

In late June 2021, we joined a brief official tour of the Anzalduas TOPS, during which Border Patrol representatives described the site as being used exclusively to hold families with children under 7 years old. Though we were not allowed to speak with those detained there, what we observed was deeply concerning.

The temperature was in the 90s. For the dozens of children and adults detained outdoors in the heat, only a fan and a set of overhead sprinklers provided plainly inadequate cooling. At a meeting in May, a Border Patrol representative justified holding families in the South Texas summer heat by egregiously claiming that the conditions are preferable to many migrants, who Border Patrol described as “not used to air conditioning.”

In addition to having no basic temperature controls, the TOPS has a bare-bones structure that lacks other minimal protections. Families are funneled through a series of outdoor areas surrounded by plastic fencing. We observed them being held in an area with hard benches and gravel as the only places to rest or sleep.

Border Patrol told us there is no medical staff on site beyond emergency medical personnel, and the nearest paved road to get to medical aid is a five to 10 minute drive away. Border Patrol has even given us conflicting answers about what, if any, detention standards apply to the site. This is particularly troubling since detention standards mandate a “reasonable and comfortable” temperature for those detained — contrary to the very design of the TOPS.

Just last week in the Rio Grande Valley, we interviewed recently released families with small children who reported that thousands of people were being held at the site. Every family reported spending two or three days under the bridge. Mothers shared that Border Patrol denied their pleas for medical care for sick children and that they experienced miserable conditions in high temperatures.

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described the experience of two Honduran families that each spent three days in custody at TOPS in July 2021.

In January 2022 report on a July 2021 visit the Rio Grande Valley sector, the DHS Inspector-General noted that TOPS did not meet detention standards “but lessened overcrowding and health risks for detainees” (original link). The report found that “water, snacks, and food for babies and children were readily available.”

— Shaw Drake, Kate Huddleston, “Border Patrol Must Stop Holding People in an Inhumane Outside Pen Under a Highway in South Texas” (El Paso: ACLU of Texas, August 9, 2021) https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/border-patrol-must-stop-holding-people-in-an-inhumane-outside-pen-under-a-highway-in-south-texas/.

— Molly Hennessy-Fiske, “Border Patrol holds migrant families for days under a south Texas bridge” (Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2021) https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-03-24/texas-migrants-border-bridge.

Rio Grande Valley Area Border Patrol Struggles with High Volumes of Detainees and Cases of Prolonged Detention but Has Taken Consistent Measures to Improve Conditions in Facilities, Report OIG-22-22 (Washington: DHS Office of Inspector-General, January 27, 2022) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-02/OIG-22-22-Feb22.pdf.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: