18 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in “Rio Grande Valley”

July 28, 2022

The Dallas Morning News reported that Border Patrol agents appeared to be fabricating information on asylum seekers’ entry paperwork. It cited an egregious case, in the Rio Grande Valley sector, of a two-year-old toddler whose form read that he told agents he intended to travel to Dallas “to seek employment” and did not fear being returned to El Salvador.

Falsifying information on intake forms can mean swift deportation for protection-seeking migrants subject to the expedited removal process. “Immigration attorneys say instances like this aren’t uncommon and are part of a wave of expedited removals,” the Morning News reported.

— Dianne Solis, “Border agents deny entry to migrants based on interviews lawyers say are fiction” (Dallas: Dallas Morning News, July 28, 2022) https://www.dallasnews.com/news/immigration/2022/07/28/border-agents-deny-entry-to-migrants-based-on-interviews-lawyers-say-are-fiction/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Compelling Signature of English-Language Documents, Falsification of Asylum Paperwork

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, El Salvador

May 24, 2022

Activist Scott Nicol reported finding five COVID vaccination cards and other personal posessions in a trash pile beside a table Border Patrol agents use to process asylum-seeking migrants alongside the border wall in Hidalgo, Texas. The items, discarded by agents, were the personal belongings of asylum-seeking migrants who regularly turn themselves in at this site.

— ”Scott Nicol @Scott_NicolTX on Twitter” (United States, Twitter, May 24, 2022) https://twitter.com/Scott_NicolTX/status/1529247504717471745.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

May 3, 2022

Activist Scott Nicol reported finding a Nicaraguan birth certificate, a cell phone, and a child’s stuffed animal beside the border wall in Hidalgo, Texas. The items, discarded by Border Patrol agents, were the personal belongings of asylum-seeking migrants who regularly turn themselves in at this site.

That day, the Border Chronicle featured Nicol’s documentation of items he has recovered near the wall in south Texas. “What really got to me were the x-rays I found. They were for a six-year-old boy, and it showed a steel rod in his spine. It was obviously for an asylum claim Why would anyone part with those?”

— ”Scott Nicol @Scott_NicolTX on Twitter” (United States, Twitter, May 3, 2022) https://twitter.com/scott_nicoltx/status/1521488561165504513.

— Melissa del Bosque, “The Things They Carried: Is the Border Patrol discarding asylum seekers’ documents?” (United States: The Border Chronicle, May 3, 2022) https://www.theborderchronicle.com/p/the-things-they-carried-is-the-border.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Nicaragua

April 15, 2022

A Border Patrol vehicle pursuit about seven miles east of Edinburg, Texas, reached speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. The vehicle being pursued, a 2020 GMC Sierra with eight people on board, six of them undocumented, lost control and rolled over. The driver and a passenger died on the scene, while the remaining passengers were “transported by air and ground ambulances to the hospital for injuries that ranged from minor to severe,” according to the Rio Grande Valley Monitor.

— Mark Reagan, “Border Patrol chase ending in double fatality reached speeds of 100 mph” (McAllen: The Monitor, April 18, 2022) https://myrgv.com/local-news/2022/04/18/border-patrol-chase-ending-in-double-fatality-reached-speeds-of-100-mph/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

March 25, 2022

Activist Scott Nicol posted photographs of Cuban and Costa Rican vaccination cards discarded in a trash bag at a site near the border wall In Mission, Texas. The trash, left by Border Patrol agents, included personal belongings of asylum-seeking migrants who regularly turn themselves in at this site.

—”Scott Nicol @Scott_NicolTX on Twitter” (United States, Twitter, March 25, 2022) https://twitter.com/Scott_NicolTX/status/1507508896272949257.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Disregard of Public Health, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: No Steps Taken

Victim Classification: Costa Rica, Cuba

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

December 3, 2021

Agents in two Border Patrol vehicles pursued a Ford F-150 pickup truck they suspected of carrying undocumented migrants near Encino, Texas, about 51 miles north of the border. The truck refused to pull over.

Agents alerted Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS, highway police). A DPS officer, accompanied by two Border Patrol agents, deployed a vehicle immobilization device. The driver sought to avoid it but struck solar panels near the roadside and rolled over.

“An occupant of the F-150, a male citizen of Mexico, was ejected from the vehicle when it rolled over,” CBP reported (original link). The man was pronounced dead at the scene.

As of December 6, 2021, the incident was being investigated by the Texas DPS and reviewed by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility and the Starr County, Texas Justice of the Peace. The DHS Office of Inspector-General was also notified.

— “CBP statement on death of Mexican man after he was ejected from a vehicle following failure to yield near La Gloria, Texas” (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, December 6, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-death-mexican-man-after-he-was-ejected-vehicle.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

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

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

October, 2021

Human Rights First reported:

In October 2021 DHS agents repeatedly told an asylum-seeking Honduran family to “shut up” and refused to answer their questions as they transferred the family by plane from McAllen, Texas, where they had crossed the border to seek asylum, to Arizona for expulsion into Nogales, Mexico. According to Kino Border Initiative, an agent attempted to seize the family’s documents related to their asylum claim.

— 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, Tucson

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Confiscation of Documents, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras

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

Mid-August, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A Guatemalan man who was migrating due to extreme poverty attempted crossing into the U.S. near McAllen, Texas. Border Patrol apprehended him, held him under a highway bridge for several days [Border Patrol’s “Temporary Outdoor Processing Site” (TOPS) facility in Mission, Texas], then told him they would arrange transport to his family members in the United States.

They flew him to Tucson, and when they took him off the flight, told him they would take him to a place where he could sign papers for the transport to his family. Instead, they put him on a bus to Nogales, where he was expelled. He did not know he was being expelled until he reached the port of entry.

— “August 19 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, August 19, 2021).

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley, Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Lying or Deliberate Misleading

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

Victim Classification: Guatemala, 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

July 21, 2021

Gregson Martínez, a Border Patrol processing coordinator at the Processing Center in Donna, Texas, struck a 17-year-old Honduran citizen in the face while questioning him about his age and citizenship. Mr. Martínez was terminated on August 2, 2021, and pled guilty on May 13, 2022 to violating the teenager’s constitutional rights. (original link)

The DHS Office of Inspector-General and CBP Office of Professional Responsibility conducted the investigation of Martínez, and the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted the case. Martínez faces up to a year in prison and a possible maximum $100,000 fine; sentencing was scheduled for June 24, 2022.

— “Federal agent admits to violating civil rights of a Honduran teenager” (Texas: U.S. Department of Justice, May 13, 2022) https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdtx/pr/federal-agent-admits-violating-civil-rights-honduran-teenager.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Processing Coordinators

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Conviction, DHS OIG investigation Closed, Judicial Case Closed, OPR Investigation Closed

Victim Classification: Honduras, Unaccompanied Child

April 24, 2021

Francisco Javier Vallejo, an off-duty Border Patrol agent, struck a bicyclist with his car and fled the scene. The cyclist, Humberto Torres Iracheta, 71, was found dead, face down in the roadway.

Vallejo eventually informed his CBP supervisors that he had hit a cyclist. The Rio Grande Valley Monitor reported, “It’s unclear, however, how long it took Vallejo to report the collision.” Vallejo was arrested, the Monitor continued, “and charged with accident involving death, a second-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Vallejo was released the following day on a $100,000 bond.”

— Valerie Gonzalez and Mark Reagan, “Border Patrol agent fled deadly collision with bicyclist; later reported the death” (Hidalgo: MyRGV News, April 26, 2021) https://myrgv.com/local-news/2021/04/26/border-patrol-agent-fled-deadly-collision-with-bicyclist-later-reported-the-death/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: Under Judicial Review, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: U.S. Citizen or Resident

January 29, 2021

A Border Patrol agent shot and killed Diosmani Ramos, a 23-year-old Cuban migrant, as he emerged from the Rio Grande in Hidalgo, Texas.

Helen Diéguez, Ramos’s partner, told Univisión that when Ramos reached the river bank, the agent was pointing a gun at him. “Diosmani grabbed a stone, the officer told him to drop it, and when the young man did not do so, he shot him in the chest.” When Ramos fell to the ground after being shot, the agent “told him again to drop the stone, he did not drop it because he was on the ground doubled over in pain, and then the agent shot him five more times.”

“If what they wanted was to grab him, there were many ways to do it, not by shooting him six times in the chest. That’s why we believe it was murder,” Diéguez said.

“The incident occurred while the agent was attempting to apprehend a subject and the agent discharged his weapon,” a CBP release noted, adding, “The incident is currently under investigation by the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility, DHS Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (original link).”

— “UPDATE: CBP Statement on Agent Involved Fatal Shooting in Hidalgo, TX” (Hidalgo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, January 29, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/update-cbp-statement-agent-involved-fatal-shooting-hidalgo-tx.

— “‘Fue un asesinato’: pareja del joven cubano baleado en la frontera por un agente de la patrulla fronteriza de EEUU” (Miami: Univisión, February 2, 2021) https://www.univision.com/local/miami-wltv/fue-un-asesinato-pareja-del-cubano-baleado-en-la-frontera-por-un-agente-de-la-patrulla-fronteriza-de-eeuu.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force

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

Victim Classification: Cuba, Single Adult

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: