21 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in “San Diego”

December 15, 2023

A Los Angeles Times December 15 publication reported on the family separations taking place at the San Diego border, citing a letter written by the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Al Otro Lado, Jewish Family Service of San Diego, and the UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy. 

The letter identified 1,081 family separations, 400 separations of spouses, and 200 separations of adult children and parents. 

Separations are the result of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s practice of releasing migrants to various locations without coordinated reception plans, as they handle increased arrivals of asylum seekers. Al Otro Lado reported these separations among the migrants they serve daily at a San Diego border welcome center. Some families remained separated even after being transferred to long-term detention, and in two cases, one family member was deported while others stayed in the U.S. Some families remain separated even after being transferred to long term detention. 

Many separated families claimed they informed CBP of their family status, but were rarely informed of potential separation or how to locate relatives. A migrant mother reported she was separated from her 19 year old son for five days after being transported to another immigration center unaware of her child’s whereabouts. “It’s hell,” she said. “Not knowing if your son is safe, if he is alive, if something happened to him. All you can do is pray to God.”

In the letter, advocacy groups urged The Department of Homeland Security to broaden the family group definition, document relationships, and ensure families are released together. 

Castillo, Andrea. “Over 1,000 Migrant Families Separated at Border near San Diego since September, Advocates Say.” Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2023. https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2023-12-15/migrant-families-at-san-diego-border-immigrant-advocates-letter-dhs.

Sector(s): Border Patrol, San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP, DHS

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Access to Asylum, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Endangerment, Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit

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:

October 7, 2022

A Southern California public radio investigation found that CBP and Border Patrol in San Diego are releasing injured migrants from custody before they receive necessary treatment, in order to avoid “skyrocketing medical costs” amid a big increase in border wall-related injuries.

Mexico’s consul in San Diego said that “during the first 12 days of August, eight Mexican nationals died trying to cross the border in an undocumented way.” A January 27, 2023 document from the consulate recorded 23 deaths and dozens of injuries, listed as “wall-related,” of Mexican migrants in the San Diego area. (Original link)

With CBP paying far fewer of injured migrants’ medical bills, California’s state government—which changed its law in 2021 to expand the state’s health-care program to cover undocumented migrants’ medical costs—is now bearing most of the cost. The investigation reports:

In 2019, CBP paid the medical expenses of roughly 75% of the patients their agents brought into UC San Diego. That percentage increased to 80% in 2020 but then dropped to 50% in 2021. So far this year, the CBP payment rate at the hospital is down to 15%, although that percentage could go up as payments are processed.

It adds, citing the hospital’s head of trauma, that “the UC San Diego Medical Center has received so many border fall patients this year that the hospital had to dedicate an entire ward just for them.”

— Solis, Gustavo. “Border Patrol Avoiding Medical Costs by Releasing Injured Migrants, Records Show.” KPBS Public Media, October 7, 2022. <https://www.kpbs.org/news/border-immigration/2022/10/07/border-patrol-avoiding-medical-costs-by-releasing-injured-migrants-records-show>.

— “Mexican Nationals Injured or Dead While Crossing the Border in the San Diego-Tijuana Region during Fiscal Years 2020-2022.” Consulate of Mexico in San Diego, January 2023. <https://consulmex.sre.gob.mx/sandiego/index.php/boletines/856-increasing-number-of-mexican-nationals-injured-or-dead-in-their-attempt-to-cross-the-border>.

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

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

Event Type(s): Denial of Medical Care

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

September 1, 2022

“The Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector has a new challenge coin that features concertina wire around the Border Patrol’s badge,” wrote Pedro Rios, of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program, at the San Diego Union-Tribune. “In its description on its website, it says the concertina wire symbolizes ‘a new way of thinking about border security in San Diego.’” Rios added, “That the Border Patrol would promote coils of razor-sharp wires made for a battlefield as its emblem to display its philosophy is concerning.”

On September 3, CBP removed the challenge coin from the Border Patrol Sector’s website. “That challenge coin is not in keeping with the agency’s mission and values, and we are reviewing the process by which it was produced and displayed on our website,” read a statement from CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.

The “challenge coins” issue had come up earlier in 2022, when reports emerged of unofficial coins being sold online with defiant messages, some celebrating a controversial incident involving mounted Border Patrol agents and Haitian migrants in September 2021.

— Pedro Rios, “The Border Patrol emblem promotes razor-sharp wires made for a battlefield. Why is it allowed?” (San Diego: San Diego Union-Tribune, September 1, 2022) <https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/community-voices-project/story/2022-09-01/the-border-patrol-emblem-promotes-coils-of-razor-sharp-wires-made-for-a-battlefield>.

— Pedro Rios @Pedroconsafos on Twitter, September 3, 2022 <https://twitter.com/Pedroconsafos/status/1566199248818843648>.

Internet Archive copy of “San Diego Sector California” (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, July 25, 2022) <https://web.archive.org/web/20220827001221/https://www.cbp.gov/border-security/along-us-borders/border-patrol-sectors/san-diego-sector-california>.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

July 26, 2022

A Border Patrol vehicle pursuit ended in a crash, with no fatalities, in Chula Vista, southeast of San Diego, when agents deployed a spike strip, popping a vehicle’s tires and causing its driver to veer off the road.

“The driver and front passenger were both male U.S. citizens under 18 years old,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. “The other five occupants, four men and one woman, were adult Mexican citizens who were in the U.S. illegally, authorities said.”

— Angelina Hicks, “Border Patrol pursuit of suspected human smugglers ends in crash in Chula Vista” (San Diego: San Diego Union-Tribune, July 27, 2022) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2022-07-27/border-patrol-pursuit-of-suspected-human-smugglers-ends-in-crash-in-chula-vista.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Single Adult

June 24, 2022

A high-speed vehicle pursuit of a suspected migrant smuggler near Otay Mesa, east of San Diego, California, ended with two men suffering “major injuries” and a Border Patrol agent suffering minor injuries, after both vehicles went off the roadway and crashed into an embankment.

— Doug Aguillard, “Border Patrol Agent & Two Immigrants Injured in Pursuit Crash” (United States: OnScene.tv, June 24, 2022) https://onscene.tv/border-patrol-agent-two-immigrants-injured-in-pursuit-crash-san-diego/.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

June 16, 2022

On May 23, 2022, a District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruling went into effect prohibiting CBP personnel from using Title 42 to expel asylum-seeking families to places where they will be persecuted or tortured (original link). A June 16, 2022 report from Human Rights First, however, found examples of families who, “when they tried to express their fears of return, Border Patrol agents ignored their statements or refused to allow them to speak and failed to refer any for screening”:

Four asylum-seeking families, who were expelled under Title 42 to Ciudad Acuña on May 23, 2022, reported to Human Rights First researchers that Border Patrol agents refused to allow them to explain their fear of return to Mexico or their countries of origin and did not refer them for a fear screening before expelling them.

None of the approximately 50 Honduran and Salvadoran asylum-seeking families, who were interviewed by researchers from the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS), had received a fear screening prior to being expelled to Reynosa in late May and early June 2022. According to CGRS’s Legal Director, Blaine Bookey, many families reported that when they attempted to explain their fear of return, Border Patrol officers said, for example, that asylum was not available and that they would only be taking fingerprints and photographs and ordered the families to stop attempting to communicate with the officers. Other families expressed that given harsh treatment and verbal abuse from Border Patrol agents, they were too afraid to even attempt to explain their fears of return. One family reported to Bookey that Border Patrol agents called them “invaders,” and other families reported the agents told them that if they were afraid to return to their country, they should arm themselves and fight the gangs.

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, The Nightmare Continues: Title 42 Court Order Prolongs Human Rights Abuses, Extends Disorder at U.S. Borders (New York: Human Rights First, June 16, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/nightmare-continues-title-42-court-order-prolongs-human-rights-abuses-extends-disorder-us.

Sector(s): Del Rio, San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Family Unit, Honduras

April 23, 2022

A Border Patrol pursuit, which bystanders estimated to be in excess of 100 miles per hour, ended in the death of a driver in El Cajon, California, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The driver being pursued “lost control, flew off the freeway and went down an embankment, crashing into a tree.” The California Highway Patrol (CHP) “said it was still working to determine why the driver was being pursued. A Border Patrol spokesperson deferred all questions to CHP.”

— Kristina Davis, Natallie Rocha, “Driver dies in crash during Border Patrol pursuit” (San Diego: San Diego Union-Tribune, April 23, 2022) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2022-04-23/border-patrol-pursuit.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under Local Police investigation, Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

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 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

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

May 14, 2021

Three Border Patrol agents shot 26-year-old San Diego resident Silvestre Vargas Estrada through the windshield of his car in Campo, California. Vargas Estrada was killed. Two passengers, believed to be Mexican men who had entered the country illegally, were not injured.

A release from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department reported:

Just before 10:30 p.m. on May 14, 2021, agents with the U.S. Border Patrol were involved in a pursuit with a vehicle containing three adult males. The pursuit ended in a gas station parking lot at the intersection of State Route 94 and Buckman Springs Road in Campo. A confrontation ensued, resulting in three agents discharging their firearms. The driver of the vehicle was struck by gunfire. The man was transported by ambulance to a local area hospital. Unfortunately, he was pronounced deceased shortly after arriving at the hospital (original link).

The Sheriff’s Department homicide unit was leading the investigation, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on May 18, 2021. “The FBI, Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility also responded to the scene and will review the investigation.”

It was the second Border Patrol-involved fatal shooting in the agency’s San Diego sector in six months. An agent shot and killed David Angel Villalobos-Baldovinos following a reported altercation on October 23, 2020.

— Thomas Seiver, “U.S. Border Patrol Agents Involved Shooting – Update 1” (San Diego: San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, May 18, 2021) https://www.sdsheriff.gov/Home/Components/News/News/384/16.

— Alex Riggins, “Authorities ID San Diego man shot, killed by Border Patrol agents” (San Diego, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 18, 2021) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2021-05-18/authorities-id-san-diego-man-shot-killed-by-border-patrol-agents.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force, Vehicle Pursuit

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

Victim Classification: Single Adult, U.S. Citizen or Resident

March 7, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK detailed the experience of a Cuban asylum seeker in Border Patrol custody in Yuma, Arizona and Campo (Pine Valley), California.

A Cuban man and his wife crossed into the United States and were detained. He was searched and their documents were confiscated. The man was separated from his wife, even though his wife told the agents they were together.

He was transferred to Campo BP Station in California, and when he was being transferred he was told he would be reunited with his wife at the detention center. While in detention, he was not allowed to shower for five days, and the lights were always kept on.

There, a border patrol agent interviewed him in Spanish. The agent asked him about his relatives but did not ask anything about asylum. The man asked if he could present his case. The CBP agent said no, as that was for a courtroom with a lawyer. The man asked why the agent didn’t ask him why he left Cuba, and the agent still said no. After five days, they transported the man to expel him, very early in the morning.

The man says he was disoriented but once he heard he was being expelled he said he can’t leave without his wife. He was told his wife would be joining him soon. This was not true. He was not reunited with his wife and was expelled to Tijuana, Baja California in the early morning hours. A week later, he tried to cross again at Yuma as his wife was still in CBP custody. He was then expelled to Nogales.

KBI filed a March 24, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On April 23, CRCL emailed that “they received the complaint and forwarded it to the OIG. No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.”

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): San Diego, Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Confiscation of Documents, 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: Cuba, Family Unit

January 27, 2021

Relatives of Anastasio Hernández Rojas filed a brief before the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, contending that Border Patrol covered up, and improperly interfered with the investigation of, agents’ role in Hernández’s 2010 death. Video showed numerous Border Patrol agents and CBP officers beating and tasing a hogtied and handcuffed Hernández to death.

The brief contended that the acting deputy chief patrol agent in Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector at the time, Rodney Scott, signed a potentially illegal subpoena to obtain Hernández’s autopsy. (Scott went on to be Border Patrol chief from 2020 to 2021.) It argued that David Aguilar, then the commissioner of CBP, also argued that the use of force against Hernández was justified. It cited John Edward Dupuy, DHS’s assistant inspector general for investigations from 2012 to 2015, who called the DHS Inspector-General’s role “an example of a pattern of dereliction of duty that I observed from the DHS OIG Office of Investigation San Diego field office in investigations involving allegations of use of force by federal agents.”

“The affidavits show that the Border Patrol’s ability to cover its tracks in use-of-force cases, including killings, was built into the agency’s structure,” read an overview published on February 4, 2021 by the Intercept.

— Roxanna Altholtz, Andrea Guerrero, “Additional Observations on Merits” (San Diego: International Human Rights Law Clinic, University of California, Berkeley School of Law and Alliance San Diego, January 27, 2021) https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/alliancesandiego/pages/3138/attachments/original/1612382784/210127_Additional_Observations_on_Merits_Case_14042.pdf?1612382784.

— “Death on the Border: Shocking Video Shows Mexican Immigrant Beaten and Tased by Border Patrol Agents” (United States: Democracy Now! April 24, 2012) https://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/24/death_on_the_border_shocking_video.

— Ryan Devereaux, “Border Patrol Beat an Immigrant to Death and Then Covered It Up” (United States: The Intercept, February 4, 2021) https://theintercept.com/2021/02/04/border-patrol-killing-impunity-iachr/.

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

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Before Inter-American Human Rights System, Cleared by DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

October 23, 2020

Border Patrol agent Ryan Gonsalves shot and killed David Angel Villalobos-Baldovinos, a Mexican citizen and Tijuana resident who allegedly tried to enter the United States illegally. Gonsalves confronted Villalobos-Baldovinos near the Las Américas outlet mall next to the San Ysidro port of entry. “An alleged scuffle unfolded, and the agent shot Villalobos-Baldovinos once in his upper body,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. “The agent suffered minor injuries, though police did not elaborate on the extent of the injuries.”

San Diego police were investigating the shooting. “We’re still putting the pieces together on this,” police Lt. Andra Brown told the Union-Tribune on October 27.

Villalobos-Baldovinos reportedly had family on both sides of the border. He was briefly jailed in San Diego in 2019 for the misdemeanor charge of improper entry (original link).

This would be the first of two Border Patrol-involved fatal shootings in the agency’s San Diego sector within the space of six months. Agents would shoot and kill Silvestre Vargas Estrada on May 14, 2021.

— Brenda Gregorio-Nieto, “One Dead in Shooting Involving Border Patrol Near Las Americas Premium Outlets” (San Diego: NBC 7 San Diego, October 25, 2020) https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/us-border-patrol-involved-in-shooting-in-san-ysidro/2430349/.

19-2881 – USA v. Villalobos-Valdovinos (San Diego: U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, July 30, 2019) https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/USCOURTS-casd-3_19-cr-02881/context.

— David Hernandez, “Police release name of man fatally shot by Border Patrol agent” (San Diego, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 27, 2020) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2020-10-27/police-release-name-of-man-fatally-shot-by-border-patrol-agent.

— “Border Patrol Agent Who Fatally Shot Suspected Border-Jumper ID’d” (San Diego: City News Service, NBC 7 San Diego, November 3, 2020) https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/border-patrol-agent-who-fatally-shot-suspected-border-jumper-idd/2435819/.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

September 8, 2020

An October 2020 ACLU document recounted the experience of “Ms. Eva Doe,” who fled Cuba with her husband in June 2019. When they arrived at the Rio Grande Valley’s Hidalgo port of entry to request asylum in September 2019, they were taken into CBP custody. After two days, they were given an immigration court date and sent back across the border into Mexico, under the “Remain in Mexico” program, to await their proceedings. In March 2020, after being brought into the United States for several hearings, an immigration judge denied Ms. Doe’s and her husband’s asylum petition.

The ACLU complaint continues:

They both reserved appeal and were returned to Reynosa for an indefinite period of time. There, the couple faced the tremendous challenges of navigating a global pandemic in a foreign country, without critical resources. Ms.Doe and her husband both fell ill, yet due to their lack of access to medical care, they could not get treatment. Ms. Doe’s husband additionally suffered threats and extortion in Mexico.

Fearful of ever-present threats to their safety, overwhelmed by unrelenting pandemic circumstances, and without legal counsel, the couple was unable to timely submit their immigration appeal. Consequently, the pair made the difficult decision to request asylum once more at a port of entry—this time, in Tijuana. When they arrived at the port of entry, however, U.S. immigration officers told the couple that the border was “closed” due to the coronavirus pandemic, and turned them away.

On September 8, 2020, Ms. Doe and her husband crossed the border between ports of entry, turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents and requesting asylum again. The ACLU continues:

Agents transported Ms. Doe and her husband to the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station. Once there, Ms. Doe notified the agents that she was pregnant, even showing them photos from a recent ultrasound she had undergone while in Tijuana. Notwithstanding, Border Patrol agents separated Ms. Doe from her husband immediately after processing.[6]

The Border Patrol forced Ms. Doe to remove all outer layers of clothing, leaving her upper body clothed in only a sleeveless, thin-strapped blouse. Border Patrol agents gave Ms. Doe a floor mat and silver colored plastic (Mylar) sheet to use as a blanket before placing her in a large holding cell.[7] The toilet and sink to which Ms. Doe had access in her holding cell lacked safeguards for privacy. Ms. Doe was never allowed to bathe while in Border Patrol custody and was instead provided a single moist towelette to clean her entire body every three to four days. She was also only provided a small plastic stick with a sponge tip every three to four days to brush her teeth. The Border Patrol kept the cell lights on 24 hours per day, which made it difficult for Ms. Doe to fall asleep. Ms. Doe felt very cold in the holding cell, unable to warm up with the Mylar sheet, and unable to sleep or rest. Despite her multiple requests, Ms. Doe was denied access to her prenatal vitamins and was never given an equivalent supplement while in CBP custody.

Border Patrol then separated Ms. Doe and her husband:

On her seventh day in Border Patrol custody, Ms. Doe observed agents taking her husband and his belongings out of the holding cell in which he had been detained. She was never given an opportunity to talk to him before he was taken away. She panicked as she saw the agents removing him from the facility, and began banging on the cell door pleading for the agents’ attention. An agent informed Ms. Doe that her husband was being transferred to an ICE detention center and that she would soon be transferred as well. She recalls an agent explaining, to her horror, that many pregnant women are detained in ICE custody and that she could give birth while detained.

As of ACLU’s October 2020 filing, Ms. Doe had been given a November 2020 court date and released from CBP custody. Her husband remained held at ICE’s Otay Mesa Detention Center.

Ms. Doe is currently five months pregnant. Her separation from the father of her child has caused her stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil. She fears that her husband might not be present for their first child’s birth, and that she will have to go through the experience alone without his support. Worse yet, Ms. Doe’s source of greatest distress is the possibility that her husband will be deported to danger in their country of origin, without ever being be able to see or hold their child.

— “Appendix of Unresolved Complaints” (El Paso: ACLU, March 3, 2021): 123 https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/appendix-13-unresolved-oig-complaints.

Footnotes from above:

[6]: On April 15, 2020, the ACLU submitted another administrative complaint regarding the separation of families during CBP detention and processing. A copy of this complaint is appended hereto as Exhibit C. It is also available online. See AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF SAN DIEGO & IMPERIAL COUNTIES, ET AL., ADMINISTRATIVE COMPLAINT RE: SEPARATION OF FAMILIES VIA CBP DETENTION AND PROCESSING, AND THE AGENCY’S REFUSAL TO IMPLEMENT A DETAINEE LOCATOR SYSTEM (Apr. 2020) [hereinafter “April 2020 Complaint”], https://www.aclusandiego.org/wp- content/uploads/2020/04/2020-04-15-OIG-Complaint-3-FINAL.pdf. Today’s second addendum echoes the troubling themes regarding family separation and incommunicado detention set forth in the April 2020 complaint.

[7]: During her first night in custody, Ms. Doe was detained with one other person. For the remainder of her time in Border Patrol custody, Ms. Doe was detained completely alone and separated from her husband.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Cuba, Family Unit

July 7, 2020

A complaint to the DHS Inspector-General, submitted by the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and ACLU Border Rights Center, denounced “CBP officials’ egregious verbal abuse of detained individuals,” including “many instances in which Border Patrol agents verbally abused individuals, including children, in their custody,” including asylum seekers.

Agents berated migrants for traveling to the United States and attempting to exercise their legal right to seek asylum.[16] “Xenophobic nationalism is widespread,” and derogatory comments are often accompanied by threatened or actual physical violence.[17] Agents bully LGBTQ people, equate migrants to animals, and ridicule and humiliate parents trying to protect their children.[18]

The complaint cited numerous explicit examples, some of them reproduced below. All are from interviews with migrants completed between March and July of 2019 with people recently released from Border Patrol custody in San Diego and Tijuana.

This abuse may involve bullying, harassment, threats of violence or other harm, denigration, ridicule, racism, and misstatements about U.S. immigration law, including an individual’s right to seek asylum. Recently detained individuals related the following statements to our investigator: [28]

– “Olvídate del asilo, a la mejor te quitamos a tu hija.”
“Forget about asylum, we might just take away your daughter.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman while interrogating her about why she came to the United States.

– “No mantenemos hijos de nadie.”
“We don’t take care of anyone’s children.”
—Border Patrol agent to a mother when she asked for food for her 1-year old child who had not had any food to eat for an entire day.

– “Cabrona, échate para atrás.”
“You bastard, get back over there.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman as she was entering the country and injured from crossing the border wall.

– “¿Desgraciada, ¿porque tienes tantos niños si no los puedes cuidar? Puta, prostituta.”
“Disgraced woman, why do you have so many kids if you can’t take care of them? Slut, prostitute.”
—Border Patrol agent to a detained mother.

– “¿Cuáles de ustedes maricas sufren de asma?”
“Which of you faggots suffer from asthma?”
—Border Patrol agent to a holding cell of young boys aged 13 to 17.

– “If you keep complaining I will put you with the dogs.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman when she refused to undress for a search during apprehension.

– “Son indios de pata rajada, solo usan sus hijos para entrar.”
“You are all [derogatory expression referring to indigenous peoples], you only use your children to enter [the United States].”
—Border Patrol agent to detained father.

– “¡Aquí no se hace lo que voz dice, se hace lo que yo digo!”
“Here we don’t do what you say, you do what I say!
—Border Patrol agent to pregnant woman asking for water.

– “Are you f***ing retarded? Stop playing with that s***.”
—Border Patrol agent to children playing in holding cell.

– “Váyanse de aquí, ¿qué hacen aquí sí ni hablan inglés?, no valen nada.”
“Get out of here, what are you doing here if you don’t even speak English, you are worthless.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman and her family upon apprehension.

– “No estás en tu casa, ¿tienes mierda en la cabeza?”
“You’re not at home, do you have s*** for brains?”
—Border Patrol agent to woman who asked for a plastic cup to drink water.

– “Joder con ustedes, por eso no mejoran en su país.”
“I’ve f***ing had it with you, this is why you guys don’t advance in your country.”
—Border Patrol agent to detained woman who did not understand his Spanish.

– “I don’t have to tell you, you broke the law, you have no rights.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman when she asked what was on the form she was being instructed to sign.

– “¡Levántense, puercas!”
“Get up, pigs!”
—Border Patrol agent to a cell of detained women.

– “You are an idiot but you sure are good at popping out kids.”
—Border Patrol agent to detained mother.

— “Re: U.S. Border Patrol’s Verbal Abuse of Detained Individuals” (San Diego and El Paso: ACLU Foundation San Diego and Imperial Counties, ACLU Border Rights Center, July 7, 2020) https://cbpabusestest2.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/2020-07-07-dhs-oig-cmplt-4-final.pdf.

Footnotes from above:

[16]: Josiah Heyman, Jeremy Slack & Daniel E. Martínez, Why Border Patrol Agents and Cbp Officers Should Not Serve as Asylum Officers, Ctr. For Migration Studies (June 21, 2019), https://cmsny.org/publications/heyman-slack-martinez-062119/.

[17]: Id.

[18]: See, e.g., id.; Grace Panetta, Border Patrol officials reportedly forced a Honduran migrant to walk around a detention center holding a sign reading ‘I like men’ in Spanish, BUS. INSIDER, July 5, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/detained-migrant-forced-hold-sign-reading-i-like-men-report-2019-7?op=1; Nick Valencia, et al., Border Patrol agents allegedly tried to shame a migrant by making him hold a sign reading ‘I like men,’ emails show, CNN, July 4, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/04/us/honduran-migrant-shamed-border-patrol/index.html; Andrew Gumbel, ‘They Were Laughing at Us’: Immigrants Tell of Cruelty, Illness and Filth in US Detention, GUARDIAN, Sept. 12, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/12/us-immigration-detention-facilities; Cristina Novoa, 5 Revelations From Children in Border Patrol Facilities, CENTER AM. PROGRESS, July 3, 2019, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/news/2019/07/03/471808/5-revelations-children-border-patrol-facilities/ (“Beyond demonstrating a shocking lack of compassion toward frightened children, testimonies also show that some guards appear to deliberately scare children in their custody”).

[28]: Most of ACLU’s interviews were conducted in Spanish, with contemporaneous notes taken in Spanish by our investigator. Where our notes contain the original Spanish quotes, we have provided that original (as relayed by the interviewee to our investigator) as well as our English translation. At times, our investigator memorialized a statement in English only during her interview (via simultaneous translation). In such cases, we have reproduced her English translation here.
Many of these quotes use degrading and offensive language that we hesitated to reprint. In the end, we decided to reproduce the language reported to remain as faithful as possible to the accounts of those we interviewed.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Food or Water, Denial of Medical Care, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, LGBT Discrimination or Harassment, Lying or Deliberate Misleading, Racial Discrimination or Profiling

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Female, Pregnancy, Single Adult

April 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote from above:

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

Sector(s): San Diego

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

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit

March 23, 2020

Voice of San Diego reported:

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

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

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

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Inappropriate Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Single Adult

February 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes from above:

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

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

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

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

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

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras

February 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Cleared by DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Guatemala, Pregnancy