10 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the victim classification is “Venezuela”

November 6, 2022

A feature on the CBS program 60 Minutes, about Venezuelan migrants bused to New York, found that 12 of 16 migrants interviewed had important documents taken from them by U.S. border law enforcement personnel, and not returned.

Like many migrants we spoke with, Edward and Maria no longer have their Venezuelan passports, ID cards, or birth certificates, they say they were told to hand them over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Texas and never got them back. 

Edward (Translation): Well, they put it in a folder They said, “Whenever you go to court, you can ask for them there.”

… We interviewed 16 migrants who arrived in New York by bus from Texas. All but four said they had important documents taken and not returned. And volunteers, case workers, and lawyers who work with the migrants also told us the problem is widespread.

In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was reviewing its “policies and practices to ensure that… documents are returned to the migrant absent a security or law enforcement reason.”

A subsequent CBS News report quoted some of the affected migrants.

Beberlyn, 33, a migrant from Venezuela who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year, said Border Patrol agents kept several of her family’s personal documents, including their passports, Venezuelan identification cards, her children’s birth certificates and her husband’s drivers license.

…Like other migrants, Beberlyn said border agents told her they would receive their documents during their  immigration court hearing. But her family has yet to receive a court appointment, and attorneys said it’s unlikely that documents confiscated along the southern border will be transferred to courts across the U.S.

“I do need them,” Beberlyn said regarding the documents. Her surname is being withheld due to her pending immigration case. “Passports are very important here. To open an account, to identify yourself, and I don’t have that document. I don’t have the children’s birth records because they took them from me. That makes me feel terrible.”

…Maria, another Venezuelan migrant living in a New York City shelter with her family, said Border Patrol agents failed to return her children’s birth certificates and vaccine records, as well as her and her husband’s passports and identification cards. She asked for her surname to be omitted, citing her pending case.

During a recent check-in appointment at the ICE office in Manhattan, Maria said she was told their documents were still in Texas when she asked about their whereabouts. She said her 1-year-old daughter’s vaccination has been delayed since they longer have records showing what shots she has received and when.

Maria said she was also told her family’s documents would be returned in immigration court, but she does not think she’ll see them again. 

“I haven’t heard anyone say that they got their documents back,” she added.

— “Migrants Bused from Southern Border to New York City Enter a Backlogged and Broken Asylum System.” 60 Minutes. New York: CBS, November 6, 2022. <https://www.cbsnews.com/news/migrant-buses-southern-border-new-york-city-60-minutes-2022-11-06/>.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez, Andy Court, Julie Holstein, and Annabelle Hanflig. “Accounts of Migrants’ Documents Being Confiscated by Border Officials Prompt Federal Review.” CBS News, November 7, 2022. <https://www.cbsnews.com/news/immigration-migrants-documents-confiscated-border-officials/>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Venezuela

September 15, 2022

A letter from several non-profit organizations and an article at BuzzFeed point to border law enforcement officials inventing addresses around the United States and adding them to asylum seekers’ immigration paperwork, when those asylum seekers lack U.S. relatives, contacts, or specific destinations. In most cases, the addresses that officials—usually Border Patrol agents—add to documents like immigration-court hearing notices and Notices to Appear are those of non-profit service providers in cities around the United States.

CBP and Border Patrol do not inform those service providers. “Catholic Charities in New York, City received over 300 such notices,” the letter reads. It adds that asylum seekers are showing up at nonprofits or churches around the country with paperwork, issued by CBP, Border Patrol or ICE, showing those entities’ locations as migrants’ intended residences.

An October 2022 Associated Press review of 13 migrants’ documents found addresses including those of “administrative offices of Catholic Charities in New York and San Antonio; an El Paso, Texas, church; a private home in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts; and a group operating homeless shelters in Salt Lake City.”

In many cases, the non-profits are not prepared for the migrants’ arrival or to receive walk-ins. In some cases, service providers receive notifications that migrants may be headed their way, but are unable to locate them. “These immigrants and asylum-seekers, most of them from Venezuela, then show up to random buildings confused and unsure of what to do next,” BuzzFeed reported. “It’s definitely been happening, and there’s hundreds of cases,” BuzzFeed reporter Adolfo Flores told Texas Standard.

“The DHS [Department of Homeland Security] agent will just seem to invent an address from thin air to put on their release paperwork,” immigration attorney and asylum advocate Taylor Levy told BuzzFeed. At times, she said, the Border Patrol agent or ICE officer will mislead the migrant, telling them that shelter and other services will be available at the address.

Reports about eight Venezuelan men arriving, baffled, at a Sacramento, California office building were apparently one of these cases. They were flown there by a San Antonio, Texas service provider that had purchased plane tickets based on the addresses that U.S. border law enforcement personnel had added to the migrants’ immigration forms. A Venezuelan migrant told the New York Times that he and his brother “had no family in the United States. ‘The officials picked Denver for us, and that was it.'”

This practice jeopardizes asylum-seekers’ immigration cases. If the migrant does not receive notifications for court hearings or other required appearances they cannot follow through with their cases, which can lead to in-absentia deportation orders. All correspondence regarding such appearances gets mailed to the address on these forms, unless the migrant goes to a nearby ICE office to change it, a complex process.

Some of the problem stems from agencies’ need to process large numbers of asylum seekers quickly, at a time of record migration. “I’m sure that Border Patrol agents, they’re just trying to get people out of their facilities. They don’t want to hold them there any longer than they have to, and without an address, in some cases I’m sure the agents tell them it’s either ‘I put this address or you stay here longer,’” Flores of BuzzFeed told Texas Standard.

Still, Levy told Flores, “it is certainly wrong—and appears illegal—for federal agents sworn to uphold the law to randomly choose addresses of churches, legal service agencies, and immigration nonprofits from crude google searches and then record them as alleged ‘residential’ addresses for desperate asylum-seekers.”

— American Immigration Lawyers’ Association and coalition partners. “AILA and Partners Submit Recommendations to Fix Erroneous Addresses on Asylum Seekers’ Documents,” September 15, 2022. <https://www.aila.org/infonet/organizations-urge-administration-to-address>.

— Flores, Adolfo. “Border Agents Keep Sending Immigrants To Wrong Addresses With Little Regard For How It Could Affect Their Court Cases, Advocates Say.” BuzzFeed News, September 21, 2022. <https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/adolfoflores/immigrants-border-wrong-addresses-shelter>.

— Kristen Cabrera. “Federal Immigration Agents Are Writing Wrong Addresses on Some Migrants’ Documents, Creating Confusion.” Texas Standard (blog), September 27, 2022. <https://www.texasstandard.org/stories/federal-immigration-agents-writing-wrong-addresses-migrants-documents-creating-confusion/>.

— Clauda Torrens and Vanessa A. Alvarez. “US Border Patrol Sends Migrants Places Where No Help Waits.” Associated Press, October 24, 2022. <https://apnews.com/article/texas-new-york-manhattan-religion-immigration-6d400698888dc0797f1883176baf12c7>.

— Robles, Justo. “No Money or Options: A Migrant’s Unexpected Journey to California.” The Guardian, September 24, 2022, sec. US news. <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/24/migrant-plane-venezuela-sacramento>.

— Jordan, Miriam, and Brittany Kriegstein. “Abrupt New Border Expulsions Split Venezuelan Families.” The New York Times, November 6, 2022, sec. U.S. <https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/06/us/venezuelan-families-separated-border.html>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP, ICE

Event Type(s): Falsification or Negligent Handling of Asylum Paperwork

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Venezuela

March and April, 2022

An April 2022 report from Human Rights First, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Al Otro Lado lists several examples of San Diego CBP port-of-entry officers’ refusals to grant humanitarian exceptions to Title 42 for especially vulnerable asylum seekers.

In April 2022, CBP denied humanitarian exemption requests for a Nigerian man with glaucoma and hand tremors who was beaten by police in Mexico; a gay Venezuelan man living with HIV who is partially deaf; a Mexican torture survivor with diabetes; a Haitian woman with a high-risk pregnancy who is experiencing food insecurity; and a disabled Honduran man whose injuries from a car accident have become infected and who needs specialized medical treatment. These requests had been submitted by Ginger Cline, an attorney with Al Otro Lado.

CBP officers at the San Ysidro port of entry have also recently denied humanitarian exemption requests for a Mexican woman fleeing threats by a cartel who murdered the woman’s husband and whose 12-year- old son has a pacemaker and urgently needs specialized medical treatment; a 14-year-old with a traumatic brain injury he incurred from falling from a two-story building to escape kidnappers; and a two- year-old Honduran asylum-seeking child with severe and worsening epilepsy who suffers from eight- minute-long seizures. Margaret Cargioli, an attorney with Immigrant Defenders Law Center in San Diego, had submitted these requests ultimately denied by CBP.

CBP at the San Ysidro port of entry has failed to respond to humanitarian exemption requests submitted months ago, including for a LGBTQ woman with maternal uterine fibroids who experiences constant bleeding after she was raped twice in Mexico in bias-motivated attacks based on her sexual orientation and for a Mexican domestic violence victim whose husband found her in Tijuana and kidnapped her daughter, according to Immigrant Defenders Law Center.

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

Sector(s): San Diego Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Black, Disability, Domestic Violence Victim, Family Unit, Female, Haiti, Honduras, Kidnap Victim, LGBTQ, Medical Condition, Mexico, Nigeria, Pregnancy, Single Adult, Venezuela

January 13, 2022

A January 2022 Human Rights First report discussed examples of CBP’s implementation of “Remain in Mexico” (RMX) involving separation of family members, non-return of belongings, and dangerous returns.

CBP officers are separating some RMX returnees from family members. The Border Project identified approximately 10 RMX returnees who had been separated from spouses or adult children. One man who was returned to Mexico under RMX told the Border Project that he had been separated from his wife, who is six-months pregnant and suffers from epilepsy and asthma. A Venezuelan asylum seeker told Human Rights First that he had been separated from his adult brother and uncle. In addition, CBP is returning individuals without their belongings and dressed in identical clothing that would make them readily identifiable as migrants. Multiple individuals reported to Human Rights First that CBP officers discarded their personal possessions and that they were returned to Ciudad Juárez in December 2021 under RMX without their clothing, shoes, coats, or medication among other personal items – in violation of CBP’s detention standards (original link). As a result, RMX returnees were forced to wear CBP-issued sweatsuits as they were returned to Ciudad Juárez, and on one occasion, Human Rights First researchers also observed RMX returnees wearing CBP-issued flip flops despite temperatures dipping to 40°F that day.

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 Field Office

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation, Family Separation, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Disability, Family Unit, Pregnancy, Venezuela

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 2021

December 2021 guidance for implementation of the “Remain in Mexico” (RMX) program specified that individuals should be exempted from the program if they suffer from mental or physical health issues or disabilities; vulnerabilities from advanced age; or risk of harm due to sexual orientation or gender identity (original link). Despite that, a January 2022 Human Rights First report, discussing implementation of RMX in El Paso, reported several cases of CBP returning vulnerable people to Mexico.

– In December 2021, a gay Venezuelan asylum seeker was returned to Ciudad Juárez under RMX despite having informed CBP officers of his sexual orientation. While in CBP custody the man endured harassment because of his sexual orientation and asked multiple CBP officers if there were any protections for members of the LGBTQ community but was told “no.” The man reported to Human Rights First that he fears harm in Mexico due to his sexual orientation.

– A man with cancer was returned to Ciudad Juárez under RMX, even though he and his attorneys had informed DHS of his condition. As of mid-December 2021, the Border Project reported that DHS said that the agency was attempting to locate the man in Mexico.

– A Nicaraguan asylum seeker who suffers from chronic migraines was nevertheless returned to Ciudad Juárez under RMX in December 2021. The man told Human Rights First that CBP officers did not ask him any questions about his medical condition. The man was returned to Mexico without his medication, which CBP officers discarded while he was in custody. He has suffered several migraines while stranded in a shelter in Mexico.

The Border Project also identified dozens of individuals who CBP officers in El Paso failed to properly exclude from RMX in December 2021 based on DHS’s own screening criteria, including a man living with HIV; a man experiencing pain and limited use of his hand because the Mexican cartel that kidnapped him had amputated part of his finger on a video call with the man’s family to extort money from them; and a dozen LGBTQ individuals, one of whom had been raped and threatened with death in Mexico due to his sexual orientation.

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.

— Adolfo Flores, Hamed Aleaziz, “US Border Authorities Have Incorrectly Placed Immigrants With Medical Conditions In The Relaunched ‘Remain In Mexico’ Program, Attorneys Say” (BuzzFeed, December 17, 2021) https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/adolfoflores/us-border-authorities-wrongly-sought-to-force-asylum.

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

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Denial of Medical Care, Non-Return of Belongings, Return of Vulnerable Individuals

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Kidnap Victim, LGBTQ, Medical Condition, Nicaragua, Sexual Abuse Victim, Single Adult, Venezuela

Mid-September, 2021

A March 2022 report from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Haitian Bridge Alliance recounted several examples of family separations during a mass migration event in Del Rio, Texas in September 2021.

Another Haitian asylum seeker traveled to Del Rio with her husband and their three-year-old son.[213] The woman’s husband had adopted the child and they had been living as a family since his birth. After spending five days in the encampment, the husband was separated from his wife and child and was deported back to Haiti. A significant number of Haitian migrants also reported being separated from their spouses. For example, after spending seven days in the encampment, a Haitian woman reported that she was separated from her husband during CBP processing and was unable to contact him.[214] She suspected that he was deported to Haiti.

In addition to the separation of minor children from parents and legal guardians, Haitian and other migrants from the encampment also reported DHS forcibly separating them from the extended family members they were traveling with, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings. For example, one Haitian asylum seeker who had been traveling with her twin sister reported that when they were issued tickets and processed by CBP personnel in the encampment, while she was allowed to enter the United States and was taken to the local respite center, her twin was taken into custody and deported back to Haiti—despite the fact that they had virtually identical asylum claims and circumstances.[215] A Haitian woman who was traveling with her husband, infant child, and sister reported that in the Del Rio encampment, her sister was separated from the couple and deported to Haiti.[216] A Venezuelan woman and her three-year-old child were separated from her elderly mother in the Del Rio encampment.[217] The woman was unable to communicate with her mother and had no knowledge of what happened to her.

Beyond the Bridge: Documented Human Rights Abuses and Civil Rights Violations Against Haitian Migrants in the Del Rio, Texas Encampment (United States: Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Haitian Bridge Alliance, March 29, 2022) https://rfkhr.imgix.net/asset/Del-Rio-Report.pdf.

Footnotes from above:

[213]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 24, 2021).

[214]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 24, 2021).

[215]: In-person interview by HBA case worker with Haitian individual in Del Rio, Texas (Sept. 21, 2021).

[216]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 24, 2021).

[217]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Venezuela individual in Del Rio, Texas (Sept. 22, 2021).

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Black, Family Unit, Haiti, Venezuela

June, 2021

A report from Human Rights First discussed the separation of a Venezuelan asylum seeker from his wife in Yuma, Arizona.

In June 2021, DHS separated a Venezuelan asylum seeker from his wife when they entered the United States near Yuma, Arizona to seek protection. ICE detained the man in the Kandiyohi County Jail in Minnesota, where he remained detained as of September 2021 while his wife was living in a community in Utah pursuing her asylum claim, according to The Advocates for Human Rights.

“I’m a Prisoner Here”: Biden Administration Policies Lock Up Asylum Seekers (New York: Human Rights First, April 21, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/i-m-prisoner-here-biden-administration-policies-lock-asylum-seekers.

Sector(s): Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, ICE

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Venezuela

May, 2021

A report from Human Rights First discussed the separation of an 19-year-old Venezuelan from the rest of her family at the border.

DHS separated a 19-year-old Venezuelan asylum seeker from her parents and younger brother in May 2021, who were paroled into the United States to apply for asylum. ICE then detained her for nearly two months at the Imperial Regional Detention Facility. The family fled Venezuela after the young woman was kidnapped and beaten by Venezuelan government agents and her brother murdered because of the family’s political opposition work. DHS denied a request for parole filed by her attorney in June 2021, according to Adam Howard, who assisted in representing her.

“I’m a Prisoner Here”: Biden Administration Policies Lock Up Asylum Seekers (New York: Human Rights First, April 21, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/i-m-prisoner-here-biden-administration-policies-lock-asylum-seekers.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, ICE

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Venezuela

January 17, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK discussed the experience of a Venezuelan man detained by Border Patrol after entering the United States.

He had narrowly escaped criminals who tried to pull him back to Mexico. They managed to take his backpack, which had his phone and other belongings. It was soon after this that he was detained. He was taken to Ajo Station, where he was forced to sign several documents, most of which were in English, a language he does not speak. He fled Venezuela because of persecution he experienced. When he told the agents he was afraid to return to Venezuela, they asked him which was more dangerous: Mexico or Venezuela. He told them he thought both were dangerous. The following day he was forced to sign papers and said he was being expelled under MPP; he was also told he would be given an opportunity to speak with an immigration official in Tucson the following day. This was a lie; he was never given this opportunity. He was transported to Tucson and expelled to Nogales, Sonora two days later.

KBI filed a January 22, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On January 29, CRCL emailed “that they received the complaint, recorded it in their database, and no further actions would be taken. 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): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, No Further Action

Victim Classification: Single Adult, Venezuela