Published March 14, 2013
National Wave of Complaints Highlights Rampant Abuse by U.S. Customs and Border Protection
ACLU, Immigration Groups Say There Is Dire Need for Reform
Washington, D.C. – Over the past week, an alliance of immigration groups, private attorneys and a law school clinic joined forces in filing complaints targeting abuses by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) across the country. Ten damages cases have been filed alleging unlawful CBP conduct in northern and southern border states. These cases are the latest illustrations of an ongoing pattern of rampant misconduct against both immigrants and U.S. citizens in these states.
This effort, coordinated by the American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, highlights CBP agents’ unlawful use of their enforcement authority. Border Patrol agents routinely exceed their statutory mandate by conducting enforcement activities outside border regions, making racially motivated arrests, employing derogatory and coercive interrogation tactics, and imprisoning arrestees under inhumane conditions. The cases include claims for unlawful search and seizure, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery.
Among the cases filed:
- CBP agents apprehended three women at the Texas-Mexico border and detained them in a freezing cold cell called the “hielera,” or icebox in English. The temperature in the hielera was so cold that the women’s fingers and lips turned blue. CBP held the women for up to six days in dire conditions. They had no beds, chairs, blankets, or toiletries, no access to bathing facilities, and were frequently fed only a single sandwich each day. CBP agents threatened to keep the women in the hielera if they did not sign documents in English that they did not understand because they only spoke Spanish. The women ultimately signed these documents to escape the hielera, only to learn that they had agreed to expedited removal.
- CBP agents forced a 63-year-old woman with no criminal history off a Greyhound bus in Ohio, subjected her to hours of interrogation, and refused to let her use the bathroom for so long that she urinated on herself. After being detained all night in her urine-soaked jeans, CBP transferred her to an immigration detention facility, where she suffered an acute stroke. As a result of this trauma, she suffers from chronic pain, numbness, and partial paralysis on her left side.
- CBP agents at Dulles International Airport unlawfully detained a four-year-old U.S. citizen child for more than twenty hours without adequate food and water, deprived her of any contact with her parents, and sent her back to Guatemala. CBP agents informed the child’s father that they could not return her to “illegals.”
Click here for more information about these and additional cases filed as part of the national litigation strategy.
“These cases exemplify the culture of impunity that has taken hold at CBP,” according to Melissa Crow, director of the American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center. “The agency must take immediate steps to promote more effective oversight and accountability within its ranks.”
“CBP frequently acts as if it believes individuals have no rights near the border. Congress has failed to take meaningful steps to reform that agency,” said ACLU attorney Sean Riordan. “These cases call CBP to account for its cavalier attitude towards individual rights and operate as a call on Congress to take basic steps to prevent similar abuses in the future.”
Trina Realmuto, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild noted, “While these cases shed light on CBP misconduct, there are hundreds more such incidents that go unreported.”