EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A civil rights organization is calling on border law enforcement agencies to make changes after documenting several cases of alleged abuse against El Paso area residents.
Most of the 25 allegations stem from interactions between border crossers and the federal officers tasked with screening foreign nationals and local commuters at ports of entry. Some allegations of physical violence and unreasonable cavity searches are included in Border Network for Human Right’s report released this week.
“The majority of the cases involved people crossing legally – I think it’s important to say that – and we found very concerning patterns,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of BNHR. “One of the patterns is the use of secondary inspection in a reckless way.”
Secondary inspection refers to a person seeking entry into the United States being sent to an area where additional questions are asked, and comprehensive searches conducted.
It was in one of those areas at the Paso del Norte port of entry that woman who is a legal resident of the U.S. was sent on October 14 and subjected to a body search after a customs officer allegedly became upset because she did not remember the last time she was in Mexico.
“She called another officer and took me into a room. She yelled at me; told me she was going to check me. I thought she was referring to my purse, but no. She yelled at me to raise my hands against the wall and began to inspect me and touch my private parts,” the woman only identified as A.P.M. states in the BNHR report. “I was embarrassed, harassed, and sexually assaulted without a reason, motive, or warning. I did nothing wrong or illegal to deserve this treatment.”
The following week at the same port of entry, an American citizen said she was sent to secondary after declaring she was bringing back from Mexico medication for her son.
“(They) took me to a room with two female officers. One of them touched my private parts in a very strange way. […] The officer then asked me to squat. When I questioned why I had to do that, the officer stated it was a routine check,” the woman identified as L.L. said. “I felt awful during and after the search, especially with the way they searched me.”
Not all alleged victims were anonymous.
Jesus Francisco Davila, 71, a citizen of both Mexico and the United States, said a customs officer at the Ysleta port of entry became enraged when he accidentally showed a Mexican identity document at the inspection booth, instead of his U.S. passport.
“He pushed me. I fell on my back. I tried to cover my head so I wouldn’t hit it. I scratched my elbow and hurt my back,” Davila said. Another customs officer reportedly intervened and let him through. Davila said he spoke to a supervisor, but says nothing ever came out of his complaint.
Garcia said BNHR is calling for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to set written limits and standards of who gets sent to secondary inspection and for the Office of the Inspector General to investigate possible “illegal daily quotas,” as well as wrongful body and cavity searches.
“CBP places great emphasis on the professionalism and integrity of its workforce,” the agency said in an email while stressing that all international travelers are subject to inspection under the law. “It is important to understand that the agency cannot act upon any perceived issues or allegations unless they are brought to our attention through formal channels.”
The BNHR report also details complaints against the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and local police agencies like El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
One such complaint involves a man who witnessed a convenience store robbery and was wrongfully detained as a suspect. When the deputies cleared up the confusion, they allegedly turned him over to Border Patrol because he had shown them a Mexican identity document. The man was deported.
“Is there an agreement for local police to be part of (deportations)? We don’t know,” Garcia said.
The group every year conducts an “abuse documentation” campaign in El Paso and Southern New Mexico. It uses 50 trained volunteers who approach people near the ports of entry, at churches, in neighborhoods with a high immigrant population and apartment complexes.