The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and several other civil rights organizations have filed a complaint on behalf of 26 undocumented Mexican nationals who claim U.S. border agents “failed to return” some of their belongings—cash, IDs, cellphones, clothes and eyeglasses, to name a few—after they were detained in El Paso, Texas and deported to Ciudad Juárez in 2015 and 2016.
The formal complaint, filed earlier this month to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security, alleges that some border agents intimidated people to prevent them from rightfully reclaiming their belongings, which they say were taken without providing receipt or inventory. Some claimants say they were misled by U.S. officials about when and how they could reclaim their confiscated belongings.
“After Border Patrol agents took a 58-year-old woman’s jewelry and pesos, officials at a facility in Otero County [New Mexico] incorrectly advised the woman that she would have to wait until she was deported to reclaim her belongings,” reads one of the complaints.
“Border Patrol agents took 4,095 pesos [$230 approx.] from a young man and failed to give him any documents showing that they took his money,” reads another complaint. “He was deported without any money.”
There's even allegations that Texas Border Patrol agents destroyed a woman's cholesterol and kidney medications and refused to give her medical attention.
ACLU and its partners claim U.S. government officials “have known about this problem for some time.” This has resulted in repatriation arrangements with the Mexican government, but systemic abuses persist, according to the complaint.
The Department of Homeland Security says it will review the claims.
“DHS has strict standards in place to ensure that detainee’s personal property—including funds, baggage and other effects— is safeguarded and controlled while they are in detention and returned to them when they are released from CBP/ICE custody or removed from the United States,” Deputy Press Secretary Gillian Christensen told Fusion in an email.
Christensen said individuals in CBP custody are allowed to keep their IDs and money, but other personal property is tagged, stored and returned when they are removed at the border.
“Any allegation of missing property will be thoroughly investigated,” she promised.
American Immigration Council Senior Attorney Mary Kenney told Fusion the complaint is not seeking reparations on behalf of the claimants, rather advocating for change in the future.
“We think these 26 individuals are an example that illustrates a much bigger systemic problem with the way Border Patrol and CBP in general handles people’s property,” she said.
“The complaints reflect broader patterns of abuse on the Southwest Border of the U.S.” said ACLU of Texas Senior Staff Attorney Edgar Saldivar. “DHS should take a serious look into its agencies’ policies and practices that dispossess non-citizens, including asylum seekers, of their most basic belongings.”
He added, “Shaking down poor individuals and depriving them of their valuables prior to deporting them is inconsistent with our values and the constitutional principles we hold dearly.”