Latina to get record settlement for cavity searches at Texas border

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A Mexican-American woman who was subjected to a series of anal and vaginal searches at the Texas border in 2012 is set to receive a settlement of nearly half a million dollars from the Border and Customs Protection agency.

It will be her second settlement in the case. She was previously paid $1.1 million by the hospital that performed a secondary series of cavity searches.

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The CBP says their settlement of $475,000 is not an admission of guilt.

“The settlement should not be taken as an admission of liability or fault,” CBP said in a statement on the lawsuit brought forward by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The settlement was entered into by both parties in order to compromise on disputed claims and avoid the expenses of further litigation.”


The plaintiff, who is referred in the lawsuit as "Jane Doe" to protect her privacy, received the first settlement of $1.1 million in 2014 from the The University Medical Center of El Paso after physicians there allegedly performed “highly invasive searches without a warrant at the behest of U.S. Customs and Border Protections agents,” according to an ACLU statement.

ACLU says it's concerned that the incident is part of a larger trend of abuse on an "over-militarized" border.

Edgar Saldivar, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, told Fusion the incident took place in December 2012 when their client was returning from Mexico after visiting a friend. “A drug-sniffing dog alerted officials after it jumped on her. They did some preliminary searches but did not find anything,” Saldivar said.

He said she was then taken to a secondary inspection “where they did more invasive searches in her private areas, but did not find anything." Still not satisfied, "they took her to the hospital for more extensive examinations,” Saldivar said.


The ACLU lawyer says that El Paso hospital physicians, following instructions from CBP, gave the plaintiff laxatives, performed a bowel movement exam and analyzed her excrement. In addition, they performed a CT scan and used a speculum tool to examine her vagina and anus.

“They still didn’t find anything,” Saldivar said. “Each examination turned out negative. They did this without a warrant and her verbal consent.”


The CBP declined to comment any further on the case.

Saldivar says the plaintiff was held for about six hours before being released without charges. He said CBP sent her a hospital bill for $5,488 after she refused to sign a medical consent form.


“She got this bill already feeling like the victim of sexual assault at the hands of law enforcement officers, so she turned to the ACLU of New Mexico which contacted the ACLU of Texas and we started to investigate,” he said.

Saldivar says the settlement was record-setting.

“I am not aware of any other case where CBP paid that much money for an unlawful search,” he said.


Since reaching the settlement, the ACLU says it has sent advisements to more than 100 hospitals along the border from San Diego to Houston to alert physicians about the legal liability of performing warrantless searches on orders from the CBP.

“We definitely think this is part of a broader pattern of abuse that happens at the border,” Saldivar said. “It's over-militarized and there are some agents working there who act as if they are above the law. So we are hoping that this case brings attention to the need for greater reform, transparency and oversight.”

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