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The Disturbing Reality of Border Patrol’s Confiscation of Migrants’ Belongings
Border Patrol routinely trashes and confiscates migrants’ medications, legal documents, religious items, and other essentials.ACLU Affiliate American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona Media Contact email@example.com (212) 549-2666 125 Broad Street 18th Floor New York, NY 10004 United States PHOENIX, AZ – Today, the ACLU of Arizona released From Hope to Heartbreak, a report detailing how inhumane and ineffective policies are allowing widespread confiscation and trashing of migrants’ personal belongings by the U.S. Border Patrol. The report was co-authored with The Kino Border Initiative, ProtectAZ Health, the Sikh Coalition, the ACLU, and the ACLUs of New Mexico, San Diego & Imperial Counties, and Texas. In 2022, immigrants’ rights groups sent multiple letters to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) outlining widespread reports that migrants’ personal belongings – including religious garb – were being confiscated and trashed by Border Patrol. From Hope to Heartbreak uncovers many more incidents of Border Patrol agents confiscating and failing to return items of religious significance, life-saving medications, cellphones, money, and essential documents. One firsthand account includes Silvia and Rosa’s* story. In June 2022, Silvia was detained with her two children by Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas. Silvia’s 5-year-old daughter, Rosa*, has epilepsy for which she takes medication. When detained by Border Patrol, Rosa’s medications were taken away and she was refused any medical assistance until later in the night, after she began convulsing. “Border Patrol’s practices inflict unnecessary hardship and distress on those in the agency’s custody, including people seeking protection from violence and persecution,” said Noah Schramm, border policy strategist at the ACLU of Arizona. “As our report highlights, these cruel confiscations have infringed on migrants’ religious practices, undermined documentation of legal claims, and in some cases, have interrupted migrants’ medical regimens in ways that have been life-threatening.” The seizure and destruction of turbans—an article of faith that is deeply meaningful and personal to Sikh individuals—is just one example of the egregious practices of CBP with regard to migrants’ personal property,” said Sahel Kaur, Sikh Coalition Senior Staff Attorney. “We are grateful to all of our partners for embarking on this shared effort, and we look forward to continuing to work together to fight for policy change that safeguards the basic rights of migrants.” “Denying individuals access to their essential medications not only violates their basic human rights but also jeopardizes their health and well-being,” said Emily Snyder, a Nurse Practitioner for ProtectAZ Health who provides medical evaluations and treatments to individuals released from Border Patrol custody. “Everyday I sit with clients and listen to their stories of having to throw away their medications or having them forcibly removed from their possession. The stress and anxiety of losing their medication only further exacerbates their medical condition. Medications are vital for individuals with acute and chronic medical conditions, and confiscating them can have severe consequences, including exacerbating existing health issues or even endangering lives. It is crucial to recognize the importance of preserving the health and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their immigration status.” “Ask anyone who’s done intake interviews at our migrant aid center and they’ll have an example of someone that the Border Patrol returned to Mexico without their most essential belongings: a father who lost the only photos and videos he had of his young child’s birthday after agents trashed his cellphone, asylum seekers stranded on the border with no identification after Border Patrol said their identity documents were ‘trash’ and cut them into pieces in front of them,” said Zoe Martens, Advocacy Coordinator at Kino Border Initiative. “These inhumane practices serve no purpose but to demoralize people seeking safety and a better life; these abuses must end.” The report also recommends policy changes that CBP and Border Patrol can enact to address the issue. A primary goal of the recommendations is to ensure that migrants can retain as many of their personal belongings as possible from their initial encounter with Border Patrol to their release from U.S. government custody. You can find the full report here and a one-page summary of critical findings here. *Names changed for privacy and security purposes.
For Immediate Release: January 4, 2024
Contact: Greer Millard, firstname.lastname@example.org
As organizations deeply committed to principles of humanity and justice at the U.S.-Mexico southern border, we are dismayed by CBP’s month-long closure of the Lukeville port of entry, which has adversely impacted the economies of our border communities and reinforced misleading narratives that asylum seekers are to blame. In truth, as the Biden administration has failed to allocate adequate resources at ports of entry towards humanitarian processing of people fleeing violence, many asylum seekers have been driven to pursue their legal claims in more remote and less resourced parts of the border, such as the Sonoyta-Lukeville region. For example, Adrian* is a father displaced in Nogales, Sonora with his family, where they have been waiting five months for a CBP One appointment. He shared his thoughts with Kino Border Initiative: “truthfully if we don’t get an appointment, I don’t know…we’re losing hope. I think we would have to look for a way to cross, even if it’s through mountains, risking our lives, because we cannot return to our place of origin…truthfully there isn’t an alternative.”
The Lukeville port closure is a clear example of how the federal government’s cruel and inadequate response to those seeking protection at the U.S.-Mexico border threatens the well-being of migrants, border residents, and the larger economic prosperity of border communities. Instead of doubling down on failed deterrence strategies that force families and individuals to take increasingly dangerous and remote routes to seek asylum, the U.S. federal government must make sustained investments to support safe and efficient transit at the ports of entry. These investments will ensure that those fleeing violence and persecution can be welcomed with dignity, that trade and tourism can flourish, and that binational families and communities can sustain their connections.
New Report Recommends Key Reforms for U.S. Border Agencies
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2 August, 2023
+1 202 329 4985
Kino Border Initiative
Border Patrol has the right to apprehend someone, but in the proper way, not wrongfully. Many people are afraid of the Border Patrol. Thanks be to God- He gave me the strength to endure and overcome what they [Border Patrol] did to me…
“Marco Antonio” who filed a complaint after Border Patrol hit him and ran over his leg on a four-wheeler
Washington D.C and Nogales, Arizona, August 2, 2023 – A new report, Abuses at the U.S.- Mexico Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights by two organizations with years of experience documenting cases at the U.S.- Mexico border, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) (link to WOLA database) and the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) (link to KBI studies), finds that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and its Border Patrol (BP) agency have a persistent problem of violating human rights without accountability.
While many, if not most CBP officers and Border Patrol agents follow best practices, the study shows frequent and severe alleged abuses. Existing investigations and disciplinary actions do not bring justice for victims and are not credible enough to change abusive behavior.
“We have documented a shocking pattern, including cases of misuse of lethal force, intimidation, sexual harassment, and falsifying documents,” said WOLA’s Adam Isacson. “The lack of accountability is so widespread that it helps cement in place a culture that enables human rights violations. The abuses keep coming because impunity is so likely.”
Investigations are sometimes initiated within the U.S. government, but many abuses would not come to light without the work of outside actors like journalists, whistleblowers, human rights defenders, and the victims themselves. Moreover, the accountability process is bewildering, opaque and slow-moving. Cases commonly lead nowhere, leaving victims without justice and undermining the credibility of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
One “outside actor” that works vigorously to seek accountability is KBI, based in Nogales. In 2022, KBI (which has helped migrants use the DHS accountability process since 2015) received 615 reports of abuse by U.S. authorities, experienced by 10 percent of new arrivals. This study specifically tracks the outcome of 78 complaints KBI filed on behalf of migrants between 2020 -2022, finding that 95 percent led to no proper investigation or disciplinary action and only one percent of these cases were referred for an unspecified disciplinary action. This is consistent with internal government reports that indicate that 70 percent of complaints are not investigated.
“It is hard to tell someone who has just experienced an abuse by Border Patrol that they should file a complaint, only to explain to them that in the vast majority of cases, we never hear anything back and agencies take no accountability action, “said KBI’s Zoe Martens. “First, a migrant person experiences this abuse, and then the detailed testimony they gave explaining the mistreatment disappears into an opaque web of accountability offices and their databases.”
Drawing on vast first-hand experience, conversations with advocates and officials in the field, and in-depth analysis of existing literature, the researchers identify frequent “failure points” in the maze of overlapping accountability agencies within DHS.
The report provides more than 40 detailed recommendations on how to improve the accountability process within DHS, including reforms to the process for complaints, investigations, and discipline, more energetic congressional oversight, and reforms to the CBP and Border Patrol organizational culture.
The authors conclude: “We believe that it is possible to enact common-sense reforms that stop cruelty and align border governance with democratic values, even at a time when larger national debates on border and immigration policy are polarized.”
Read the Report for Yourself
KBI Joins 160+ organizations calling for CBP to be held accountable for pattern of abusive practices.
The ACLU amplified humanitarian organizations’ call for investigations into CBP abuses and for greater accountability. Among these abuses are numerous documented cases of border officials confiscating migrants’ belongings and failing to return them. Confiscated items include everything from money to religious objects like rosaries.
Despite the fact that international law protects the right to seek asylum, countless migrants continue to wait in limbo at Nogales without any legal pathway to access asylum. Alongside our siblings in migration, we call on the Biden Administration to make every effort to end Title 42 and restore access to asylum.
Heavy rains and flooding swept through Ambos Nogales, causing heavy damage and costing three lives. These floods remind us of the myriad forces that press people to flee their homes, including climate change.
Late in August, the Mexican government released the preliminary results of its “truth commission” investigation into the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero. The report implicated Mexican government and military officials in both the students’ disappearance and subsequent cover up. This story, which has rankled families and activists for eight years, demonstrates why many migrants cannot turn to the Mexican government for protection when they experience threats and violence
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