Wall Street Journal
By Kate O’Keeffe
April 6, 2016
Mexican and American civil-rights groups urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to investigate the alleged looting of deportees by some U.S. Customs officials along the southwest border.
The advocacy groups said in a letter to DHS dated Wednesday that Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials sometimes violate deportees’ rights and agency policies by confiscating and failing to return items such as cash, legal documents, phones, eyeglasses and medicine, as well as sentimental articles such as wedding rings and religious objects.
The alleged abuses can affect deportees long after they return to Mexico, say the complaining groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union and the Ciudad Juárez-based Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional, which documents violations of the civil rights of Mexicans in the U.S.
DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said the department, which oversees Customs and Border Protection and ICE, will review the complaint and thoroughly investigate any allegation of missing property.
“DHS has strict standards in place to ensure that detainees’ 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,” Ms. Christensen said in a statement.
If U.S. officials refuse to return identity documents—particularly the Mexican voter card, which requires other official identity documents to replace—a person who has been deported may not be able to do things like purchase a bus ticket, receive a money transfer or pass through a military checkpoint, leaving Mexican deportees “undocumented” in their own country, the groups said in their letter.
The cash allegedly confiscated by U.S. agents may represent wages earned over months, if not years, of work, according to the letter. Without it, deportees may not be able to pay for food or transport home, which may be more than 1,000 miles from the border, it said.
The letter focused on 26 people who were deported to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, from the U.S. border near El Paso, Texas, in 2015 and 2016, but it said the problem is much more far-reaching. It highlighted data in a December 2013 report by the policy arm of the American Immigration Council, one of the groups that signed the letter, saying 57% of migrants who were processed through an initiative to criminally prosecute people who illegally entered the U.S. along the Southwest border reported having a possession taken and not returned.
The letter also highlighted meetings that Federal District Judges Kenneth Gonzales and Robert Brack have held in New Mexico, and that Magistrate Judge Leslie Bowman is holding in Arizona, to discuss the problem of dispossession with government officials.
In an October 2015 letter addressed to U.S. officials, Judges Gonzales and Brack wrote that “criminal immigration offenders too frequently are not receiving their personal property after sentencing and before they are returned to their home country” and that “there is not agreement on which office has primary or even partial responsibility to ensure the property is returned” in a timely manner.
The advocacy groups allege in one instance that Border Patrol agents arrested a 45-year-old Mexican woman on a road near Sierra Blanca, Texas in July 2015. The agents allegedly took her cholesterol and kidney medications, jewelry and religious items as well as 600 pesos—an amount that, on the day of her arrest, was worth about $37.60, the groups’ letter said. In September of that year, they deported her to Ciudad Juárez with just $2, the groups said.
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