10 Lawsuits Filed against Border Patrol for Abuse

Monday, March 25, 2013
Emily Ruiz (photo: NTN24)

A set of lawsuits filed last week against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) allege that CBP agents have engaged in widespread abuse, including excessive use of force, unlawful detention, and coercive techniques to force individuals to give up their rights, against both U.S. citizens and illegal immigrants who are in custody. The legal actions, filed last Tuesday, include lawsuits filed in federal district courts and administrative complaints filed directly with the Department of Homeland Security, of which CBP is a part.


The actions, filed by the Legal Action Center at the American Immigration Council (AIC) and Americans for Immigrant Justice (AIJ), allege that the abuse has worsened as CBP has experienced tremendous growth--from 4,000 agents in 1993 to more than 21,000 in 2012—at the same time that illegal immigration was becoming a hot issue and undocumented aliens were being depicted in very negative ways by the media.


“I don't think these are isolated cases,” said Melissa Crow of the AIC. “The spectrum of cases we’re presenting exemplifies the culture of impunity that has taken hold at CBP.”


The cases filed include the following allegations, among many others:


4-Year-Old U.S. Citizen Emily Ruiz, Deported And Mistreated While Detained

After a visit to her parents’ native Guatemala with her grandfather, four-year-old Emily Ruiz was detained by CBP agents at Dulles Airport for 20 hours. Despite the child’s “bouts of hysterical and prolonged crying,” agents refused to let her speak to her parents for 14 hours, put her in a cold room (with her grandfather), that had no bed, blanket or pillow, and gave her nothing to eat except a cookie and a soda.


After first promising to put her on a plane to New York, where she was born and lived with her parents, CBP agents later told her father they could not return her to “illegals,” and gave him one hour to choose between having her sent back to Guatemala or to an “adoption center.” Fearing he would lose his child forever, and not knowing that CBP’s threats were illegal, Mr. Ruiz chose Guatemala. When she was finally allowed to return to her native United States three weeks later, Emily was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.


63-Year-Old Elizabeth Takem-aishetu Forced to Urinate Herself and Suffered a Stroke

Not only the young, but also the elderly have suffered at the hands of CBP. Nigerian-born Elizabeth Takem-aishetu, a healthy 63-year-old woman, worked as a caregiver for a 96-year-old widow. Takem-aishetu, who had overstayed her visitor’s visa, was detained at a bus station in Toledo, Ohio, was arrested by CBP agents and placed in a CBP vehicle where she was forced to wait for eight hours without food and water. After several hours of questioning, she was placed in a small cell with room only to sit. Despite her repeated requests to use the bathroom, Takem-aishetu was forced to urinate on herself and to sit all night in her urine-soaked clothing. Suffering from severe stress and fear, Takem-aishetu became sick in detention and suffered an acute stroke. After a thorough medical workup, her physician determined that she had none of the risk factors for a stroke, which instead arose directly from the stress of her detention and treatment.


U.S. Citizen Lucy Rogers Subjected To “Citizenship Checkup”

Lucy Rogers, a Mexican-born U.S. citizen who works as a medical interpreter for immigrant farmworkers, alleges that in December 2011 she was pulled over in upstate New York by CBP for a “citizenship checkup.” An agent arrested her and the two farmworkers she was taking to a medical appointment, on suspicion of human trafficking. The agents ripped her car keys out of her hand, held her for several hours and confiscated the GPS unit of her car. Although Rogers was released, she says she’s taking part in the legal action because, “I’m thinking about my son and so many other kids who are born here.”


Four People Detained In Freezing Holding Cells for Several Days

Four immigrants crossing the border were detained and allege they were put in a freezing holding cell—called by agents an “hielera,” which is Spanish for icebox. They had no blankets or beds and no access to a shower for as long as six days. Their lips and fingertips turned blue and cracked from the cold, and one woman’s face hurt and peeled.


Joseph Anderson, director of litigation for AIJ, said this was not an isolated incident. “Based on having heard this from many, many people, and having each of them describe the same temperatures, it became clear to us that they didn’t just have a great air-conditioning system,” said Anderson.


Agency spokeswoman Jenny Burke did not comment on the specific allegations, but still claimed that “We do not tolerate misconduct or abuse within our ranks and we fully cooperate with all investigations of alleged unlawful conduct, on or off duty, by any of our CBP employees and contractors.”

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

CBP Abuse of Authority (Legal Action Center, American Immigration Council)

Lawsuits Allege Border Control Abuse: Citizens Detained, 4 Year Old Deported, Immigrants Held In Freezing Jails (by Rebecca Leber, Think Progress)

Lawsuits Allege Abuse by Border Patrol Agents (by Alan Gomez, USA Today)


Phillip Smith 7 years ago
I live this horror every day and I am white living in Nogales, az. I had been waived on past the Tubac check point, and shortly two BP cars pulled me over and I got out of the car to see what they wanted, and the black BP agent came over hit me so hard I ended up in the hospital, I filled a Tort and the Tort was denied, I was even told my the police officer to file excessive use of force and that went no were. I think there needs to be some method that the BP needs to change there method of operation because currently they are very dangerous.
Carrie Coughlin 9 years ago
We went to LAX on March 18, 2015 to pick up our son and his Argentine girlfriend. She was detained by CBP and definitely had her rights violated. She was detained for over 30 hours and eventually denied entry. The entry denial was based solely on CBP's suspicion that she might overstay her visa. Mind you, she hadn't broken any visa rules, they just thought she might. She was called a liar and threatened. She was forced to "confess" to intending to overstay her visa, and if she didn't "confess" she would be put in jail and prosecuted. She wasn't allowed to make any phone calls for over 8 hours, and that was only when the Argentine Consulate got involved. When she was allowed to call my son, an officer stood over her and monitored the call. They took her phone away from her and searched everything she owned. If my son hadn't seen them detain her, we never would have known what happened to her. Any requests for information were met with hostility. I was absolutely shocked that this could happen in the United States. I am outraged that our guest was treated like this. Something definitely needs to be done about this pattern of abuse with no oversight. I'm sad to say she is back in Argentina and my son is preparing to move there while they sort all this out. What a mess that never should have happened! I am disgusted!
worldnetizen 10 years ago
This is outrageous. They deserve to be sued. I have personally experienced their rude and abusive behaviour for NO REASON WHATSOEVER and right in front of their signs saying that they pledge to respect visitors to the US. What a blatant lie. US entry procedures are the WORST of any of the 38 countries I have ever visited...and I am a caucasian Canadian. I can only imagine how bad it must be for minorities. The CPB officers who engage in such behaviour should be fired immediately and face criminal proceedings....and they should be forced to apologize to their many victims.
Nancy McGuire 10 years ago
CBSA at Pearson International Airport in Canada first refused me entry then after breaking my foot in four places, a broken neck, and crippled me injuring my back refused to let me go home. They gave me a certificate for free medical but I quickly found out that it was relatively good for nothing in Canada or the USA. Upon returning to the US I found there was no place to report this and got a Canadian Attorney to help and he quit on me after making me wait 2 years to file my complaint. I am still trying to get the medical attention I need for both physical and mental abuse suffered. I was held in the cold cell at the airport and threatened for 21 hours that they would send me to Vaneer Womens Prison. I committed no crimes ever in my life. I served my country USAF and now I have been broke and crippled by this for almost four years with no help or compensation. I really don't want money as much as I would love to be able to walk again without pain. If anyone can help me please call me at 940-595-7014. I am a 53 year old woman who now lives as though I am 90 because of my injuries. I will never travel again. In fact I don't even want to leave my home ever again. Sometimes I don't want to live all because I was going to visit a friend for the summer in Canada, we are no longer friends.
I have a similar story. I am a US citizen who was abused and illegally detained by my own government trying to come home from vacation. The only way this will stop is for it to be made public and the laws must stop protecting the offending agents. Any attorneys looking to take on another case of this nature?
Renae 11 years ago
Something is amiss within the Homeland Security and U.S Customs Border Protection. It's extremely odd that the Sentry pass and Homeland Security is basically a product of the attack on 9/11, and one would assume security would have been at its' highest at that time. Yet, my husband bought a new car and applied for a RENEWAL of his pass (Must routinely travel to Mexico after the company he works for moved all manufacturing there) Despite having no criminal record, absolutely nothing changed since he applied 5 years ago,and received clearance. the U.S. Customs Border Protection continue to send denials with vague, "one of the reasons listed below" excuse, when none of the "reasons" apply to him. Has this agency been hit or attacked and overtaken by a hostile group of people? There's no way of getting a hold of anyone. I'm close to leaving the U.S. in search of the freedom my ancestors came here for in the first place.
Tom 11 years ago
With regard to the statement by the CBP agent, you cannot believe anything these people say. I'm a citizen who was refused entry to my own country and put into an extremely difficult situation because of it. They have lied to me, to my senators, to anyone who was involved. The lying goes all the way to the top. I even have sworn affidavits from the Canadian officers involved, which state that I was refused entry. CBP still lies. They really believe they are above the law. And they are, as long as people allow them to be.

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