Suit Targets U.S. Customs & Border Protection, Follows Year of Complaints, Suits to Stop Abuses at Border
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
El Paso – Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), working with medical professionals, subjected a U.S. citizen to a series of highly invasive searches—including rectal and vaginal probes—without a warrant, according to charges in a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas and the ACLU of New Mexico.
CBP agents frisked and strip-searched the plaintiff at a border checkpoint, then transported her in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, X-ray, speculum exam, rectal exam, vaginal exam, and a CT scan. After a period of six hours of fruitless searches, the agents released the plaintiff without charge.
“Securing the border has become an excuse for outright abandonment of Constitutional principles that protect our privacy and dignity,” said Adriana Piñon, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “Enough is enough. The hand of the government should never have unfettered power to invade our most intimate bodily spaces.”
A resident of New Mexico, the plaintiff was attempting to return to the U.S. from Mexico via a bridge in El Paso.
“These extreme and illegal searches deeply traumatized our client,” said ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Laura Schauer Ives. “The fact that our government treated an innocent 54-year-old woman with such brutality and inhumanity should outrage all Americans. We must ensure that government agents never put another person through a nightmare like this ever again.”
The suit comes as the nation debates a “border surge” that would further militarize border communities despite strong criticism of increased civil rights abuses along the border. ACLU affiliates and other civil rights advocates along the Southwest border have challenged a pattern of unlawful conduct by local and federal law enforcement personnel this year:
- In October 2013, the ACLU of Texas filed suit on behalf of a disabled U.S. citizen who was physically abused when she questioned a CPB official’s search of her purse.
- This fall, the ACLU of Arizona demanded federal officials investigate CBP’s abusive and harassing “roving patrols.” Officers on these details have humiliated, intimidated, and threatened U.S. citizens, assaulted lifelong Arizona residents without reason, and severely damaged personal property during unlawful searches.
- In November 2013, an Albuquerque civil rights law firm filed suit after Deming, New Mexico police officers subjected a man pulled over during a routine traffic stop to three enemas, two anal probes, and a colonoscopy—finding no drugs.
- In March 2013, ten damages cases were filed alleging unlawful CBP conduct by an alliance of immigrant advocacy groups, private attorneys, and a law school clinic.
Today’s suit comes just months after the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report on Border Patrol use of force, which identified key problems with CBP training. The CBP is an arm of DHS.
Attorneys with the ACLU of Texas and ACLU of New Mexico represent the plaintiff in the suit filed today. Because of the sensitive nature of the allegations, the suit was filed under a pseudonym.