ACLU Suit Targets Border Patrol’s Excessive Force, Already Recognized as Problem by Recent Dept. of Homeland Security Report

CONTACT: Tom Hargis, Director of Communications, 713.942.8146 x103 or 832.291.4776;

Brownsville, TX – In a lawsuit filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas charges that  an agent of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) used unwarranted force and physically abused a U.S. citizen when she questioned his search of her purse.

Laura Mireles, who is disabled,  suffered physical injuries after abusive, aggressive, and unjustified treatment by a CBP agent. She sustained injuries after being forcibly thrown to the ground by a CBP agent who responded violently when she inquired about his search of her purse. She was handcuffed so tightly that the fire department later was summoned to cut the cuffs from her wrists.

Today’s suit, brought in federal court against the United States and the individual agent, comes a month 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. An audit conducted of CBP training in 2012 found that many agents and officers do not understand legal limits on the use of force or the extent to which they may or may not use force. The OIG review was conducted in response to a sharp increase in fatalities caused by Border Patrol agents along the Southwest border since 2010.

“This type of physical abuse of a law-abiding person by a CBP agent is totally unwarranted and, unfortunately, all too common,” said Adriana Piñon, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “The recent OIG report should be a wake-up call to Border Patrol, which must be accountable for officers involved in use-of-force incidents that lead to serious injury or death. Cases like Laura’s deteriorate our border communities and erode public trust, making us all less safe.”

While going about her routine work day, Ms. Mireles was stopped by a CBP agent, who demanded to search her car. She did not interfere with the search in any way. No illegal items were found. Yet, when Ms. Mireles simply inquired about the search of her handbag, the CBP agent became agitated and responded violently.

Ms. Mireles is small in stature, approximately 5’1” tall and 100 pounds, and has a visible malformation of her hands and feet. The CBP agent (approximately 200+lbs) threw her to the ground and put his full weight on her small frame. Confused, scared, and crying, she asked the agent to explain what was happening. He responded by threatening to hit her if she didn’t shut up.

Earlier this year, the ACLU of Texas filed a formal administrative complaint with CBP on behalf of Ms. Mireles, seeking damages on her behalf and alleging unlawful CBP conduct for the same incident.  This complaint was denied without explanation, paving the way for this lawsuit.

Ms. Mireles is represented by attorneys with the ACLU of Texas, the Law Office of Gilberto Hinojosa & Associates, P.C., and the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic.

View the complaint filed today in the Brownsville Division of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

More information about the original complaint filed on behalf of Ms. Mireles in March 2013.

Information on the OIG report on Border Patrol use of force.

ACLU National’s use of force recommendations, submitted to CBP, DHS, and the White House in September 2013.