Several Mexican women claim they were arbitrarily detained and strip-searched, and never told why they'd been singled out. A U.S. citizen alleges that an officer yanked his 11-year-old son's arm, causing a hairline fracture. A legal permanent resident of the United States says an officer screamed at her and falsely accused her of being a fugitive.
Those allegations are among 13 cases documented in a complaint
the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Border Communities Coalition has filed with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The administrative complaint, lodged Tuesday, accuses officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection of "systemic abuse" and rights violations at several entry points between Mexico and the United States.
"It really mocks our American values of justice and fairness," said Cynthia Pompa, a field organizer at the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights. "And it shows that this agency really lacks oversight and accountability."
DHS did not comment on the ACLU allegations.
Allegations in the complaint include:
• A 51-year-old Mexican woman says officers falsely accused her of being a prostitute and forced her to sign a false confession. She signed it because she didn't understand English very well, according to the complaint. The confession, the complaint alleges, had her barred from entering the United States for five years.
• A 40-year-old U.S. citizen alleges he stopped for an inspection and asked officers to be careful with his son, who was recovering from a broken arm. Instead, according to the complaint, an officer "grabbed his son's arm, held his wrist around his back and yanked him forcefully from the vehicle." Afterward, according to the complaint, doctors diagnosed his 11-year-old son with a hairline fracture in his arm, and the family was left with a $5,000 medical bill. The man says he filed a complaint and sent supporting documents to the agency, but never received a reply.
• A 59-year-old woman who's been a legal permanent resident of the United States for 35 years says officers accused her of having false documents and being a fugitive, took fingerprints and photographs, interrogated her for hours and threatened to deport her. "Eventually, the officers returned her documents and released her into the United States," the complaint alleges. "One officer warned her never to cross from Mexico again."
Several people claimed they were detained as long as nine hours as officers allegedly tried to make them confess to crimes they didn't commit.
The cases cited in the complaint, Pompa said, are the latest examples of a "culture of abuse" by officers.
"They can hurl unfounded allegations at someone, and they don't need to provide evidence of their claim," Pompa said. "They can act as a judge. They can act as a jury. They can act as a deporter. And it all goes unchecked."
In the complaint, the ACLU and the border communities group say they want the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the claims and reform the agency.
They ask federal officials to provide complaint forms in multiple languages, to prohibit the use of race and ethnicity as a factor for whom they search and detain, and to start using body cameras to promote accountability and transparency.