El Paso’s University Medical Center is being forced to compensate a New Mexico woman 1.1 million dollars for conducting unnecessary and illegal cavity searches.
The searches came at the request of Customs and Border Protection which is also facing a lawsuit. CBP agents wrongly suspected the woman was trafficking drugs from Mexico.
Efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union to inform area residents about their rights.
Mexican national Candilaria Licona Rodriguez lives in Juarez with her husband -
While he works as an engineer she takes care of the house and her father in law.
She says a lot the things they need are cheaper in El Paso.
“I use my visa to come to shop that’s how I help myself and my husband as well” she says.
She doesn’t come across the border much and when she does she usually doesn’t have any problems with border officials. But today was different.
“He said “why did I come for there, in Mexico, in Juarez there are places to shop” and I said I can spend my money any where it’s my money. And he said “in that case, go back””
She contends the questioning went on and on- she says she believes she was treated with suspicion because of the way she looks and her ethnicity.
ACLU Policy Advocate Brian Erickson is handing out pamphlets at the entrance of the Santa Fe border bridge in El Paso, to educate people just like Licona Rodriguez.
“Today we are handing out resources regarding what people rights are with encounters with border patrol including at ports of entry when they are coming in to the country, at interior check points that are located far removed from the borer or while they are driving and moving about their border communities in any kind of a neighborhood in all these cases they have rights that should be respected by the border patrol” he says.
ACLU officials say Mexican nationals like Licona Rodiriguez have certain rights when they deal with customs and border protection- like the right to remain silent when asked questions not directly related to entering the U.S. Licona Rodriguez says she didn’t know that and didn’t want to kick up a fuss in case it could make things worse.
“I am not the type of person that wants to lose her visa" she says.
Rodriguez only discovered through speaking with advocates at the border reality checkpoint, that the CPB can't take away her visa so easily.
Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project attorney Jed Untereker says outreach in the border community is as much about informing people of their rights as it is listening to their stories and then making sure the CBP agents are held accountable for any violations.
“What we hear a lot of is people being detained for long periods of time when crossing. We hear reports of strip searches when the person didn’t think that there was any reason at that juncture we have reports of tazering being done of people” he says.
ACLU Policy Advocate Erickson says with the extension of CBP operations and checkpoints into the interior of the country there have been more reports of abuses and constitutional infringements, increasingly against US residents and citizens.
“We have people of varying immigrations status of all backgrounds – you have Hispanic US citizens you have lawful permanent residents throughout the border regions and currently diverse communities that type of enforcement that targets people based on the way the look rather than real facts is not only bad policing but is profiling and that’s unlawful and unconstitutional” he says.
A 2013 Police Executive Research Forum report showed that CBP has not been doing proper internal investigations into cases made against their agents. In February Congressmen Beto O’Rourke and Steve Pearce announced a bill to establish more oversight of the CBP.
But until the law is changed Erickson says border reality checkpoints are the most direct way to keep the agency accountable.
“Poor training and lack of ability to hold agents accountable has allowed far too many border patrol agents and CBP officials at our ports to act as if they are above the law and can do whatever they want to people going about their daily lives without any consequences”
The CBP did not respond to requests for an interview.
Erickson says it’s the third time the ACLU has staged a reality border checkpoint. He says keeping in contact with community members like Licona Rodriguez keeps them informed about CBP’s operations.
I do not come to harm anyone. But I did not like his treatment, it was like a racist statement, I don’t know, but I did not like it.” she says.
Border Reality Checkpoints were also staged in Columbus New Mexico and a number other border communities throughout the southwest