FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2011
EL PASO, TX – Nicolás, 57, lived and worked for several years in the United States, where he emigrated to make a better life for his family. This year, he made the decision to return to Mexico to reunite with his family, but Border Patrol agents apprehended him in the “Los Paisanos” bus station, a private transportation company in El Paso, Texas. His bus was destined for Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, when border patrol agents boarded the bus and began asking passengers for “their papers.”
Even though Nicolás told the officials that he was on the way back to Mexico, the agents removed him from the bus and placed him in deportation proceedings. The agents also confiscated four boxes and a suitcase that held Nicolás’s clothing, personal belongings, and trade tools he had purchased over the years. Two days later, he was able to recuperate the boxes with the help of the Centro de Derechos Humanos del Migrante, A.C. (CDHM) and the Humane Repatriation Program. However, the suitcase is still unaccounted for and no one has taken responsibility for its disappearance.
“Unfortunately Nicolás’s experience is not unique; thousands of individuals who have been apprehended by immigration officials in the United States lose personal belongings when detained,” notes Lizeth Martinez, lawyer of CDHM in Ciudad Juarez. “These are hardworking, honest individuals who are being deported without their government-issued identifications, cash or bank debit cards, which makes it harder for them to find steady work in Mexico or even to pay for food and shelter while they figure out how to put their lives back together.”
Not having identification also makes it difficult for these individuals to prove their identity at interior checkpoints when attempting to return to their original hometowns in different parts of Mexico, creating a great deal of uncertainty and making them vulnerable to exploitation by local authorities or criminal elements while on their voyage.
A Survey on Migration on the Northern Mexican Border, conducted by the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), showed that the failure to return personal belongings to deported persons increased by 400 percent between 2007 and 2010, from 6,650 to 34,820 individuals. In the last four months, CDHM has restored personal belongings to 37 individuals were deported to Ciudad Juarez.
Border Patrol agents issue a 30-day notice to detainees prior to the destruction of seized property. But if immigration officials hold an individual in a long-term detention facility or detainees face charges of illegal entry or illegal reentry, they may be unable to respond within 30 days and their personal property is destroyed. Also if the person has not been adequately informed about the 30-day limit, attempts to regain his or her possessions even one day late, results in lost belongings.
Nicolás’s experience is also a disturbing example of Customs and Border Patrol’s questionable practice of boarding buses and trains in the interior of the United States and demanding “papers” from passengers. A recent report published by the New York Civil Liberties Union and other NY immigrant advocacy groups showed that between 2006 and 2009, most of the 2,743 people apprehended by CPB during sweeps of public transportation in New York bus and train stations were of Latino/Hispanic descent or people of color.
“Border Patrol agents in the United States should not be asking for papers from bus passengers who are traveling within the United States and much less asking for these papers from individuals who are leaving the country,” notes Vicki B. Gaubeca, director of the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights. “The NYCLU report illustrates how border patrol agents may use racial profiling when asking passengers for their documents. This practice needs to stop.”
“In addition, Border Patrol has the responsibility to return personal belongings to individuals prior to their deportation,” added Ms. Gaubeca. “Not returning an individual’s belongings contradicts the American core values of justice and due process.”
Vicki Gaubeca, Tel. (575) 527 0664 or (575) 373-5789.
Director, Regional Center for Border Rights.
American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico.
 NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Families for Freedom.