New repatriation agreements between DHS and Mexico call for personal property to be returned to owners prior to deportation

LAS CRUCES, NM—Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights (RCBR) and the Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional (PDIB) in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico welcomed the inclusion of protections for migrants’ personal property in the new repatriation agreements between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the government of Mexico. The new repatriation agreements include the following language:


“The signatory participants should take all feasible steps to ensure that property, valuables, and money retained, are available for return to the rightful owner at the time of initial release from DHS custody.”

For years, border rights advocacy groups have expressed concern over the prevalent practice of deporting migrants without returning personal belongings and valuables prior to removal. Deporting migrants without their personal identification documents, cell phones, and cash can leave individuals stranded far from home and vulnerable to abuse.
The following can be attributed to ACLU of New Mexico RCBR director Vicki Gaubeca:

“These agreements are a victory for border rights activists who have long sought to end the systematic robbing of migrants during the deportation process. It is not humane or fair to strip people of their personal belongings, including IDs and other important personal documents, and then strand them in a place they’ve likely never been before. Americans are better than that, and today’s updated repatriation agreements bring us closer to treating others with the same dignity and humanity we would want for ourselves. We urge Border Patrol and ICE to swiftly comply with this requirement.”

The following can be attributed to PDIB Director Blanca Navarrete:

“The new repatriation agreements signal a firm commitment by the U.S. and Mexican governments to end the widespread, cruel dispossession of migrants by U.S. government agents. For years, we have seen the grave consequences of dispossession and we are pleased that the governments are committed to ending this abuse against migrants.”

A 2013 study led by the University of Arizona, Bordering on Criminal: The Routine Abuse of Migrants in the Removal System, documented the widespread practice of robbing migrants’ of their personal belongings—one of every three migrants reported dispossession at the hands of U.S. government agents. The rate of dispossession more than doubled for migrants arrested or deported in the El Paso Border Patrol Sector, which includes all of New Mexico. This figure excluded perishable belongings like food or water, and of particular concern, U.S. government agencies failed to return migrants’ money, cell phones, or the Mexican IDs they carried in over 20% of the cases where migrants reported dispossession.