Suit Follows Year of Complaints and Lawsuits to Stop Abuses along the Border

EL PASO, TX – Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB), working with medical professionals, subjected a U.S. citizen to a series of highly invasive searches—including rectal and vaginal probes—without a warrant, according to charges in a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas and the ACLU of New Mexico.
CBP agents frisked and strip-searched the plaintiff at a border checkpoint, then transported her in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, X-ray, speculum exam, rectal exam, vaginal exam, and a CT scan.  After a period of six hours of fruitless searches, the agents released the plaintiff without charge.
“What is truly frightening about this incident is that it could have happened to anyone,” said ACLU-NM Legal Director Laura Schauer Ives. “The failed drug war and militarized border region have created an environment in which law enforcement officials increasingly inflict extreme and illegal searches on innocent Americans. We need to ensure that no one is ever again subjected to a nightmare like our client suffered.”
The plaintiff, a 54 year old woman from New Mexico, was attempting to return to the U.S. from Mexico via a bridge in El Paso. She is deeply traumatized by the cavity searches  government agents forced her to endure and continues to suffer emotional and psychological after effects.
“Securing the border has become an excuse for outright abandonment of Constitutional principles that protect our privacy and dignity,” said Adriana Piñon, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas.  “Enough is enough. The hand of the government should never have unfettered power to invade our most intimate bodily spaces.”
The suit comes as the nation debates a “border surge” that would further militarize border communities despite strong criticism of increased civil rights abuses along the border.  ACLU affiliates and other civil rights advocates along the Southwest border have challenged a pattern of unlawful conduct by local and federal law enforcement personnel this year:

  • In November, 2013 an Albuquerque civil rights law firm filed suit after Deming, NM police officers subjected a man pulled over during a routine traffic stop to three enemas, two anal probes, and a colonoscopy—finding no drugs.
  • In October 2013, the ACLU of Texas filed suit on behalf of a disabled U.S. citizen who was physically abused when she questioned a CPB official’s search of her purse.
  • In March 2013, ten damages cases were filed alleging unlawful CBP conduct by an alliance of immigrant advocacy groups, private attorneys, and a law school clinic.

Attorneys with the ACLU of Texas and ACLU of New Mexico represent the plaintiff in the suit filed today. Because of the sensitive nature of the allegations, the suit was filed under a pseudonym.
View the complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, El Paso Division: