It is generally unlawful for the government to confiscate personal property except through a fair hearing. Yet migrants and U.S. citizens alike regularly report that Customs and Border Protection officers have confiscated their property – from their money and identification cards to their phones and automobiles – without a meaningful opportunity to seek return of that property. This is not only unfair, it is often dangerous for migrants who are deported after being stripped of their property and must then navigate the streets of Mexico without money, identification, or other belongings.
In June 2016, the ACLU of Arizona filed a complaint on behalf of ten individuals with U.S. Department of Homeland Security oversight agencies and the Department of Justice demanding investigations into abuses arising from Border Patrol interior operations. As a result of some of these incidents, and although the individuals implicated were not charged with any crime or immigration violation, their property was confiscated and some had to pay thousands of dollars to recover a vehicle.
On April 6, 2016, the New Mexico ACLU Center for Border Rights, along with the Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional and other partners, filed a complaint with DHS which documented 26 cases in which belongings—including important identity documents, money, and irreplaceable personal items—were confiscated by Border Patrol agents from individuals they apprehended and never returned at the time that the individuals were deported. The reported cases highlight the devastating consequences that can flow from the loss of critical documents and money. These 26 incidents are illustrative of the serious systemic problems with respect to CBP’s policies on return of belongings, including the ability for individual agent’s to abuse the system.
Adijat Edwards arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from Nigeria. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents detained her upon arrival. The officers confiscated $4,000 worth of her jewelry and, days later, forced her to withdraw $1,200 in cash using her bank card. The officers told Ms. Edwards that the money was necessary to pay for her return flight to Nigeria as part of expedited removal proceedings.
On December 28, 2011, Lucy Rogers was driving toward the U.S./Canada border with two farmworkers of apparent Latino descent when a Border Patrol agent pulled her over without any reasonable suspicion and asked her and her passengers whether they were U.S. citizens. Ms. Rogers replied that she was a U.S. citizen, but because the two farmworkers traveling with her were unable to immediately provide proof of their immigration status, Ms. Rogers was arrested and searched, under the suspicion that she was trafficking undocumented immigrants in an attempt to escape inspection upon entry into the U.S. The BP agents insisted that Ms. Rogers provide them with the GPS device that she kept in her car. Ms. Rogers did not receive it back for more than seven months.