Immigration Law

Deportations in the Dark: Lack of Process and Information in the Removal of Mexican Migrants

Sara Campos, Esq. and Guillermo Cantor, Ph.D., September 19, 2017 - "U.S. immigration officials have a long and checkered history of mistreating migrants at the Southern border. Allegations of abuse throughout the apprehension, detention, and deportation process are not new; migrants have voiced complaints for years, with litigation dating back several decades.

A more dismal future for migrants looms today, as the U.S. government promises to institute a new level of immigration enforcement. Within its first year, the Trump administration issued directives to intensify and scale up border enforcement, detention, and deportations, as well as expand expedited deportation procedures to unprecedented levels. Moreover, the administration’s tacit—if not explicit—approval of harsh treatment toward migrants also risks emboldening immigration agents to act improperly. Indeed, evidence of mistreatment and abuse has already surfaced.

This report explains the stark findings of an empirical investigation into the behavioral patterns of U.S. immigration authorities during the apprehension, custody, and removal of Mexican migrants from the United States. The analysis is based on new survey data and testimonies collected by the Binational Defense and Advocacy Program (in Spanish, Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional, or PDIB). Between August 2016 and April 2017, PDIB interviewed 600 migrants who were deported from the United States to Mexico at one of the following repatriation points: Nogales, Sonora; Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas; Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; and Reynosa, Tamaulipas. (See Appendix I for survey methodology).

Among other issues, the survey sought to examine whether U.S. immigration agents properly informed migrants of their rights, actively interfered with migrants’ rights, coerced or intimidated migrants in their custody, or failed to provide removal documents to migrants at the time of repatriation. The results are unnerving. In each of the areas examined, U.S. officials failed to deliver basic rights under U.S. laws and policies:

  • 43.5 percent of the respondents surveyed were not advised of their right to contact their consulate;
  • More than half of the respondents surveyed (55.7 percent) were not asked if they feared returning home; 

  • Almost a quarter of the respondents (23.5 percent) reported being victims of some type of abuse or aggression by immigration authorities during their apprehension; 

  • Half of the respondents (50.7 percent) who signed repatriation documents reported that they were not allowed to read the documents before they signed them; 
  • 57.6 percent of the respondents did not receive their repatriation documents.

What emerges from the survey data and testimonies is an alarming portrait of the way Mexican migrants are treated while in U.S. custody and through the deportation process. Often, migrants do not receive copies of deportation documents and have little understanding of the processes they have undergone and the related legal ramifications. When U.S. officials prevent migrants from accessing critical information and processes, they further deprive individuals of their possible legal opportunities to present immigration claims.

While in U.S. custody and control, many migrants are deprived of legally required information, thwarted from contacting their consulates, compelled to sign documents they cannot read or understand, threatened with protracted detention, and blocked from applying for asylum and other legal claims—even in the face of serious danger. In short, these migrants are left in the dark during their deportations.

Given the escalation of immigration enforcement, the problems identified in this report are only likely to multiply. If not addressed, the behavioral patterns leading to abuses could spawn mass constitutional rights violations."