Immigration Law

'Shocked and Humiliated': Lawsuits Accuse Border Guards of Invasive Searches of Minors, Women

Susan Ferriss, Center for Public Integrity, Aug. 19, 2018 - "Lovell’s lawsuit — and 10 others since 2011 reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity — raise timely and unsettling questions about how far border and other immigration officers can go with their considerable power to detain people at the nation’s 328 ports of entry.

The existing rules can be shocking for travelers. Legal precedents grant federal officers at ports of entry the power, without warrants, to require people to strip for a “visual inspection” of genitals and rectums, and to submit to a “monitored bowel movement” to check for secreted drugs. At the same time, a CBP detention-and-search handbook instructs officers to record a solid justification for every single step beyond a frisk, and to respect detainees’ dignity and “freedom from unreasonable searches” and to “consider the totality of the circumstances … when making a decision to search.”

The handbook also warns officers against engaging in what could be considered either a “visual or physical intrusion” into vaginal or anal cavities.

Yet in these suits, innocent women — including minor girls — who were not found with any contraband say CBP officers subjected them to harsh interrogation that led to indignities that included unreasonable strip searches while menstruating to prohibited genital probing. Some women were also handcuffed and transported to hospitals where, against their will, they underwent pelvic exams, X-rays and in one case, drugging via IV, according to suits. Invasive medical procedures require a detainee’s consent or a warrant. In two cases, women were billed for procedures.

The suits underscore mounting criticism that accountability for officer conduct is too weak — at a time when President Donald Trump is beefing up the ranks of CBP officers and urging ever-tougher crackdowns at the border and other ports of entry. Settlements show that the government has opted to close some cases before trials that could require CBP court testimony; six of these suits have resulted in settlements that cost taxpayers more than $1.2 million in payments to plaintiffs by the U.S. Treasury Department. A Canadian traveler who sued lost a jury trial in 2013. Other cases continue to wind their way through the system."