Arizona Republic, editorial

Editorial: A disturbing trend in border patrol

Arizona Republic, December 15, 2014

Honoring the inherent rights of individuals is part of our national DNA. It is what we are all about.

But a report from a human-rights group offers more evidence that this deep commitment runs a bit shallow near the US–Mexico border.

The report found a disturbing disregard for the property of those deported across the Mexican border. This can result in people landing in an unfamiliar border town without money, identification or needed medication. These migrants become easy prey for criminals.

Released last week by No More Deaths, the information comes from surveys of deportees and requests the group has received for help reclaiming lost possessions. It identifies problems and offers solutions.

The group says Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement sometimes fail to return money and belongings taken when someone is apprehended. This may be the result of a lack of coordination between the agencies, the group said, which could be corrected if migrants’ possessions followed them to wherever they are held in custody. This is how most law-enforcement agencies handle belongings.

No More Deaths also found that cash taken from deportees is often returned in the form of checks and debit cards. These either can’t be cashed in Mexico or require high fees to do so.

To remedy this, the human rights group suggests allowing the migrants to convert the checks or cards to cash before being sent back across the border.

In addition, No More Deaths said some migrants claim their money is simply taken and never returned. These are serious charges that warrant investigation by the agencies involved.

The Department of Homeland Security insists it has “strict standards in place” to protect detainees’ possessions and that allegations of missing property “will be thoroughly investigated.

But these allegations are not new.

No More Deaths’ findings are consistent with a study done last year by the University of Arizona and the Immigrant Policy Center. Thirty-four percent of the immigrants they interviewed said they were missing one or more of their possessions when they were deported.

During interviews over the past few years, migrants have made similar allegations to Arizona Republic reporters.

Some may dismiss the No More Deaths report because it comes from a group that actively champions the rights of migrants, which means it often sees DHS as an adversary.

But this report fits a disturbing pattern.

It is more evidence of a problem with how immigration officials handle the possessions of those they process and deport.

That’s not merely a problem for the woman who finds herself without money or identification on the streets of a tough border town. It is a problem for everyone who believes in human rights and dignity.