USA Today, Bob Ortega, December 10, 2014
PHOENIX — US authorities often needlessly endanger deportees by sending them back across the border into Mexico without returning their money, IDs, cell phones, medicine and other belongings, a human-rights groups charges in a report released Wednesday.
No More Deaths, an Arizona-based group that runs a project to help deportees recover their property, said that through surveys of deportees and documenting 1,481 requests for help since 2011, it found that deportees are dispossessed three ways:
• Often, the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement simply fail to return money and belongings taken from migrants when they’re apprehended. No More Deaths attributed this in part to a failure to coordinate between the agencies, and in part to Border Patrol and ICE practices that the group said conflict with the agencies’ own regulations and policies.
• When money is returned, deportees often are given checks or debit cards that either can’t be used or cashed in Mexico or that require exorbitant international fees to do so.
• Sometimes, agents or officers steal money. No More Deaths’s report listed nine cases in which deportees and witnesses said their money was taken and kept by Border Patrol agents, ICE officers, US Marshal Service employees, or state or local officers or deputies.
ICE and Customs and Border Protection representatives said they were preparing a response to the report but declined immediate comment.
“We’ve had discussions with them at the local and national level,” said Hannah Hafter, one of the report’s authors. “They say that they return property ‘when feasible’ … but they don’t acknowledge the scale at which it’s happening.”
Hafter said that the biggest issue is that deportees are left without their belongings when they need them most—that is, at the moment they are deported, sometimes in middle of the night, in unfamiliar and often dangerous border towns. She noted that without any identification, money or cellphone, migrants are often stuck in border towns and vulnerable to criminals and face a higher risk of extortion, kidnapping and sexual assault.
No More Deaths noted that a policy of aggressively prosecuting repeat crossers has put thousands of migrants into immigration detention centers for anywhere from 45 days to more than a year. But as a matter of policy, except in the Tucson Sector, the Border Patrol destroys unclaimed belongings not seen as having commercial value 30 days after someone is apprehended.
That means meaning property is often destroyed while migrants are still in custody. Other property is sold with the profits, if unclaimed, sent to the US Treasury.
The Tucson Sector has a policy of retaining property until 30 days after a migrant is released from custody. It has six shipping containers full of property. The sector also coordinates to a limited degree with ICE and some detention centers to allow buses of deportees stop at the Border Patrol station so migrants can reclaim their property. However, such efforts are not consistent.