Federal agents at the border are looting undocumented immigrants of their documents, money and sometimes even their wedding bands, a complaint filed by a number of civil rights groups alleges.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and a coalition of organizations filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday, saying the alleged seizures are putting migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in harm's way and leaving them in dire straits when deported back home.
“Being deported with nothing puts people in an extremely difficult place,” Kristin Love, an attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico told Fox News Latino. “People are left with nothing and they’re thousands of miles from home.”
The complaint alleges that immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally were deported without their belongings in 26 separate cases. Also, advocates said in some cases immigrants were deported to cities in Mexico where they have no acquaintances.
The advocacy group, which says these types of seizures have been happening for years, also claim that Border Patrol agents often destroy belongings, including legal and identity documents.
DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement that the department has a policy of safeguarding detainees' property.
"DHS will review the complaint once we receive it. DHS has strict standards in place to ensure that detainees' personal property – including funds, baggage and other effects – is safeguarded and controlled while they are in detention and returned to them when they are released from CBP/ICE custody or removed from the United States. Any allegation of missing property will be thoroughly investigated," Christensen said.
Love, however, said the DHS policy makes it very difficult for a migrant who has been detained to get their property back to them as they may be shuttled around to various different holding facilities. Many times migrants are not informed of their rights to reclaim their things.
“There should be a process for the people to get their belongings back,” she said. “But right now it’s so complicated.”
In one case, a 23-year-old man from Chihuahua, Mexico, who was picked up by U.S. Border Patrol agents on a road near Antelope Wells, New Mexico, in February 2015, was purportedly forced to sign a form abandoning his rights to his belongings. The ACLU complaint alleges that he was never advised of his rights and sent to Ciudad Juárez without his belongings.
Deportations like this, Love said, are particularly troublesome because without an identification card Mexican citizens can’t do things such as get wired money or buy a bus ticket home.
“This practically makes Mexicans undocumented in their own country,” Love said.
The complaint also alleges that Border Patrol agents seized nearly $400 from a 23-year-old woman from Guerrero, Mexico after they detained her near an international bridge in El Paso, Texas. The money, which was part of her life savings, was never returned, advocates allege.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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