Fact-Finding Mission Confirms Abuses at the Border

Immigrant Rights, Racial Justice

Fact-Finding Delegation Confirms Civil Rights Abuses at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Delegation Documents Illegal Barriers to Requesting Asylum Exacerbating Humanitarian and Public Health Crises  

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) announces the completion of a fact-finding mission to the U.S. border with Mexico. In response to the migrant crisis, LCR visited community-based organizations, shelters, and soup kitchens on both sides of the border to observe — firsthand — current conditions. The fact-finding mission comes on the heels of LCR’s federal complaint on behalf of 48 Haitian refugees, including families and children who were illegally held in squalid conditions under a bridge near Del Rio, Texas. The conditions documented by the delegation —  including overcrowding in detention facilities, lack of access to needed healthcare, and failure to provide immigration protections — are all alarmingly similar to the abuses faced at the border by Haitian refugees represented by LCR. 

In California, the delegation met with the staff of the Galilee Center, an organization providing vital services to refugees and asylum-seekers from Brazil, India, and Russia who were recently released from federal custody.  

In Arizona, the delegation visited institutions addressing the refugee crisis on both sides of the border, including the Immigration Law Clinic of the University of Arizona’s College of Law, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, and Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON)

In Nogales, Sonora, the delegation met with Mexican-based community leaders, clergy, human rights advocates, and non-governmental organizations —  including the Kino Border Initiative and Casa de Misericordia — that are supporting refugees displaced by violence in their home countries. 

Initial findings and observations:

  • In a shelter in Nogales, Sonora, the delegation encountered a group of approximately 70 recently deported immigrants. At least two people from this group were released from U.S. custody with COVID-19. Since deportees were all transported together — without appropriate public safety protocols or safeguards in place — the entire group was exposed to COVID-19, including children and breastfeeding infants. 
  • Expelled immigrants experienced unconscionable overcrowding in U.S. detention facilities. Multiple sources confirm the U.S. government’s failure to protect detainees from COVID-19 exposure. They also report the absence of COVID-19 tests.  
  • Deprivation and denial of medical care and treatment at U.S. facilities. Immigrants report being released from U.S. custody without medications for HIV or other chronic conditions. 
  • Re-traumatization of survivors of sexual violence and others who experienced persecution and dehumanization. These particularly vulnerable people were denied psychosocial care under U.S. custody. 
  • Illegal enforcement of so-called “public health” measures that result in grievous harm to immigrants and deprive them of critical immigration protections. Under the Biden/Harris Administration, the continuation of Trump-era expulsion policies (such as Title 42 removals) creates unlawful barriers to asylum. This exacerbates national origin discrimination and the disparate treatment of people of different nationalities. The rapid expulsion of refugees — sometimes in a matter of hours — deprives people of much-needed legal protection and consular access. 
  • Volatile conditions create an undue burden on non-profit organizations such as Galilee CenterKino Border Initiative, and Casa de Misericordia. Organizations have been overwhelmed as they provide shelter, food, and COVID-19 care. They are conducting the COVID-19 testing that the U.S. government has failed to provide. Shelters urgently need access to COVID-19 vaccines. 
  • Shelters and soup kitchens are operating at full capacity in Nogales, Sonora. In the absence of available shelter, refugees are sleeping in cemeteries for safety. 
  • Alarming family separation patterns, including the separation of couples who cannot provide a marriage certificate because they fled life-threatening conditions under dire conditions without documentation. Siblings fleeing together have been separated by U.S. officials. Minors who turn 18 years-old in U.S. custody are also separated from their parents.  
  • Unlawful discrimination at the hands of U.S. officials, including widespread reports from refugees that white — and English-speaking — migrants are treated better and released faster from detention facilities. Many refugees report serious language access barriers, including the absence of culturally-competent assistance in U.S. facilities. 

After spending dozens of hours documenting conditions, the delegation confirms that the refugee crisis is having a devastating impact on the ground on both sides of the border. 

“The observations are consistent with what Haitian refugees and other asylum-seekers are reporting once they are released from U.S. custody. Conditions are overwhelming and heartbreaking. The pain and suffering are palpable. The asylum application process must be restored,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. “We are documenting abuses and bringing them to light to hold U.S. officials accountable for abominable conditions at the border.” 

LCR will soon release a report outlining in greater detail the conditions that refugees are confronting at the border.

Additional information on the federal complaint filed by LCR on behalf of Haitian refugees is available here.