Body Cavity Searches Trigger Lawsuit Against Federal Officials

Immigrant Rights, Police Accountability

The Boston College Civil Rights Clinic and Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) jointly filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of Neisa Ortega and her 14-year-old daughter after Ms. Ortega was subjected to repeated invasive body searches and sexual violations over the course of one year at the hands of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at Logan Airport in Boston.

As described in the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Ms. Ortega was subjected to illegal and unconstitutional treatment by CBP on multiple  occasions upon returning from family visits in the Dominican Republic. The complaint alleges that since April 2019, CBP officers have assaulted, degraded and humiliated Ms. Ortega repeatedly, physically penetrating her vagina with their hands three times despite not finding anything suspicious, let alone criminal, on Ms. Ortega’s person or luggage during any of their searches. During these body cavity searches, CBP officers separated Ms. Ortega from her 14-year old daughter for hours, during which neither was given information as to the whereabouts of the other. The experience was traumatizing and dehumanizing for both Ms. Ortega and her daughter. 

Ms. Ortega and her daughter have been living in fear and haunted by the memories of CBP’s small inspection room, the anxiety and terror they felt when separated from each other, and for Ms. Ortega—the trauma of being physically abused and sexually violated. 

“The hardest thing for me is realizing that other human beings treated me this way. They could tell I was crying and obviously upset, and still they did not see me as a person—they had no compassion,” said Ms. Ortega in reflection of her ordeal. “This type of violence, abuse, and humiliation changes you. With all this pain, I am a different person than I was.”

“This is an appalling abuse of power. CBP repeatedly violated and traumatized an innocent woman and her daughter,” said Arielle Sharma, an LCR attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Far too often women of color are subjected to extra scrutiny and overly intrusive inspection. This discriminatory treatment must end.”

“We are seeing women of color across the country, like Ms. Ortega, bravely standing up to CBP’s disturbing pattern of sexually invasive body searches and demanding that CBP be held accountable for their illegal and unconstitutional behavior,” said Reena Parikh, Director of the BC Civil Rights Clinic and an attorney also representing the plaintiffs. 

The complaint is available here: