by JULIÁN AGUILAR
The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday filed a lawsuit against what the advocacy group claims are egregious abuses of power within the ranks of border law enforcement.
The suit, filed in the Brownsville office of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, alleges that a Customs and Border Protection agent physically and verbally abused a U.S. citizen after she questioned why her purse was being searched. The U.S. government is also named as a defendant.
The ACLU alleges that an Agent Riano, whose first name was not mentioned in the suit, threw Laura Mireles to the ground, verbally threatened her and applied handcuffs with such force that the fire department had to be called in to remove them. Mireles is also disabled, the ACLU stated, and has visible malformations on her hands and feet. She was released and never faced charges after the incident.
“What happened to my client is illustrative of what happens not only in Texas but across the southern border,” said Adriana Piñon, the ACLU of Texas’ senior staff attorney. “It’s a good example of the human consequences” of excessive force.
A CBP spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
Piñon said the alleged incident is emblematic of the concerns cited in a September report from the U.S. Office of the Inspector General that sought to evaluate CBP’s use of force. The evaluation was conducted after 16 members of Congress urged the government to investigate CBP practices — and, specifically, whether the number of federal CBP and U.S. Border Patrol agents had surged without sufficient training. The number of agents rose from about 30,100 nationally in 2006 to 43,200 in 2012.
While the report stated that the workforce surge did not negatively affect training, it did document that a majority of the alleged excessive force cases investigated showed some possible violations. Between fiscal years 2007 and 2012, 63 percent of the 1,187 records examined showed “possible excessive force,” while 26 percent were inconclusive. About 11 percent of the cases reviewed showed no excessive force.
The lawsuit comes after an official complaint seeking damages for Mireles was dismissed.
JULIÁN AGUILAR reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.
COVER: A U.S. Border Patrol agent in El Paso. TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO by JUSTIN DEHN