Ever since one of her relatives had been deported back to Mexico, a woman from New Mexico obtained a passport so that she could cross the border to visit him. She tried visiting him about once a month.
To get there and back, she used the Cordova Bridge, which connects the cities of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Not surprisingly, there are U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents manning the bridge to make sure no one’s smuggling in drugs, contraband or illegal aliens from Mexico. (Ironically, or not so ironically, a CBP agent was just accused of smuggling in illegal aliens from Mexico. He faces 5 years in prison.)
Since this New Mexico woman had been down to visit her relative, whom she referred to as her “uncle” in her lawsuit against the CBP (and many other defendants), she had probably gotten accustomed to stopping for these agents and showing them her passport. They may have done a cursory search of her car, after which they’d let her go.
But not this time. About one year ago, she was on her way back from visiting her uncle, and after the CBP agent swiped her passport, the agent notified her that she was flagged for a “random” secondary search. The next six hours would probably affect her for the rest of her life, not unlike other victims of rape.
The procedures that she was subjected to were so humiliating that she doesn’t want anyone to know her name. So, her lawsuit, which has been filed on her behalf by the ACLU, identifies her as Jane Doe.
Her lawsuit describes the invasive procedures in graphic, gut-wrenching details. But, again, there really is no other way to describe a gang rape.
After she was notified that she was going to have to submit to a “random” screening, they decided to feel her up all over her body, including her genital area and buttocks. She was instructed to squat so that the agent had better access to these areas. Finding nothing, they brought a drug dog, and of course, the dog “alerted” on this poor woman, whom the lawsuit describes as a 54-year-old, petite woman. The dog “alerted” when the dog’s handler hit the ground next to the woman. The handler didn’t hit the ground around the others standing in line with her.
In my opinion, at this point, they had already gone way beyond what was necessary and reasonable. Her detainment should have ended the moment the agent swiped her passport and found nothing. There should be no such thing as “random” secondary searches. But, it gets much worse. The fake dog “alert” was all they needed to violate her to the fullest extent. The following is an excerpt from her lawsuit, detailing what ensued following the dog’s “alert”:
Defendant 1, an unknown supervising CBP agent, mandated additional searches. CBP agents Portillo and Herrera grabbed Ms. Doe and led her to a private room. There, they ordered Ms. Doe to pull down her pants and crouch. She followed the order. One of the agents examined her anus with a flashlight.
29. Ms. Doe was commanded to lean backwards in her crouched position. She again complied. One of the agents then parted Ms. Doe’s vulva with her hand, pressed her fingers into Ms. Doe’s vagina and visually examined her genitalia with a flashlight.
30. Ms. Doe did not consent to this strip search nor to having her body touched in so intimate a way by government agents. Ms. Doe was understandably humiliated and she began crying.
31. The agents instructed Ms. Doe to get dressed. The strip search did not produce any evidence of contraband or of internal drug smuggling. Still, agents Portillo and Herrera sealed the cuffs of Ms. Doe’s pants by taping her pants to her legs.
32. At approximately 4:00 p.m., CBP agents Portillo and Herrera forcibly transported Ms. Doe in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso. One of the agents informed Ms. Doe that they needed to monitor her bowel movement.
33. During the car ride to the Medical Center, Ms. Doe asked if the agents had a warrant. One of them responded that they did not need a warrant.
34. Ms. Doe arrived at the Medical Center at approximately 4:29 p.m. Agents Portillo and Herrera led her to a room and handcuffed her to the examination table in the room. From the time of her arrival until she was released from the Medical Center, Ms. Doe did not present any symptoms consistent with internal drug smuggling nor did she exhibit any symptoms of feeling sick or unwell.
35. Without obtaining consent or obtaining a detailed medical history, Defendants Doctor Christopher Cabanillas and Doctor Michael Parsa (collectively called “Doctors”) continued the search for drugs along with agents Portillo and Herrera.
36. Medical Center staff wheeled a portable toilet into the room and directed Ms. Doe to ingest a laxative. CBP agents Portillo and Herrera removed the tape from Ms. Doe’s pants and remained in the room with her while the laxative took effect. The agents observed Ms. Doe have a bowel movement. No evidence of internal drug smuggling was found as a result of this search.
37. Defendant Cabanillas, in consultation with Defendant Parsa, ordered an X-ray of Ms. Doe’s abdomen. Medical Center staff X-rayed Ms. Doe, subjecting her to unnecessary radiation. According to medical records, the exam produced “[n]o evidence of radiopaque foreign bodies.”
38. Even though prior searches resulted in no evidence of internal drug smuggling, CBP agents and the Doctors continued the intrusion on Ms. Doe’s body without her consent and without a warrant.
39. After the X-ray, Ms. Doe was again handcuffed to the examination table. CBP agents Portillo and Herrera and Medical Center personnel were present in the room. Defendants left the door to the examining room open, and Ms. Doe could see hospital personnel at the nurses’ station in the hallway. She was angry that CBP had not released her and scared about what would happen next.
40. Defendant Parsa entered the examination room and barked an order that Ms. Doe spread her legs. She complied.
41. Ms. Doe was mortified. Defendants did not even have the decency to close the door to the examining room so that Ms. Doe would not also be subjected to being observed by passersby as she endured a forced gynecological exam.
42. Defendant Parsa then conducted a series of examinations. While agents Portillo and Herrera and other Medical Center staff watched, he inserted a speculum into Ms. Doe’s vagina and observed the interior cavity. According to medical records, Defendant Parsa did not see any foreign objects or evidence of internal drug smuggling.
43. Defendant Parsa also stuck his fingers into Ms. Doe’s vagina while palpitating her abdomen. This bimanual cavity search was negative: According to medical records, Defendant Parsa did not feel any foreign objects or evidence of internal drug smuggling.
44. Defendant Parsa also conducted a rectal examination: he inserted his fingers into Ms. Doe’s rectum and probed the orifice for foreign bodies. According to medical records, Defendant Parsa did not feel any or find evidence of internal drug smuggling.
45. While her rectum was being probed, agents Portillo and Herrera and Medical Center staff watched. Ms. Doe felt that she was being treated less than human, like an animal.
46. Ms. Doe was shocked and humiliated by these exceedingly intrusive searches.
That an audience of CBP agents and Medical Center staff observed her being probed compounded her feeling of degradation.
47. Still not satisfied, CBP and the Medical Center employees subjected Ms. Doe to yet another procedure.
48. Defendant Cabanillas, in consultation with Defendant Parsa, ordered a CT exam of Ms. Doe’s abdomen and pelvis. … According to medical records, the exam resulted in “[n]o . . . evidence of ingested radiopaque objects.”
49. After the CT scan, a CBP agent presented Ms. Doe with a choice: she could either sign a medical consent form, despite the fact that she had not consented, in which case CBP would pay for the cost of the searches; or if she refused to sign the consent form, she would be billed for the cost of the searches. She refused. The Medical Center consent form reflects that Ms. Doe withheld consent: “Refusal to Sign” is written in the patient signature line, a refusal witnessed by Jessica R.
50. Ms. Doe was released from custody without any charges at approximately 8:00 p.m., only after enduring roughly six hours of dehumanizing, invasive and degrading searches.
The searches conducted by Defendant CBP agents and the Doctors injured Ms. Doe physically, mentally and emotionally. Her labia, vaginal opening, and anus were left raw and sore and she felt violated, demeaned and powerless as a result of the searches.
As expected, the hospital billed her for “services rendered” to the tune of $5,000. Obviously, she is refusing to pay.
This is exactly the sort of thing that the 4th Amendment is designed to prevent. There is no case whatsoever that would warrant a “random” search of this nature. At no point did they have reasonable suspicion, probable cause, warrant, consent. They even claimed they didn’t need such things. They were just doing their jobs, following protocol, abiding by their policies, none of which have anything to do with the Constitution, and none of which even remotely resemble the characteristics a free country.