My Weekend on the US Border: CBP Gone Awry

This past weekend, as I have so many dozen times before, I entered the US with a group of  Mexican nationals with valid U.S. B1/B2 visas for the purpose of exploring various EB-5 Regional Centers in Southern Texas.  As always, I explained that the prospective investors all needed I-94s as we would be going further than 25 miles from the border.   As the officers processed the I-94s, one of the prospects, a former Mexican state official  (although he is not my client, I am omitting his name out of respect for his now-traumatized family), was taken behind the waiting room; an hour later we were advised that his visa was being cancelled and he would be allowed to return to Mexico.   Fair enough.  But over the course of next four hours, he was instead arrested, denied access to counsel after asking for political asylum, shackled, and unlawfully transported across the bridge into the waiting arms of the Mexican authorities…which CBP had directly notified.

For the past six months, since leaving public office, the individual in question has been one of numerous subjects of a politically-driven media campaign alleging misappropriation of public funds.  Aware of this issue in advance, I had specifically confirmed with his Mexican counsel before crossing into the US that there were no outstanding arrest warrants or convictions which could prevent his US entry…absence of any warrants or charges in Mexico was verified on the evening before into the U.S.  (Under Mexico, btw, as in the US, the law presumes a person innocent until proven guilty in a court of law via a fair trial.)  After our EB-5 visits in Southern Texas, the prospective EB-5 investor intended to continue his travel in the US to visit his child who is attending school in valid F-1 status, spending Father’s Day there.   I had been previously told that his  considering an EB-5 came at the behest of his family, increasingly concerned for his welfare and safety given the situation in Mexico.  With the endemic violence, kidnappings, and corrupt political persecution, which is sending thousands of Mexicans northward (and EB-5 lawyers like me southward), immigrating to the U.S. is a very attractive option.

After several heated exchanges where at one point a CBP Supervisor to my face flatly denied the man had even asked for political asylum(!), MY U.S. passport was demanded, taken and photocopied; our Mexican taxi driver was ordered out of the van, the vehicle was driven off without explanation by a CBP officer, and when it returned awhile later, our briefcases and computers had been rifled through and luggage was torn apart in a search that yielded nothing but EB-5 Regional Center marketing pamphlets.  As I desperately tried on my cell phone outside of the CBP office (on US soil) to find a local deportation attorney (since I know zero about deportation law) or reach the Port Director’s emergency contact number, I was stopped from using my phone three times by three different CBP officers brandishing large automatic weapons.  I asked them:

“Are you REALLY preventing a U.S. attorney from using a phone on U.S. soil outside of CBP offices??”

The answer, though unspoken, was a definitive “yes”, and after the third ICE actually cocked his rifle, I put the phone away.  I can honestly say that in 26 years of working as an immigration attorney in both the U.S. government and in private practice, I have never witnessed a more flagrant and shameless abuse of the US Constitution.  In fact, the only other time I’ve been threatened at gunpoint was in Africa in Equatorial Guinea…by their customs officers, ironically enough.

Our research over the past two days suggests that systematic disregard of the U.S. Constitution and immigration laws is endemic and SOP at certain US/Mexico Ports of Entry.  I will be filing a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice to insure that those responsible for what happened this weekend are held accountable.  I am asking all AILA members who know me, or who read II, or who care about this barbaric situation to please join me in pursuing an aggressive effort by AILA National to insure this abuse is handled at the highest level possible in Washington.  I know one particular person in Washington who, like me, lists Abraham Lincoln at the very top of his hero list, and if the President had witnessed these events the way he was able to witness the take down of Bin Laden, heads would be rolling at the U.S. side of the border.
Last week, btw, this same absolute disregard of U.S. federal law by CBP resulted in the death of a 22 year old woman illegally forced back into Mexico by U.S. border agents.  The victim, who had been subjected to abuse and had a restraining order against her boyfriend, had multiple options in terms of relief from the immigration courts.  Like my client, she was not given access to counsel despite pleading for asylum given her fears and forced out of the US within hours. The immigrant right groups pursuing the matter say CBP actions cost the victim her life, stating that  “the improper shortcut proved fatal for the mother of three.”  In AMERICA.  Hard to believe, right?  Not after my weekend.  See the full tragic story here:

Illegal CBP Deportation Gets 22 Year Old Woman Killed

If, on the one hand, our prospective EB-5 investor is unharmed and given a fair trial in Mexico (and irrespective of whether he is found innocent or guilty of financial irregularities), then CBP is accountable for policy violations, civil rights violations, and of violating the fundamental due process rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and those responsible should be held accountable.  In the recent case involving a border CBP officer who sexually assaulted a number of women, this is what the DOJ had to say:

“We will not tolerate law enforcement officers engaging in this behavior with institutionalized persons,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable individuals who abuse their position and authority in this manner.”

Let’s hope so.  Because if, on the other hand, this man, who has not been charged with any crime whatsoever, is physically harmed in Mexico, his blood will be on the hands of those U.S. officials who willfully said “the hell with the Constitution and Due Process” during this most ugly week on the border.