From Hope to Heartbreak: The Disturbing Reality of Border Patrol's Confiscation of Migrants' Belongings

That was V*'s story and, unfortunately, her experience is not unique.

From Hope to Heartbreak highlights how immigration officials confiscate and fail to return the belongings of migrants when they are apprehended.

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These actions conflict with federal law and policy, unnecessarily cause migrants’ extreme hardship and distress, and can even be life-threatening. The trashing of people’s belongings also creates additional challenges for local governments and nonprofit organizations that work to assist migrants upon their release from Border Patrol custody.  

U.S. Border Patrol has confiscated and trashed:  

  • Medications and medical devices that migrants need to treat acute and chronic health conditions such as seizure disorders, high blood pressure, asthma, HIV, and diabetes. In some cases, young children have required emergency care after having their medications confiscated and not replaced.

  • Legal and identifying documents such as birth certificates, passports, national identification cards, medical records, and documentary evidence for asylum claims.
  • Religious garb and articles of faith such as turbans, hijabs, prayer rugs, bibles, rosaries.
  • Items of financial, practical, or sentimental value such as money, cellphones, clothing, jewelry, heirlooms, and even ashes of deceased family members.

Hundreds of cases have been reported in which personal belongings were confiscated by Border Patrol at the southern border. Our report highlights some of these stories from people like: 

  • Ignacio*, who was forced by a Border Patrol agent to throw away his father's ashes, who had passed away during their journey from Nicaragua to the U.S. southern border. 
  • Silva*, a mother of two, was detained at the border and forced to turn in her 5-year-old daughter's medications for epilepsy, which needed to be administered three times a day. The medications were then withheld by Border Patrol agents and only returned to Silvia until the late hours of the night when her daughter began convulsing.
  • Victoria*, who was forced to throw away important documents that explained her son's medical history and the life-saving procedures he needed by a Border Patrol agent, despite explaining multiple times why she needed to keep them in her possession.  
  • Jorge*, who had his Bible, phone, and school documents confiscated and was forced to sign documents saying he agreed to being deported without his possessions, even after voicing that he did not want to be deported due to fear for his safety in Mexico. 

*names changed for privacy and security purposes 

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In our report we outline what CBP and Border Patrol should do to address this issue. In summary, CBP must ensure consistency in Border Patrol’s approach towards migrants and respect for their personal belongings by: 

  • Allowing migrants to retain as many of their personal belongings as possible, prioritizing essential belongings – from the Border Patrol’s initial encounter with migrants to their release from U.S. government custody;
  • Ensuring that migrants in, and released from, its custody have continuous access to their medications or medical devices;
  • Ensuring that Border Patrol affords care and respect towards migrants’ religious garb and other articles of faith and that it complies with the legal protections guaranteed under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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We need your help to spread the word and create consciousness about this issue. Join our petition demanding that Border Patrol stop trashing migrants' cherished belongings. 

If you believe that people seeking refuge in our country deserve to be welcomed with dignity, join us by advocating for change! 

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