Media Contact

Edgar Hopida, ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, 619-913-0719,

July 7, 2020

SAN DIEGO – Today, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) and the ACLU Border Rights Center filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) calling for an end to the Border Patrol’s frequent practice of verbally abusing people in its custody. The ACLU also demands that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reform its complaint processes and publish clear guidelines governing disciplinary processes for offending officials.

“The Border Patrol exhibits a staggering culture of cruelty. Agents’ systematic mistreatment and dehumanization of vulnerable people is unacceptable,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, senior staff attorney for the ACLUF-SDIC. “There appear to be no functional internal oversight mechanisms within CBP to check abuses of power. A complete overhaul of the existing system is needed. At a time when people are demanding long overdue checks on law enforcement power, CBP – the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country – must not be forgotten.”

Between March and July 2019, ACLUF-SDIC staff interviewed more than 100 people soon after their release from CBP custody, documenting numerous disturbing accounts of abuse and mistreatment, including Border Patrol agents’ persistent verbal abuse of people in their custody.

People who were detained by Border Patrol told ACLUF-SDIC staff that agents routinely subjected them to egregious forms of verbal abuse, including bullying, harassment, threats of violence, denigration, ridicule, racism and misstatements about U.S. immigration law. Here are some of the things detained people said they were told by Border Patrol agents:

  • “Forget about asylum, we might just take away your daughter.”

Border Patrol agent to woman while interrogating her about why she came to the United States.  

  • “Get out of here, what are you doing here if you don’t even speak English, you are worthless.”

Border Patrol agent to woman and her family upon apprehension.  

  • “I am treating you the way illegals should be treated!”

Border Patrol agent to mother of teenage girl who stood up for her daughter after agent ridiculed her and told agent to “stop yelling at us.”  

These instances of bullying and other verbal abuses are especially concerning given that many migrants have already endured significant trauma in fleeing their countries of origin to escape persecution and further trauma en route to the United States,” Ebadolahi said. “For these individuals, immigration detention exacerbates pre-existing trauma and can cause long-term harm to their physical and mental wellbeing.”

Today’s administrative complaint is the fourth and last in the series the ACLU has filed with the DHS OIG since January 2020, based on the interviews ACLU staff conducted last year with people recently released from CBP custody.

In January, the ACLU filed its first complaint related to the mistreatment of pregnant people. In February, the ACLU filed its second complaint addressing CBP’s mistreatment of sick children. In April, the ACLU filed its third complaint regarding family separation in CBP custody and calling on CBP to implement a detainee locator system.

In all four complaints, the ACLU’s priority recommendation is that no individual be held in CBP or Border Patrol detention facilities longer than the time required for initial processing – which in no case should exceed 12 hours.

A copy of this press release and the complaint can be viewed here: