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Immigrants' rights groups allege harassment by Customs and Border Protection

Posted at 5:14 PM, Feb 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-28 20:59:58-05

SAN YSIDRO, Calif. (KGTV) - Several immigrants' rights groups allege harassment and one man says he was strip-searched by Customs and Border Protection agents.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the American Immigration Council filed a motion requesting more information from the U.S. government regarding the detention of the Director of Al Otro Lado, calling their acts retaliation for helping asylum seekers.

Hugo Castro, Director of Border Angels, Tijuana, spoke with 10News about his experience last December.

"I was sent to secondary for no reason," Castro said. He was in Mexicali for a doctor's appointment when he was detained by a CBP officer.

"The officer searched me, said I didn't have a weapon and was trying to grab me and I said hey, you don't need to grab me, just tell me what to do," He said the next 5 hours were unnerving. "They took my cellphone... after that they searched me, body search, and took off my shoes and look all around my, through my pants and underwear," he said looking at the ground.

Castro said he was interrogated about migrants and the immigration rights' group Al Otro Lado.

"You know, if I was part of the caravan the organizers. If we were paying migrants, if we were helping migrants to cross the border."

Castro said he explained to the officer he helps bring donations to nine shelters in Tijuana. Castro said he was detained for five and a half hours. He said he was detained again in January.

Founder of Border Angels Enrique Morones was livid after he heard of the harassment.

"What happened to Hugo Castro and James Cordero both border angels, is outrageous, is absolutely outrageous and they're not the only two, there's other people I know who have been in the same situation," he said.

SPLC, CCRT and the American Immigration Council claim alerts were placed on immigration lawyer's passports.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and the American Immigration Council filed a motion late last week seeking information regarding possible U.S. government harassment and retaliation against the leadership of the immigrants’ rights organization Al Otro Lado (AOL). Just days later, AOL Director of Litigation and Policy Erika Pinheiro was detained at the U.S.-Mexico border despite having a valid travel visa, due to an “alert” placed on her passport, presumably by the U.S. government. Attorneys filed new documents with the court yesterday. The motion for expedited discovery is part of an ongoing lawsuit, Al Otro Lado v. Nielsen, a challenge to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) policy and practice of turning back asylum seekers who present themselves at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. Earlier, over the course of just one week, both the Legal Director and the Litigation and Policy Director of AOL were deported from Mexico, despite having traveled there countless times before without incident. Mexican officials cited a passport alert placed on them by a “foreign government,” which AOL understandably believes is the United States. In addition, the Director of AOL’s Border Rights Project had her expedited border crossing clearance (SENTRI pass) revoked by CBP without explanation. The motion for expedited discovery seeks to determine whether the travel restrictions placed on the AOL directors, which impeded their access to their clients – the thousands of stranded migrants in need of humanitarian and legal assistance – was in retaliation for the organization’s participation in the ongoing lawsuit against the federal government and its advocacy on behalf of asylum seekers. Last week’s filing describes the humiliating treatment the AOL directors had experienced over the past month. One was detained with her seven-year-old daughter in a cell with no food or water for more than eight hours; another was denied entry to Mexico where her young child and partner were awaiting her return. These incidents and others were reported by several news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times (2/1/19and 2/11/19).
Center for Constitutional Rights

"We are bringing a positive impact to society on both sides of the border," said Castro, who said he hopes CBP realizes what they're trying to do.

10News has been reaching out to Customs and Border Protection for two weeks for a comment and have had no response.

"So they're trying to intimidate, the more that they intimidate the more active we're going to be," Morones said.