Mexican Mother of U.S. Citizens Says CBP Officers Harassed and Handcuffed Her

Last week, Latino Rebels received the following email to our general inbox. The subject line said, “Hi, I need help.” The email’s first sentence read, “This happened to my friend’s mother, we want people to know.”


After some back and forth with the person who sent the email, we decided to publish the entire email:

On Monday March 30th of this year (2015) at around 8:00 PM, my mother went to the Garita de Otay [Otay Border Crossing] in Tijuana, Mexico, to apply for permission to travel, since she would be going go to SIX FLAGS Saturday April 4th. Once with the officer, this person would not remain silent, and just check the computer. My mother noticed people with other officers finished quicker, so she asked the officer if there had been any “problems.”

The officer asked where she was going, she said that on Saturday she would go to Six Flags, that she just wanted to get the permit. He then asked where my father was, where he worked, if the person who was with her was her daughter, and lastly he asked why she had never said she had two daughters when requesting her Visa. She told him the computer had to say she had two daughters, as for the past 7 years she had been crossing my sister and I to get to school in San Diego (my sister and I are both U.S. Citizens).

He asked where her daughters were now, and my mother replied that I am currently living in San Francisco, attending San Francisco State University, while my younger sister studies at UABC Tijuana, because they both live in Tijuana. He insisted on asking where my father was, and my mother then told them they were separated; it is since last September that we know absolutely nothing of him.

The officer then asked my mother who supported her financially, and she replied that my father had given us money and she had savings in the bank. The officer asked my mother to check her wallet, and since she had nothing to hide, she allowed so. In her wallet my mother had her Mexican IDs, driver’s license, her bank’s card, the bills and 27 dollars along with 150 pesos. After seeing the $27 and 150 pesos, the officer laughed, asking my mother if that was the only money she had.

The officer left and came back with the supervisor, who with a condescending tone said to my mother, “Madam, will be taking your VISA.” After asking her why, the supervisor stated my mother had lied when saying she had said my father and she were divorced and that he didn’t work, and that she had “denied my sister and I when applying for a Visa.”

My mother asked the supervisor to tell her when she said that my father and her were divorced and the supervisor screamed that she was lying, that she needed to show her how she supported herself. My sister had just gotten paid that day, so my mother showed the supervisor my sister’s checks as proof and said, “There, my daughter supports me.”

Then the supervisor said, “She has no obligation to support you.”  So then the supervisor went ahead and called another officer and asked him in English to arrest hee. My mother, surprised began to asked why she was being arrested, if she had done anything wrong. Then she was immobilized as if she was trying to escape; the officers put her hands behind her back and then handcuffed her. My sister, who is 18 years old stood up terrified and began crying like a little child. My mother looked at the supervisor and told her, “Look at how my daughter is, and all because I have no proof of who supports me?!”

They took my mother to another room handcuffed, where they took off her jacket, emptied her bag and put everything inside on the table, and again, laughed at the $27 that she had with her.

“Where is the rest of the money?” they kept asking, laughing.

This had never happened to her for getting a permit. The supervisor laughed and said, “I am the supervisor, complain to me.” My mother felt rage, helplessness and impotence. She asked again for the names of both of them, and again, laughing, the supervisor said they would appear in the papers once she returned my mother to Mexico. Still laughing, the supervision turned around and left. This happened around 9:00 PM.

My mother suffers from two conditions: fibromyalgia and spondylitis. Both conditions affect my mother’s bones. When it’s cold, her bones become extremely weak and begin hurting, which is why my mother asked the officers to give her jacket back since it was cold and her bones began hurting. The officers ignored my mother. Two hours later, officers brought in another woman, arrested for drug possession. They searched her, took her pictures and fingerprints just like they did to my mother, as if my mother had done a crime like such. After my mother asked why they were treating her like a criminal, the supervisor stated that she had the power of taking her Visa if she wanted to, and that my mother better calm down or she would be staying the whole night. My mother, angry now, asked where my sister was. The officer told her that my sister needed to call someone to pick them up. When my mother asked the supervisor to let her make the call, the supervisor laughed and said, “She will make it when I say she can.”

My mother began to feel very anxious, so she asked for a glass of water and her jacket, because she needed it, she began feeling sick. My mother put her head between her legs, like she had been taught in the hospital, whenever she felt anxious. Officers just laughed and told her to keep her head up. Supervisor told my mother it was a rule to remove it [the jacket] and that my mom had to stay without it in case she had something in it. I guess the supervisor then saw my mother’s face and body and asked her if she suffered from any conditions or illnesses.

My mother said yes, but not knowing how to say them in English said them in Spanish. The officers asked her to speak English, and my mother told them to just translate them. My mother then told them that if anything happened to her or my sister for the humiliation they were putting them through she would sue the. The supervisor, again, just laughed.

It was now 1:00 AM, my mother asked the officer to please allow her to call someone to come get them, and she was again ignored.

The officer from the beginning then returned, saying my mother’s story had contradictions. It was in 2012 that the process of my mother’s green card was stopped because of an issue with my father, who we know nothing of as of today. My mother asked the officer to give her his name, that she would sue him for lying since the beginning. He then covered his name on the paper he was showing my mother and told her she had to sue the corporation, that she couldn’t sue him. He just looked at my mom and told her to sign the papers. After my mother telling him she would not sign anything, he claimed that if she didn’t he would make sure to deport her, to walk her back arrested to Mexico, and make sure that for five years she could not come back.

Then, another officer said in English, thinking my mother wouldn’t understand because she can’t speak English very well, “This woman thinks she is U.S.”

My mother turned in anger and said she understood what they meant. The officer then said that he meant that she think she is “U.S,” because that’s how people in the border are. The officer said that these people think they have rights, but guess what, they live on the other side, not here. The officer said that they are here to as they please and that my mother “better calm down.”

My sister asserts that she heard another officer standing close to her say to another officer laughing that she better wait for her to tell her about my mother. Both officers laughed. My mother then exclaimed in anger that they would not silence her, that she had just as many rights as them. The officer now became bothered and threatened my mother telling her they would keep her there until 6:00 AM for being “disrespectful,” but really, what respect had they shown to my ill mother? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

My mother then began to feel nauseous and dizzy, so she began breathing heavily and try to grasp air. The officers began to laugh and say, “Classic acting, classic acting, madam.”

My mother was sick. My mother was just asking for a permit to go to Six Flags, but she was treated as a criminal, as an animal. My mother was laughed at, mocked and ignored because she lived “on the other side” and had no rights. My mother never gave the officers the satisfaction of seeing her cry and break down in front of them, but once she got home, she cried the whole night. I will not rest until something is done, although nothing will ever make up for the humiliation, the crying of my sister and my own ill mother.

The author of the email has informed us that the woman and their daughters do not want to reveal their identities, but the author did say that both the mother and one of her daughters was at the Otay facility on March 30. When we reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for comment and question about the allegations, a spokesperson wrote the following to our founder:

While we are not at liberty to discuss an individual’s processing due to the Privacy Act, our CBP officers are charged with enforcing not only immigration and customs laws, but they also enforce over 400 laws for 40 other agencies and have stopped thousands of violators of U.S. law.

As the agency charged with determining admissibility of aliens at ports of entry, under U.S. immigration law [Section 291 of the INA [8 USC 1361] applicants for admission bear the burden of proof to establish that they are clearly eligible to enter the United States. In order to demonstrate that they are admissible, the applicant must overcome ALL grounds of inadmissibility.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) broadly governs the admissibility and inadmissibility of aliens into the United States. INA § 212(a) lists more than 60 grounds of inadmissibility divided into several major categories, including health-related grounds, criminality, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) takes allegations of unprofessional behavior seriously. At the border crossing, travelers can ask to speak with a supervisor if they feel that they have been mistreated or treated unprofessionally. If they prefer to report the experience later, or to do so anonymously, they can visit online and click on the “Submit a Complaint” button. We have established a uniform system for handling allegations of misconduct, including taking firm and appropriate action to correct the situation if the allegation is substantiated.

Before the CBP spokesperson issued that statement via email, she had indicated in a previous email that she cannot research the allegations since Latino Rebels would not provide a name of the person making the allegations or that person’s date of birth. When our founder asked the CBP spokesperson about the last name of an officer whom the mother’s daughter claims was at Otay, CBP said that there is no officer with that name. As a follow-up, when our founder asked if there is a report of a March 30 incident that would meet the description of the email Latino Rebels received last week, the CBP spokesperson sent us the above statement.