U.S. woman given body cavity searches at border settles
Albuquerque, N.M. — U.S. Customs and Border Protection agreed to pay $475,000 to a New Mexico woman who accused agents of forcing her to undergo body cavity probes and then got charged for the exams, civil liberties advocates said Thursday.
The settlement in the case, which drew national attention three years ago, also will require new training for hundreds of customs officers, American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in Texas and New Mexico said.
The woman, a 54-year-old U.S. citizen, was “brutally” searched by agents in December 2012 after a drug-sniffing dog jumped on her at an El Paso checkpoint, according to a 2013 lawsuit. The woman, who was not named, was returning from a visit with a recently deported family friend in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.
Agents strip-searched her and did cavity searches but found no evidence of drugs, court documents said.
The woman was transported in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, where she was subjected to an observed bowel movement, a CT scan and vaginal exams without a warrant, the lawsuit said. No drugs were found on the woman despite six hours of intrusive searches, the ACLU said.
The hospital then charged her $5,000 for the tests, her attorney said. University Medical Center settled with the woman for $1.1 million in 2014.
CBP officers are expected to “conduct their duties in a professional manner and to treat each traveler with dignity and respect,” according to the agency’s website. The website says agents “use diverse factors to refer individuals for targeted examinations.”
Customs and Border Protection officials were looking over the settlement agreement, spokesman Carlos Diaz said.
The four ACLU affiliates at the U.S.-Mexico border sent letters Thursday to 40 health care providers that cover 110 facilities detailing the rights and responsibilities of hospital personnel when confronted by federal agents who request body cavity searches.
“While we are pleased to have obtained justice for our client, this is really a victory for residents of border communities, who shouldn’t have to fear interactions with the thousands of border agents in their midst,” said Rebecca Robertson, ACLU of Texas legal and policy director.