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Accounts of migrants’ documents being confiscated by border officials prompt federal review

The federal authorities is reviewing inner practices concerning the return of migrants’ property amid reviews from migrants who stated their passports, start certificates and different personal documents had been confiscated and never returned by Border Patrol, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) advised CBS News.

The division confirmed the review when requested to answer accounts from migrants who advised “60 Minutes” that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials alongside the U.S.-Mexico border stored their documents, regardless of company coverage instructing brokers to return migrants’ personal property except they’re fraudulent.

“CBP and [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] are reviewing their policies and practices to ensure that, once a migrant is released from their custody, their documents are returned to the migrant absent a security or law enforcement reason,” DHS stated in its assertion.

In a narrative Sunday on the tens of 1000’s of migrants who’ve arrived in New York City over the previous few months, “60 Minutes” reported that every one however 4 of 16 not too long ago interviewed Venezuelan migrants stated Border Patrol didn’t return personal documents earlier than releasing them. Attorneys, educators, case employees and volunteers in New York advised “60 Minutes” that the issue is widespread, citing conversations with dozens of migrants.

The migrants’ accounts additionally prompted Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson, Joaquin Castro, Raúl Grijalva and Nanette Barragán to ask the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, to “conduct a review” of CBP’s “activities, policies, and procedures regarding the handling of personal property belonging to individuals in its custody.”

“Media outlets and other organizations have reported concerns about Border Patrol agents confiscating asylum seekers’ religious headwear as well as not returning or improperly discarding personal property belonging to apprehended individuals along the southwest border,” the lawmakers stated in their request on Friday.

In August, CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus introduced an investigation into allegations raised by the American Civil Liberties Union that dozens of Sikh migrants had their turbans seized and never returned by Border Patrol brokers alongside the Arizona border.

Border Patrol, an company overseen by CBP, is accountable for apprehending, processing and vetting migrants who enter the U.S. illegally. It usually holds migrants and asylum-seekers in jail-like stations or tent services for a brief interval of time earlier than deporting them, transferring them to a different company or releasing them.

A 2015 CBP policy that continues to be in impact requires the personal property of detained migrants to be “safeguarded” if it isn’t decided to be contraband and instructs brokers to “make every effort” to switch stated property with detainees when they’re transferred, deported or launched.

The coverage additionally says that migrants’ documents “must be returned to the detainee upon release, removal of repatriation or maintained in the detainees’ personal property,” except they’re deemed to be fraudulent. But most of the migrants interviewed by “60 Minutes” stated Border Patrol didn’t observe these insurance policies. 

Beberlyn, 33, a migrant from Venezuela who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year, stated Border Patrol brokers stored a number of of her household’s personal documents, together with their passports, Venezuelan identification playing cards, her kids’s start certificates and her husband’s drivers license.

“They took them from me. Immigration took them from me,” stated Beberlyn, who’s now dwelling in a New York City shelter together with her husband, 15-year-old nephew, 12-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.

Like different migrants, Beberlyn stated border brokers advised her they’d obtain their documents throughout their  immigration courtroom listening to. But her household has but to obtain a courtroom appointment, and attorneys stated it is unlikely that documents confiscated alongside the southern border will likely be transferred to courts throughout the U.S.

“I do need them,” Beberlyn stated concerning the documents. Her surname is being withheld because of her pending immigration case. “Passports are very important here. To open an account, to identify yourself, and I don’t have that document. I don’t have the children’s birth records because they took them from me. That makes me feel terrible.”

Theresa Cardinal Brown, a former DHS immigration official throughout the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, stated Border Patrol’s reported failure to stick to its documents return coverage may stem from the hovering quantity of migrants the company has needed to course of over the previous year.

Federal officials alongside the southern border stopped migrants over 2.3 million occasions in fiscal year 2022, a 12-month span that ended on Sept. 30, CBP statistics present. The determine, a document excessive, consists of over 1 million expulsions of migrants processed beneath a public well being order that bars them from requesting asylum.

“I think that’s in large part because of just the number of people, and the volume, and how quickly CBP is trying to basically get them out of their custody,” stated Cardinal Brown, the director for immigration and cross-border coverage on the Bipartisan Policy Center. “They’re not probably taking the care that they should.”

Cardinal Brown stated the development is “problematic” for everybody: “It’s problematic the government’s not abiding by its own policies. It’s problematic for the migrants because if they are losing documents that could help them prove that asylum case, that’s going to make it harder for them to do that in court.”

Maria, one other Venezuelan migrant dwelling in a New York City shelter together with her household, stated Border Patrol brokers did not return her kids’s start certificates and vaccine data, in addition to her and her husband’s passports and identification playing cards. She requested for her surname to be omitted, citing her pending case.

During a current check-in appointment on the ICE office in Manhattan, Maria stated she was advised their documents had been nonetheless in Texas when she requested about their whereabouts. She stated her 1-year-old daughter’s vaccination has been delayed since they longer have data displaying what photographs she has acquired and when.

Maria stated she was additionally advised her household’s documents could be returned in immigration courtroom, however she doesn’t suppose she’ll see them once more. 

“I haven’t heard anyone say that they got their documents back,” she added.

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