Border Patrol, hospital face lawsuit over cavity searches

John Michaelson | Public News Service

A lawsuit has been filed against the University Medical Center of El Paso and a number of its doctors, along with Customs and Border Protection and several agents for alleged abuses against a U.S. citizen. Senior staff attorney Adriana Piñon, ACLU of Texas, said the 54- year-old woman was returning to the U.S. last year when she was strip-searched at a border checkpoint and then taken in handcuffs to the medical center, where doctors probed her against her will.

University Medical Center of El Paso and U-S Customs and Border Protection are among those named in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a woman who says she was subjected against her will to invasive searches, including rectal and vaginal probes. (Photo by Scazon, courtesy of Public News Service.)

University Medical Center of El Paso and U-S Customs and Border Protection are among those named in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a woman who says she was subjected against her will to invasive searches, including rectal and vaginal probes. (Photo by Scazon, courtesy of Public News Service.)

Read the complaint

“The search reached the most intimate bodily spaces a person has, and the search was unwarranted and is emblematic of the harms that are happening across the southern border,” Piñon said.

After six hours of fruitless searches, the woman was released with no criminal charges, although she was later billed $5,000 by University Medical Center in El Paso. UMC is not commenting, other than to say its policy is to obtain consent from all patients who receive medical services. The Border Patrol does not speak on pending litigation.This lawsuit is just the latest to target alleged abuses at the U.S./Mexico border. Piñon said ACLU brought the case so that no one ever has to go through a brutal and inhumane nightmare like this again.

“We are seeking to hold the local and federal officials accountable. It’s really, I think for us, important to underscore that securing the border has become an excuse for outright abandonment of constitutional principles that protect our privacy and our dignity,” Piñon said. “Enough is enough.”

She added that these types of cases show that better training is needed at Customs and Border Protection when it comes to use of force, which a recent report from the Office of the Inspector General also concluded.

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