Six lawsuits say Customs and Border Protection officers subjected women who were not found with any contraband to harsh interrogations and genital probing. The government has settled another half-dozen cases for $1.2 million.
Lawsuits in New York, California, Arizona, Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania charge that innocent women, including minor girls, who were not found with any contraband were subjected to harsh interrogations by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers that led to indignities that included unreasonable strip searches while menstruating to prohibited genital probing, reports the Center for Public Integrity. Some women were allegedly handcuffed and taken to hospitals where, against their will, they underwent pelvic exams, X-rays and in one case, drugging via IV. Invasive medical procedures require a detainee’s consent or a warrant. In two cases, women were billed for procedures.
Legal precedents grant federal officers at ports of entry the power, without warrants, to require people to strip for a “visual inspection” of genitals and rectums, and to submit to a “monitored bowel movement” to check for secreted drugs. At the same time, a CBP detention-and-search handbook instructs officers to record a solid justification for every single step beyond a frisk, and to respect detainees’ dignity and “freedom from unreasonable searches” and to “consider the totality of the circumstances … when making a decision to search.” The handbook also warns officers against engaging in what could be considered either a “visual or physical intrusion” into vaginal or anal cavities. The suits underscore criticism that accountability for officer conduct is too weak — at a time when President Trump is beefing up the ranks of CBP officers and urging tougher crackdowns at the border. Settlements show that the government has opted to close some cases before trials. Six suits have resulted in settlements that cost taxpayers more than $1.2 million in payments to plaintiffs. A Canadian traveler who sued lost a jury trial in 2013. Other cases continue to wind their way through the system.