A woman in New Mexico is suing Customs and Border Protection and an El Paso hospitalM, claiming that CBP agents subjected her to invasive body cavity searches on suspicion that she was smuggling drugs--and the hospital billed her for those searches.
The civil lawsuit against CBP and the University Medical Center of El Paso, where some of the cavity searches were performed, raises questions about what legal protections are available to people when crossing an increasingly militarized border.Read the complaint here and listen to the On the Media piece here. "Jane Doe's" complaint makes for horrifying reading. When she returned to the United States, she was randomly flagged for closer screening, and two female agents searched her--and in the process, felt her genitals and inside her buttocks. She was then told to stand in line, and when a drug-sniffing dog lunged at her, making agents think the dog had alerted on her. She was then strip-searched, during which agents again searched her body cavities and touched her genitals.
"Whether or not this reflects a pattern of practice [at CBP] is not yet clear," the woman's attorney, Laura Schauer Ives, told The Huffington Post. "But that the agents felt emboldened to do this, I think, is telling."
According to the complaint, which received renewed attention this past weekend after being featured on the public radio show "On the Media," the plaintiff is a 54-year-old woman from New Mexico who traveled to Ciudad Juárez in December 2012 to visit a close family friend who had been deported. The plaintiff, a U.S. citizen, asked the court to proceed anonymously due to the "highly personal and sensitive nature of the events."
Despite no contraband being found, Jane was handcuffed and taken to University Medical Center. Without obtaining her consent or a search warrant, agents and doctors forced her to have a bowel movement. No drugs. They then X-rayed her. Again, no contraband. Two doctors then examined her body cavities with the door to the examination room open. Again, no drugs. Then they forced her to undergo a CT scan. Again, no drugs. She was then told that unless she signed a consent form, she would be on the hook for the cost of the hospital's services. She refused--and was slapped with a $5,000 bill. Never mind that there was never any probable cause for these searches and that she never consented to such horribly invasive treatment.
According to the complaint, staffers at University Medical Center routinely help CBP agents conduct invasive cavity searches even though they aren't trained on the legal restrictions governing these searches. This is despite the fact that hospital policy doesn't allow these kinds of searches without either the patient's consent or a search warrant.
"Doe" is suing the the two doctors and four agents who took part in the search, as well as University Medical Center, the El Paso County Hospital District and its seven board members. To its credit, the hospital waived the bill after the suit was filed. CBP also says that it is cooperating with investigations into misconduct.
If this is even half true, everyone responsible for this must be fired, and possibly brought up on criminal charges.