Bordering on Criminal: The Routine Abuse of Migrants in the Removal System

Daniel E. Martínez, Ph.D. and Jeremy Slack, Ph.D.


December 10, 2013

This two-part series highlights the findings of the Migrant Border Crossing Study—a binational, multi-institution study of 1,110 randomly selected, recently repatriated migrants surveyed in six Mexican cities between 2009 and 2012. The study exposes widespread mistreatment of migrants at the hands of U.S. officials in the removal system.

Part I: Migrant Mistreatment While in U.S. Custody

This report focuses on the mistreatment of unauthorized migrants while in U.S. custody. Overall, we find that the physical and verbal mistreatment of migrants is not a random, sporadic occurrence but, rather, a systematic practice. One indication of this is that 11% of deportees report some form of physical abuse and 23% report verbal mistreatment while in U.S. custody—a finding that is supported by other academic studies and reports from non-governmental organizations. Another highly disturbing finding is that migrants often note they are the targets for nationalistic and racist remarks—something that in no way is integral to U.S. officials’ ability to function in an effective capacity on a day-to-day basis.

Part II: Possessions Taken and Not Returned

This report focuses on the issue of repatriated migrants’ belongings being taken and not returned by U.S. authorities. Overall, we find that the taking of belongings and the failure to return them is not a random, sporadic occurrence, but a systematic practice. One indication of this is that just over one-third of deportees report having belongings taken and not returned. Perhaps one of the most alarming findings is that, among deportees who were carrying Mexican identification cards, 1 out of every 4 had their card taken and not returned. The taking of possessions, particularly identity documents, can have serious consequences and is an expression of how dysfunctional the deportation system is. Our study finds that migrants processed through Operation Streamline, or held in detention for a week or longer, are most likely to have their possessions taken and not returned. 

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