A strip search at one of the El Paso points of entry from Mexico into the US has led a New Mexico woman to file a lawsuit after she was forced to undergo vaginal and anal exams.
The unidentified New Mexico woman, who is called Jane Doe in the suit, claims federal officials submitted her to the brutal and inhumane six-hours full-body cavity search, which included a vaginal and anal exam that made her feel like “an animal.”
The Lovington, New Mexico resident is also suing University Medical Center, where she was taken after being detained at the El Paso border crossing.
There she was forced to have an observed bowel movement, X-rays, vaginal exam, and a CT scan. None of which returned any evidence of drugs.
In the suit, the New Mexico woman says the hospital “violated her,” and then send her the $5,000 bill.
The lawsuit names the El Paso County Hospital District’s Board of Managers, University Medical Center, Dr. Michael Parsa and Dr. Christopher Cabanillas, two unidentified supervising US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, and two other CBP officers identified by their last names, Portillo and Herrera, as defendants.
In the complaint, the 54-year-old woman asks for an unspecified amount of money, and an end to the policy that gives federal agents and officers the authority to stick their fingers and objects up people’s cavities when they search for drugs.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Federal Court in El Paso on behalf of the woman who was stopped when she crossed the border from Mexico into the US at the Bridge of the Americas in 2012, according to the El Paso Times.
The lawsuit claims the woman was first stopped, frisked, and then strip-searched at the El Paso point-of-entry, where CBP officers stuck their fingers inside her rectum and vagina. After that search came up empty, she was taken to University Medical Center for further exams.
In a news release, ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Laura Schauer Ives said:
“These extreme and illegal searches deeply traumatized our client. The fact that our government treated an innocent 54-year-old woman with such brutality and inhumanity should outrage all Americans. We must ensure that government agents never put another person through a nightmare like this ever again.”
The CBP, in a statement, said it cannot comment on the pending case, but added:
“CBP stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission, and the overwhelming majority of CBP employees and officers perform their duties with honor and distinction, working tirelessly every day to keep our country safe. We do not tolerate corruption or abuse within our ranks, and we fully cooperate with any criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, on or off-duty.”
University Medical Center also declined comments stating,”Because this case involves litigation, UMC will not be commenting further.”
The alleged incident took place December 12, 2012, when the woman was entering the US via the El Paso border post after a regular visit to her “uncle.” She was told she was randomly selected for a secondary inspection.
Portillo and Herrera frisked her through her clothing, and one of the officers ran her finger over Jane Doe’s genitalia. The woman was then told to squat as one of the officers “inserted her finger in the crevice of Ms. Doe’s buttocks,” the lawsuit says.
After being singled out in a line-up when a drug sniffing dog allegedly stopped in front of her, the search later continued in another room where her anus and vagina was examined with a flashlight.
Jane Doe, who at this point was in tears, asked during the car ride to the hospital if the agents had a warrant to which they replied “they did not need a warrant.”
While handcuffed to the examination table, the woman was searched again by both officers and Cabanillas and Parsa. She was given a laxative and had a bowel movement in a portable toilet in front of both officers, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also says the door to the examining room was left open while a speculum was used to probe her vagina, and Parsa’s fingers were used to inspect both her vagina and rectum.
“Ms. Doe felt that she was being treated less than human, like an animal.” the lawsuit says.
All exams and tests done on the woman who entered the US at the El Paso crossing border were negative, and no evidence of drug smuggling was found, according to the lawsuit.