ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Advocates took action on two fronts Wednesday to push for better treatment of immigrants in federal custody, claiming they are having their belongings taken by U.S. agents and are languishing behind bars because of unfair bond conditions set by judges and others.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and other organizations filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Homeland Security alleging that Border Patrol agents have been seizing immigrants' property before deporting them to Mexico, in some cases to cities where they didn't know anyone.
It came the same day the ACLU of Southern California sued to demand deportation agents and immigration judges consider immigrants' ability to pay when setting bond to avoid jailing people solely because they are poor. Advocates contend that at least 100 immigrants are detained in the region each day despite being granted bond.
The cases were filed separately and follow heated rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail about how the country should treat immigrants and which ones should be allowed to stay.
Advocates in New Mexico said immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally were deported without their belongings in 26 cases and that the seizures put them in harm's way.
In one instance, Border Patrol agents detained a 23-year-old man from Chihuahua, Mexico, on a road near Antelope Wells, New Mexico, and forced him to sign a form abandoning rights to his belongings, the complaint said.
In another case, agents seized nearly $400 from a 23-year-old woman from Guerrero after detaining her near an international bridge in El Paso, Texas. The money, which was part of the woman's life savings, was never returned, advocates said.
"They are really eroding the rule of law at the border," said Kristin Greer Love, an attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico. "They are putting people at great vulnerability. Some are fleeing dangerous situations and are seeking asylum in the U.S."
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol, said it has a policy of safeguarding detainees' property and returning their belongings when they are deported. The agency will review the complaint, spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement.
"Any allegation of missing property will be thoroughly investigated," she said.
Christensen declined to comment on the lawsuit from the ACLU of Southern California. The group wants authorities to consider other kinds of bond or alternatives to detention so more immigrants can get out of jail.
The ACLU noted that immigration bonds must be paid in full with cash and that the Justice Department has encouraged criminal courts to weigh defendants' ability to pay when setting bond. Advocates want immigration courts to do the same.
The lawsuit cited the case of Honduran citizen Cesar Matias, who has been detained since 2012 despite having a $3,000 bond. Matias was taken into immigration custody after a drug conviction and is seeking asylum to avoid deportation to Honduras, where he previously was persecuted because he is gay, said Michael Kaufman, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.
"The purpose of bond is to assure someone's appearance in court. It is not mean to be an unreachable condition that is basically another way of ordering someone's detention," Kaufman said.
The ACLU is seeking class-action status in the lawsuit for immigrants held in the Los Angeles area, where authorities have bed space for nearly 3,000 detainees.
The suit was filed against the Justice Department, which oversees the country's immigration courts, and the Department of Homeland Security. The Justice Department also declined to comment.
Taxin reported from Los Angeles.
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras.
Follow Amy Taxin on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ataxin. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/amy-taxin.