U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Laura Mireles, a U.S. citizen, had worked at the duty-free store near the Brownsville port of entry for several years. While driving home from work one day in November 2012, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent pulled her over and asked to search her car. Evidently Mireles got too close the guy, identified by court records only as "Agent Riano," when he started to look through her purse.
It's unclear why the agent would have considered Mireles any kind of threat. According to a lawsuit the ACLU of Texas would later file on her behalf, she has "visible malformations of her hands and feet," stands less than five feet tall and weighs about 100 pounds, roughly half the size of the CBP agent she encountered that day. Mireles claims the agent threw her to the floor with enough force to rip her jeans, pinned her to the ground with his full weight, and then handcuffed her wrists so tightly that, according to the lawsuit, "the fire department had to be called in to remove them." After nearly two hours in custody, Mireles was released without any charges. The next day, Mireles, who was pregnant, suffered unexpected vaginal bleeding. According to her lawsuit
, her gynecologist blamed the miscarriage on her encounter with the border agent the day before.
On Thursday, the ACLU of Texas announced that the feds have agreed to settle the lawsuit and will pay Mireles $85,000. It's the second time this year the feds have settled with someone over allegations of alarming abuse by guards along the Texas-Mexico border.
It was earlier this summer that the ACLU of Texas struck a record $475,000 settlement with the feds over the case of a New Mexico woman who was stopped at the El Paso port of entry and then subjected to a series of invasive searches that lasted for hours. According to her lawsuit, agents strip-searched the woman at the border station suspecting she had drugs. They found nothing after examining her genitals and anus with a flashlight, so they transported the woman (identified as Ms. Doe in court records) to a local hospital, where over the course of six hours agents forced her to undergo "an observed bowel movement, an X-ray, a speculum exam of her vagina, a bimanual vaginal and rectal exam, and a CT scan," all without her consent or a search warrant.
Civil liberties groups say these types of cases illustrate the kind of use-of-force issues that have accompanied the beefed-up law enforcement presence along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. One 2013 federal review
of the agency found that 63 percent of more than 1,000 complaints filed with the agency between 2007 and 2012 involved "possible excessive force." The ACLU says it only filed Mireles' lawsuit after CBP dismissed her official complaint to the agency.
“This is the second time this year we’ve had to explain to CBP what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to ‘securing the border’,” ACLU of Texas executive director Terri Burke said in a prepared statement Thursday. “Conducting searches at the border does not give law enforcement officers of any stripe a blank check to trample the Constitution, much less attack a 100-pound shopkeeper with a disability. Border security means nothing if residents of our border communities are not safe from the law enforcement officers who are sworn to protect and serve them.”