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  • Border guards at Mexican-U.S. border

    Border guards at Mexican-U.S. border | Photo: Reuters

The record settlement highlights a pattern of unlawful searches on the U.S. border.

A Mexican-American has been awarded US$475,000 for traumatic cavity searches carried out by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in December 2012, according to a statement by the ACLU, which represented her.

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The woman, who is simply known as “Jane Doe” had received a settlement of US$1.1 million in 2014 from the hospital that, under CBP orders, had allegedly performed more invasive cavity searches.

Described as a middle-aged, married woman from Lovington, New Mexico, the U.S. citizen was returning from a routine trip to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico where she was visiting a close friend. While crossing on foot at the El Paso, Texas border, she was stopped for a random search by the CBP.

Edgar Saldivar, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, told Fusion that after a drug-sniffing dog jumped on her, she was searched, but nothing was found.

She was then send to a secondary inspection site, “where they did more invasive searches in her private areas, but did not find anything,” according to Saldivar.

Finally, not satisfied with the results, “they took her to the hospital for more extensive examinations,” Saldivar said.

At the University Medical Center of El Paso, the CBP requested further exams be carried out by the hospital staff. According to the ACLU, the plaintiff was given a laxative and her excrement analyzed. She was then given a CT scan and a vaginal and anal exam.

“Each examination turned out negative. They did this without a warrant and her verbal consent,” Saldivar added.

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The plaintiff was released, not charged and sent a hospital bill of more than US$5,000, which she refused to pay.

Saldivar said of the settlement, “I am not aware of any other case where CBP paid that much money for an unlawful search,” he said.

He concluded, “We definitely think this is part of a broader pattern of abuse that happens at the border. It’s over-militarized and there are some agents working there who act as if they are above the law. So we are hoping that this case brings attention to the need for greater reform, transparency and oversight.”

As part of the settlement, the ACLU sent out notices to over 100 hospitals along the border warning staff about the legal ramifications of carrying out searches without warrants ordered by the CBP.

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