BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) – Border Patrol agents ignored the tearful pleas and protected status of a single mother and forced her to return to Mexico, leaving her three children alone at their South Texas home, the mother says in a federal lawsuit.
Diocelina Lopez-Flores lives in Garciasville, Texas, a small unincorporated town near the Rio Grande, and she is well-acquainted with the region’s drug problems.
Two armed men broke into her house in January 2011, according to her May 10 lawsuit filed in Brownsville federal court.
“The men tied her up, gagged her, threatened to kill her, and held her at gunpoint. They did the same to three of her children, then ages eleven, ten, and five. They also set her car on fire and pushed it into the Rio Grande,” the complaint states.
Lopez-Flores says she reported the crimes to the Starr County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI, which investigated the men as part of a drug-smuggling ring.
“As a result, the FBI certified Ms. Lopez as a cooperating victim of the crimes of kidnapping and hostage taking, and Ms. Lopez was granted U nonimmigrant status,” the complaint states.
The government gives these U visas to domestic assault, rape and human trafficking victims who help police investigate the crimes.
“Since fiscal year 2009, the secretary of Homeland Security has granted over 140,000 U nonimmigrant visas to principal applicants and their family members,” the lawsuit states, citing stats from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Lopez-Flores and three of her children got their U visas in July 2013 and they’re good through July 15 of this year, she says.
But she says her protected status meant nothing to four U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in May 2015 when she went to pick up her 14-year-old daughter at the Rio Grande City Port of Entry.
The teen had run away to Camargo, a town just across the border in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and Lopez-Flores says she called a friend to drop the girl off at the entry port.
Lopez-Flores says she tried to reunite with her daughter at the port on May 12, 2015. She claims she explained the situation to the CBP agents and showed them her and her daughter’s work permits and immigration papers, but they refused to let Lopez-Flores’ daughter back into the country.
They allegedly detained Lopez-Flores and fingerprinted her, rejecting her clearly valid documentation, and told her they were going to deport her.
Lopez-Flores, a 47-year-old single mother of five, says she asked to see an immigration judge and the agents talked her out of it, claiming she would be jailed for up to six months then automatically deported by the judge and her daughter would be placed in custody of the Mexican government.
She broke down into tears, she says, begging the officers not to send her to Mexico away from her three minor children who depended on her as their only caretaker, but the agents coerced her into signing documents in English she did not understand and sent her packing.
Though Lopez-Flores returned to Texas 10 days later, she wants the agents held liable for the ordeal that has put her in constant fear of deportation.
“Even now that she has returned to the United States and remains in U nonimmigrant status, she is terrified that she may be removed again, severing ties with her children and complicating her legal status in the United States,” the complaint states.
Lopez-Flores wants punitive damages on constitutional claims of false arrest and due process violations. She is represented by Peter McGraw with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Edinburg, Texas.
The defendant CBP agents are Daniel Ibarra, Sergio Garcia, D.J. Gonzalez and “Agent Urbano.”
CBP doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Lopez-Flores’ claims add to a growing number of reports of immigrants being misled by officials at U.S. ports of entry.
President Donald Trump’s hard-line policies of detaining asylum seekers and deporting unauthorized immigrants with even minor criminal records has resulted in reports of CBP agents lying to groups of migrants who turn themselves in at ports of entry, telling them “there is no more asylum.”
But that practice preceded Trump, according to a letter the American Immigration Council sent to two Department of Homeland Security officials on Jan. 13.
The letter recounts the stories of several people who sought asylum at ports of entry in 2016 after their lives were threatened by gangs in El Salvador and Guatemala. They were turned away by CBP officials, according to the immigration council.
Asylum seekers are supposed to get a credible-fear exam for their claims, where an immigration agent interviews them about why they fear returning to their home countries.