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Shakedown - How Deportation Robs Immigrants of Their Money & Belongings, No More Deaths, 2014

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S H A K E D OW N

HOW DEPOR TATION R OBS IMMIGRA NTS OF THEIR MONEY AND B EL ONGI NGS

Dispossession by deportation, and the scope of the suffering it
creates, is largely invisible inside the United States. It affects a
marginalized, hyper-criminalized population, and its consequences
are felt mainly after deportation to another country.

N O MO R E DE ATHS
N O MÁS MUE RTE S
2014

1

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

3
Glossary
5
Executive Summary
9
Introduction
15
Methodology
17
Demographics

18
SECTION ONE

Dispossession Practices
19
Part One
Failure to Return Belongings and Money Upon Deportation
26
Part Two
Cash Returned in Forms Difficult or Impossible to Use Internationally
34
Part Three
Cash Stolen by U.S. Agents

37
SECTION TWO

Catastrophic Consequences
What Does it Mean to be Deported Without Money or Belongings?

42
SECTION THREE
Who Profits?
Following the Money Trail

44
SECTION FOUR

Conclusions and Recommendations
46
Endnotes
48
Acknowledgments

2

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

G L O S S A RY
()   I 
N A

Under this section of the Immigration and Nationality
Act, the federal government is authorized to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies which
allow local law enforcement officers to identify, process, and
detain undocumented individuals during regular, daily lawenforcement activities.

A T E P (ATEP)

Beginning in 2008, ATEP became a U.S. Deportation
strategy whereby migrants are returned to border regions of
Mexico far from their initial place of apprehension. The goal
of this strategy is to discourage border crossing by geographically separating people from the place they initially crossed
and any coyotes they may have met there. The human cost
of separating families upon deportation and sending them to
places they do not know is tremendous.

T B D 
A P  M’
N B I/
P  D  I
B (PDIB)

This documentation and advocacy group is made up of many
organizations that work in the following locations in Northern
Mexico: Baja California, Agua Prieta, and Ciudad Juarez.

B P (BP)

The Border Patrol is responsible for apprehensions and
custody of individuals perceived to be in violation of immigration law along the border.

C C 
A (CCA)

The largest private corrections company in the United
States. This company manages more than 67 facilities in the
United States for a profit. They are notorious for poor treatment of detainees, refusal to allow oversight, substantial falsification of records, and intensive lobbying.

C A R (CAR)

Criminal Alien Requirement refers to for-profit prisons
that are reserved for low-security non-US citizens in Federal
Bureau of Prison custody. These facilities have to comply with
BOP policies in only a few areas and can therefore develop
their own harmful and substandard treatment policies.

3

(U.S.) C  B
P (CBP)

A division of the Department of Homeland Security, the
U.S. Customs and Border Protection houses the Border Patrol and is the largest federal law enforcement agency in the
country.

D  C (DOC)

A governmental agency responsible for the operation of the
state prison and parole system. Not all state prisons are operated by the state Department of Corrections. Many state
prisons are privately operated by businesses such as The
GEO Group or CCA.

D  H S
(DHS)

Created by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Department of Homeland Security began operations in 2003.
One of its primary responsibilities is the implementation and
enforcement of immigration laws and policies. DHS oversees
the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

(U.S.) D  J (DOJ)

A U.S. federal department responsible for the enforcement of law and administration of justice. The United States
Marshals, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Office of Inspector
General are all agencies within the Department of Justice.

D

The administrative process of removing a person from the
U.S. who is not a U.S. citizen and who does not have legal
status to be in the U.S. The formal term for deportation was
changed to “removal” under the Illegal Immigration Reform
and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

D M R C

Binational humanitarian projects that provide aid to migrants as the U.S. Border Patrol repatriates them near the
Naco and Agua Prieta ports of entry.

D

Depriving someone of something they own. In this report,
the systematic failure to return money and belongings.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

N M D/N M M
E

Obtaining money through force or threats. For individuals
who have been deported, extortion is a major occurrence that
happens to them and their families.
A common example of extortion is a family receiving a
phone call demanding money for the safe return of a kidnapped family member.

F B  P (BOP)

A subdivision of the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for the administration of the federal prison system. The
Federal Bureau of Prisons has custody of an undocumented
individual when that person has been convicted of violating
a federal law (including illegal re-entry), is awaiting trial for
federal charges, or is a pre-trial detainee for ICE.

GEO G

Previously known as the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, the GEO Group is an international company that
privately and for a profit manages 96 facilities worldwide.
They manage prisons of all security levels and immigration
detention centers. They are notorious for poor treatment of
detainees.

I  C
E (ICE)

A division of DHS, ICE enforces immigration law within
the interior of the U.S. Responsibilities include apprehension, detention, and removal of undocumented immigrants.

I S
A (IGSA) F

Jails, prisons, and other local or state government facilities
with immigrant detention beds designated through agreements between federal and state or local governments. These
facilities are government owned, but may be operated by either local or state agencies or by a private company.

K B I/I
K   

The Kino Border Initiative is a binational organization that
works in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora to promote
US/Mexico border and immigration policies that affirm the
dignity of the human person. In addition to research and advocacy, they run a soup kitchen and shelter in Nogales, Sonora.

M  T
C (MTC)

A company that manages for-profit prisons. MTC manages 22 facilities in 8 states.

4

No More Deaths is a humanitarian aid organization based
in southern Arizona whose mission is to end death and suffering in the US/Mexico borderlands. No More Deaths operates on the premise of civil initiative: the conviction that
people of conscience must work openly and in the community to uphold fundamental human rights. No More Deaths
provides direct humanitarian aid in the Arizona desert, at a
migrant resource center in Nogales, Sonora, and among the
community in Southern Arizona.

NUMI F

A for-profit prepaid debit card company that specializes
in disbursing money to released inmates. The user of these
cards incurs high service fees and weekly operating fees that
go back to NUMI Financial.

O  C R  C
L (OCRCL  CRCL)

Within the Department of Homeland Security, OCRCL is
charged with advising DHS on civil rights and civil liberties
issues and investigating complaints.

R

See “deportation”

R

The physical act of returning migrants without legal status
to their countries of origin. Many of the migrants served at
the Border Aid Station and Migrant Resource Centers, and
in Border Patrol custody have signed a ‘voluntary removal’ or
‘voluntary departure’ form and are repatriated. This is a civil
procedure, rather than a criminal one. For the purposes of
this report, ‘repatriation’ and ‘deportation’ are often used interchangeably.

S C (SCOMM)

A deportation program created in 2008 which operates
through a federal information-sharing partnership between local law enforcement, ICE, and the Federal Bureau
of Investigations (FBI) to identify deportable individuals
in their databases.

U  A

The University of Arizona is a state university that has released multiple reports in 2013 on abuses people experience
upon deportation. These reports include ‘In the Shadow of
the Wall’ and ‘Bordering on Criminal: The Routine Abuse of
Migrants in the Removal System’.

U.S. M S (USMS)

A federal law enforcement agency within the Department
of Justice. The U.S. Marshals Service is in charge of transporting prisoners and pre-trial detainees in the United States.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

S H A K E D OW N

HOW DEPOR TATION R OBS IMMIGRA NTS OF THEIR MONEY AND B EL ONGI NGS

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

As of 2013 the Obama Administration has deported 1.9
million people from the United States, many of whom did not
get back their personal property- including money- that they
were detained with or that they were allowed to receive while
in detention.1 34% of deportees interviewed by the University
of Arizona reported that they did not get back at least one item
of their belongings.2 This mass failure to return money and
belongings affects both people detained by the Border Patrol
while crossing the US/Mexico Border, and undocumented individuals detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) anywhere in the U.S.
Though the indicated scale of dispossession is shocking,
no large figure can illustrate the daily impacts of this abusive practice. The failure to return money and belongings is
a dangerous human rights violation that is not acceptable on
any level.
Dispossession by deportation, and the scope of the suffering
it creates, is largely invisible inside the United States. It affects
a marginalized, hyper-criminalized population, and its consequences are felt mainly after deportation to another country.
As our documentation shows, the property lost is at once
humble and substantial. For the most part, the money lost
was under $100 USD per person. These are the personal effects of ordinary working people, however, for whom $80 in
their pocket, or no longer in their pocket, may represent both
a week’s pay and a ticket to safety in the country to which
they are deported. The impact is not only monetary: largescale loss of IDs, clothing, cell phones, and personal tokens
such as wedding rings and family photos also takes a heavy
toll on people’s safety and psyche. Being deported without
money and belongings makes people vulnerable to further
exploitation and abuse. Recovery of the withheld property is
sometimes belatedly possible through the assistance of a humanitarian organization or one’s consulate but never without
effort, time, and much uncertainty.

5

D  D

“Shakedown” provides a detailed account of why and how
immigrants’ belongings and money are not returned upon
deportation and advocates for specific remedies. We present data based on 1,481 cases handled by No More Deaths’
Property Recovery Assistance Project, which helps people
recover personal property after being detained in Arizona,
from 2011 to 2014; and on 165 interviews with immigrants
deported without some or all of their money from 2013 to
2014. We recount stories of money that disappeared from
belongings or that was stolen by U.S. agents in plain sight,
money deposited into prison accounts that never arrived or
from prison labor that was never paid, and money that was
returned in forms unusable after deportation such as money
orders, prepaid debit cards, and personal checks.
We found that dispossession occurred through three main
mechanisms:
• Complete failure to return money and belongings;
• Cash returned in forms difficult or impossible to use internationally; and
• Money directly stolen by agents.
Our key findings include:
• From 2013 to 2014 No More Deaths documented intervention for 165 money-specific cases in which 59% were
helped to recover some or all of their lost funds. Out of the
$37,025 that was reported lost or unusable, $12,851 was recovered, while $24,174 was lost for good.
• From 2011 to 2014 No More Deaths responded to 1,481
requests for property-recovery help from people who had
been deported or were awaiting deportation. We physically
handled 884 deportees’ personal effects recovered from the
U.S. Border Patrol alone.
• For property subject to the Border Patrol’s standard policy of destruction after 30 days, our Property Recovery Assistance Project (PRAP) rate of successful recovery is only 22%;

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

“When I was detained, Border Patrol threw my necklaces and belt in
the trash yelling ‘esto va a la basura.’3 They put my cell phone and Birth
Certificate in a bag and said they’d hold on to it for me. I asked for it
from ICE when I was being deported and they told me, ‘You don’t have
anything!’ I showed them a slip with the items listed and they said, ‘Border
Patrol has that, not us,’ and told me there was nothing they could do.”
– Yolanda, April 2014, Tijuana, Mexico

the rate falls to 12% if the person was subject to criminal
prosecution and then initiated their property-recovery effort
after deportation.
• Based on a sample of personal effects recovered from Border Patrol, detainees have on average the equivalent of $38.14
in Mexican currency; 60% have one or more foreign-government-issued IDs; and 52% have a cell phone. These are the
items that make a crucial difference for their safety and wellbeing at the moment of deportation and afterwards.
• As a result of being deported without access to their money, 81% of those asked reported that they could not afford to
travel home, 77% could not afford food, 69% could not afford
shelter, 64% lost time, and 53% were exposed to danger.

F  R B U
D

The scale of this failure to return belongings has escalated
since 2005, when the U.S. Border Patrol first instituted Operation Streamline, a daily court hearing in which migrants
detained near the border plea en masse to criminal charges of
illegal entry or re-entry. Streamline sentences for illegal entry
have an average of 30 days.4 Federal courts in general that
are prosecuting migrants for illegal re-entry have an average
sentence of 19 months.5 When a migrant receives a prison
sentence, they are transferred to U.S. Marshals Service custody to be imprisoned, and most of their belongings are not
allowed to accompany them. These belongings remain at the
Border Patrol station where they were first held. U.S. dollars follow people into “inmate accounts” at the prisons, but
foreign currency is not accepted. Therefore pesos (and any
other money not in USD) stay with belongings. Border Patrol summarily destroys these belongings after 30 days from
the date of arrest. Many migrants, however, receive sentences
of more than 30 days, resulting in the de facto loss of all of
their belongings, including money in pesos.

6

The Tucson Sector Border Patrol has a unique policy in
which the belongings are held for 30 days after the date of
release rather than 30 days after the date of arrest. As a result, their headquarters has six shipping containers full of
belongings just for individuals who faced Operation Streamline prosecutions. While this policy is an improvement over
the norm, it fails to go far enough to guarantee the return of
belongings. Many migrants prosecuted through Operation
Streamline serve their sentence outside of Arizona, and are
eventually deported far from the Border Patrol station holding their belongings. They may or may not know that they are
able to make a request for their belongings through the Mexican Consulate or with the aid of non-profits such as No More
Deaths, but either way they are left without their belongings
when they need them most: at the moment of deportation
to an unfamiliar and likely dangerous border town. At that
point, months will pass before they are reunited with their
belongings, if they are able to be recovered at all.

M R  F
D  I  U
I

Many people have their money returned in a form that is
difficult or impossible to use in the country to which they
are deported. If someone was carrying cash when they were
detained or if their family sent them money in prison, that
money is often returned by the prison in the form of a personal check or a prepaid debit card. This situation often occurs
when an immigrant is detained in the interior of the U.S. and
then transferred from a local jail or prison into ICE custody.
64% of the money cases documented in our survey (106 out
of 165) involved personal checks or money orders that could
not be cashed in Mexico. Both personal checks and money
orders are intended to be domestic financial instruments, not
for international use. Mexican banks will not accept them,

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

and money exchange facilities on the border generally do not
change them (although a few will do so at an exorbitant exchange rate of 25% or more). The only real option immigrants
have with these checks is having them cashed by someone
inside the U.S. by depositing them into their personal bank
account and hoping that the money is eventually returned.
This option comes with a new set of barriers and an elevated
risk of being exploited and robbed. We often meet deported
immigrants who have already ripped-up their checks because
they believe they are completely useless.
Prepaid Visa and Mastercard debit cards are also a common form for returning detainees’ money, particularly from
county jails. 12% of the money-specific cases documented
in our survey (19 out of 165) involved prepaid debit cards.
These cards are difficult to cash outside of the U.S. because
activation of the card almost always requires calling a 1-800number. Unlike regular long distance numbers in the U.S.,
1-800-numbers cannot be dialed internationally even with a
calling card. If individuals can manage to activate the card,
many are confused about their PIN, but to access customer
service and change a PIN they must enter a social security
number, which people who have been deported do not have.
Once the cardholder has an activated card and a functional
PIN, funds can be withdrawn from ATMs or used to make
purchases. Both of these methods incur exorbitant international fees and result in money left on cards that cannot be
accessed because ATMs can only accept withdrawals in 100
peso increments, and purchases rarely use the card’s exact total, leaving a quantity unclaimed.

D T  A

In addition to rampant institutional theft, detainees are
at risk of direct and individual theft throughout the entire
process of apprehension, transfer, prosecution, detention, and
deportation. Theft by U.S. Agents accounted for 5% (8 out of
165) of money-specific cases. The stories of stolen money in
“Shakedown” reveal that migrants are being robbed throughout their chain of custody. In the cases of theft we documented, four separate agencies were implicated: Customs and Border Protection; Tempe Police Department; U.S. Marshals
Service; and the Maricopa County Sheriff ’s Office.

W P F  M
T

Where do the money and belongings end up? While there
is no simple answer, we have uncovered multiple destinations
which reveal who profits off these abusive practices. When
Department of Homeland Security protocols are followed,
much of the money goes to a CBP suspense account then
eventually ends up in the U.S. Treasury fund. Many others
also siphon money along the way including MoneyGram,
prison profiteers such as prepaid debit card companies like
NUMI Financial, and individual agents, as illustrated by
cases of direct theft.

7

For those apprehended near the border, their belongings
stay behind with Border Patrol and are destroyed 30 days after
detention in most locations. Property with commercial value
is supposed to be sold, with profits put into a suspense account then later sent to the U.S. Treasury if still unclaimed.

C C

No More Deaths chose to highlight the issue of dispossession because, in addition to suffering and trauma, powerful
stories of strength and courage are embedded in it. Migrants
put their most precious possessions into one backpack to traverse a deadly desert, only for that backpack to be taken by
authorities and not returned. In addition to money and identification documents, people travel with medication, cellphones
with family phone numbers, irreplaceable keepsakes, spiritual
items, and heirlooms. These cherished items represent peoples’
histories and connections to loved ones, which are necessary
for their psychological, spiritual and physical well-being.
Similarly, money in this context not only means value in
dollars, but frequently represents borrowed sums of money
that may take years to pay back, whose loss means the impoverishment of loved ones or the forfeiture of homes, land, or
other mortgaged assets. Sums of money must be measured
against the wages of a southern Mexican or Central American farmer and how long it may have taken to save or borrow enough to go north, only to have money returned as an
un-cashable check or, if the amount is large enough, for it
to be confiscated as evidence of ‘illegal activity’. Money also
represents the sacrifices that peoples’ families made to send
them money in immigration detention or that people earned
at $1 a day for prison or detention center labor and painstakingly saved, only to find themselves penniless on the streets of
Mexico because they cannot use the prepaid debit card given
to them.
Finally, identification documents may be the only way
people can prove their identities. When these documents are
seized by U.S. agents and not returned, people are left on the
border without the basic documents needed to receive a money transfer or have any recourse when harassed or extorted
by the local police. With ID that proves Mexican citizenship,
deported individuals gain some access to assistance from the
Mexican government. Without ID, the risk of extortion, kidnapping, and sexual assault drastically increases. Without ID,
individuals are unable to apply for legitimate work in the border towns where they are deported. With few or no options
available to earn money or to leave town, some individuals are
recruited into smuggling cartels or otherwise convinced to try
crossing the border again as quickly as possible by guides who
may take advantage of them. The psychological damage of being stripped away, not only from one’s home, but also from
resources and autonomy may be felt for a lifetime.
The vulnerabilities associated with dispossession are especially severe for individuals already at a greater risk due to

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
CARLOS, APRIL 2014, TIJUANA, MEXICO
“After I was deported in Mexico,
police picked me up and took me to
jail for not having an ID. I went to
Grupo Beta [the Mexican federal
agency for migrants] to find out how
to replace my birth certificate. They
sent me to another government office
where I was told that someone from

Jalisco has to pay 430 pesos to get it
from where I was born, which I didn’t
have. I got a job that told me I have
20 days to show them my birth certificate. Once I get my first paycheck,
I will have to take the day or maybe
days off work to get the replacement,
losing even more money.”

their gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity and
geographical origin. The United States has a responsibility to
ensure the well-being of individuals in its custody and must
not engage in practices that needlessly put people in additional harm’s way as soon as they are deported.

G L  A

When No More Deaths has brought concerns related to
lost money and belongings to the attention of Border Patrol and ICE, they have responded by saying that returning
these belongings is not part of their responsibility and that
migrants are not automatically entitled to getting their belongings back. According to the U.S. Constitution, property
can be seized only for use as evidence or in the event that
it is identified as the illicit proceeds of a crime. The comments made by both low-level officers and higher-level officials suggest a willingness at all levels of CBP to use power
to seize belongings at will rather than in accordance with
the law.
The United States government, specifically the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is responsible for the
direct and collateral damage of dispossession through deportation since they are ultimately responsible for all removals.
“Shakedown” includes six clear recommendations that could
be implemented today, without congressional action, and that
would significantly ameliorate the issue.

R

• Immigrant detainees must always have access to vital
belongings while in custody, such as medications necessary
for their health and phone numbers necessary to contact
loved ones.

8

• Immigrant detainees who will eventually be deported by
ICE should have their belongings, including money, follow
them to the end of their chain of custody and should be reunited with these items, including money in its original form,
immediately upon their release.
• ICE ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations) must
ensure that every individual has the opportunity to convert
his or her commissary funds to cash before deportation.
• CBP should retain prosecuted individuals’ belongings for
a minimum of 30 days past the end of their prison sentence,
or until ICE picks up the belongings. Belongings should never be destroyed while their owner is still serving a sentence.
• CBP property-management practices must be brought
into conformity with law-enforcement norms and CBP’s own
written policies.
• DHS must create an accessible and transparent mechanism for accepting complaints filed by immigrant detainees
and ensure adequate oversight to remedy the problems identified by the complaints.
The failure to return peoples’ belongings upon deportation
represents one more way that ICE and CBP have failed to
uphold basic law enforcement standards and human rights
norms in their rush to expand the United States’ detention
and deportation apparatus. The most appropriate short and
long-term solution to these problems is to enact a more reasonable and humane approach to immigration policy. During
its five and a half years in office, the Obama administration
has accomplished an unprecedented volume of deportations
from the United States. Systemic abuse and neglect, including the practices documented in this report, are an unavoidable consequence to detention and deportation, especially of
this volume.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

Alicia Dinsmore
(top left), a No
More Deaths
volunteer, sits with
a mother and her
children as they
take turns talking
to a relative from
Nogales, Sonora.

I NTRODUCTION
NO MORE DEATHS: AID AND ADVOCACY

No More Deaths began in 2004 as a direct humanitarian
aid response to the violent consequences of US/Mexico border militarization. Our mission is to end death and suffering on the border through civil initiative: the conviction that
people of conscience must work openly and in community to
uphold fundamental human rights. No More Deaths’ work
began by providing food, water and medical care to those
crossing the Arizona desert. As the devastating human impacts of deportation have increased, we identified a need to
contribute to efforts in Mexico responding to the many needs
of people deported there, and have also worked with partner
groups in the United States to have deportation recognized
as an issue of acute racial and economic justice.
In 2006 No More Deaths began providing aid in Nogales,
Mexico, to support people being deported with their medical needs, clothing, phone services, locating lost and detained
family members, and recovering money and belongings. We
heard stories of family separation, Border Patrol, Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private detention center abuses, and a variety of dangerous repatriation practices.
In 2008 we published ‘Crossing the Line,’ an effort to document and publish some of these stories. We advocated for better standards and submitted complaint after complaint to the
Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights
and Civil Liberties (OCRCL or CRCL). As we received responses, usually about a year and a half later and never with

9

any identifiable action taken,4 we continued to document an
alarming number of abuses. We continued to help people file
complaints, over 90 to date, a process that has thus far proven
futile.6 In 2011 No More Deaths released ‘A Culture of Cruelty,’ which documented more than 30,000 cases of abuse related to CBP custody and deportation practices. Key findings
included:
• 11,384 incidents of insufficient, inedible, or no food
provided.
• 86% of people needing urgent medical care were deported
without it.
• 2,926 incidents of failure to return personal belongings.
• 10% of interviewees physically abused. The longer people
were held in custody the more likely they were to be abused.
• 5,763 reports of overcrowding.
• 1,699 incidences of verbal abuse.
• 869 family members deported separately.
• An average length of time living in the U.S. before deportation was 14.4 years.
• On average, interviewees had 2.5 children living in the
U.S.
From 2011 to 2014 No More Deaths has continued to witness a whole spectrum of abuses, including the types documented in ‘A Culture of Cruelty.’ As people kept being deported hungry, bruised, distraught, and separated from their loved ones, we
heard one specific request over and over again—to help recover

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CUSTODY ABUSES
MEDICAL NEEDS DENIED

INSUFFICIENT FOOD

SEPARATED FROM FAMILY

EXTREME TEMPERATURES

PHONE CALLS DENIED

CROWDED CELLS

PHYSICAL ABUSE

SLEEP DEPRIVATION

PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE

DIRECT THEFT

FAILURE TO RETURN MONEY AND BELONGINGS

POST-DEPORTATION CONSEQUENCES
UNABLE TO ACCESS
MEDICATION

UNABLE TO ACCESS FOOD
WITHOUT MONEY OR ID

UNABLE TO ACCESS MEDICAL
CARE WITHOUT MONEY AND ID

INADEQUATE CLOTHING

UNABLE TO PAY FOR PHONE
CALLS OR ACCESS NUMBERS
IN LOST CELL PHONES/BAGS
UNABLE TO CONTACT AND/OR
TRAVEL TO FAMILY/SAFETY
ASSAULT, KIDNAPPING
POLICE HARASSMENT AND
EXTORTION, ESPECIALLY
WITHOUT ID
PTSD AND EMOTIONAL
DAMAGE
10

UNABLE TO USE HYGIENE
PRODUCTS OR CHANGE
CLOTHES, IDENTIFYING ONE
AS RECENTLY DEPORTED AND
EXPLOITABLE
UNABLE TO ACCESS SHELTER
WITHOUT MONEY—FORCED
TO SLEEP IN STREETS OR IN
THE CEMETERY
ROBBED IN THE PROCESS
OF GETTING MONEY SENT
THROUGH SOMEONE ELSE’S
NAME BECAUSE ONE IS
UNABLE TO DO SO WITHOUT ID
NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

Crossing the Line
(2008)

A Culture of Cruelty
(2011)

345 cases of abuse documented from 2006-2008.
Establishes that systematic human rights violations occur regularly during Border Patrol
custody.
More than 30,000 incidents of abuse documented from 12,895 individuals from
2008-2011.
Identifies dangerous apprehension methods and changing demographics of deportees.
Articulates steps needed to end abuse in short-term custody and dangerous repatriation
practices.
1,646 totals dispossession cases documented in which humanitarian aid volunteers
intervened.
1,481 requests for property-recovery.

Shakedown
(2014)

165 money-specific cases.
Reveals the inner workings and consequences of one pivotal dangerous repatriation
practice: dispossession.
Pinpoints key players involved in dispossession and explains what practices must change
to prevent further abuses.

money and belongings that were taken from people following
apprehension by U.S. authorities. Because they were repatriated without money, identifying documents, and other belongings, individuals became stuck in border towns, immobile and
vulnerable. These problems remain widespread in 2014, as we
publish this report.
Recuperating money and belongings for deportees has
become an important humanitarian effort for many groups
in Mexico. No More Deaths has focused on this because it
has been the most identified immediate need and desire for
many of those most affected by deportation. In addition to
being approached daily by migrants deported to Nogales asking for this assistance, we have also received inquiries from
individuals in other cities throughout Mexico asking for help
recovering their lost belongings, as well as concerned family
members in the U.S. asking for help to ensure that a loved
one receives their money in cash upon deportation in order
to have the resources necessary to hastily leave a dangerous
border situation.

H R  D
D P

While in custody many detainees are not allowed to access
their belongings, many of which are vital, such as medications
and phone numbers. The inability to access belongings while
in custody is a precursor to the failure to return belongings
upon deportation. The failure to return both money and belongings that a deportee had on their person or in their prison

11

account is a cruel and unsafe repatriation practice. Money and
belongings provide mobility and autonomy. To strip people
of their money and belongings is a pivotal abuse that extends
and exacerbates the dangerous and inhumane consequences
of U.S. deportation practices by putting people in greater
danger upon their return to their country of origin.
Amidst the grave human rights atrocities taking place in
the borderlands—the deaths of migrants in the desert, Border Patrol shootings and killings of both U.S. and Mexican
citizens with impunity, and massive profits by private detention and border enforcement profiteers—what does the
routine dispossession of relatively small amounts of money
and belongings actually mean? Indeed, in the face of the $18
billion spent by the U.S. government in 2012 alone on border and immigration enforcement, the amount of personal
loss experienced during deportation may seem trivial but the
pain and suffering we witness have never been quantifiable in
dollars. The money taken yearly from deportees that is described in this report translates to widespread and immeasurable harm. Although on an individual level these figures may
appear humble, they represent a routine, callous violation of
human rights on the part of U.S. authorities and the private
companies invested in border enforcement and detention.
Although the forms of suffering and abuse experienced in
the border region are many, this particular issue is unique
because it simultaneously implicates authorities across the
spectrum of apprehension, detention, and removal and is also
relatively simple to fix. We are calling for the Department of

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

County jails such as this one in
Yavapai County, Arizona are part
of custody chains that lead to
dispossession.

Chains of Custody: Linking the Culpable Agencies
Discovering the full extent of how dispossession occurs has been a challenge, as it is built
into a myriad of distinct routes of apprehension, detention, and deportation. Immigrants in
detention experience a variety of custody chains that often include being passed among the
following agencies and facilities over the course of their time in detention:
• Local and State Police, Highway Patrol
• The Department of Homeland Security: Customs and Border Protection (CBP- which
includes the U.S. Border Patrol), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
• The Department of Justice: The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS are in charge of custody and
federal transfers), Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP is responsible for federal inmates)
• The Department of Corrections: State Prisons, County Jails (run by the Sheriff of that county)
• Private Prison Companies: Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), GEO Group,
Management and Training Corporation (MTC)

Homeland Security to rapidly consider and implement our
recommendations and create inter-agency standards to ensure the return of all confiscated money and belongings upon
deportation. Dispossession is one particularly dangerous
repatriation practice that could be immediately terminated,
drastically diminishing the vulnerability experienced by migrants upon return to their country of origin to predation by
those who would exploit them (including smugglers and cartels) while simultaneously improving respect for their dignity
and autonomy.

B P  M 
B R

As part of our work documenting abuses, No More
Deaths aims to take action to remedy those abuses whenever
possible. In the course of conducting our interviews, we developed a set of “best practices” for aiding immigrants who
have been deported so that they can recover their belongings and access their cash from the personal check or debit
card they received from the prison system. As a supplement
to this report, we have prepared a “Best Practices Guide”

12

for recovering money and belongings that can be used by
other organizations providing resources to migrants along
the US/Mexico border. That document, along with other
supplementary materials, can be found at online http://
www.cultureofcruelty.org.

A E D T

In the last five years there has been a large international
push by multiple communities to bring to light the United
States’ dangerous deportation practices such as nighttime repatriation, family separation through the Alien Transfer Exit
Program (ATEP), flying people far from the border through
the Mexican Internal Repatriation Program (MIRP), medical repatriations, deporting people without their money
and belongings, and sending people to border towns with
rampant cartel and state violence.7 In 2013, the University
of Arizona released ‘In the Shadow of the Wall’ based on
three years of research and 1,113 interviews with recently
deported individuals throughout cities in northern Mexico.8
They also released a three-part series called ‘Bordering on
Criminal’ of which part II focused on possessions taken and

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

C  
  
   

Though there are numerous combinations of custody trails, the following are common examples for Mexican
Nationals:

B
A

A person attempting to cross the
desert into the U.S. is apprehended
near the US/Mexico border by Border
Patrol. This person is placed in a shortterm Border Patrol holding cell for up
to 72 hours and then transferred into
the U.S. Marshals Service custody to
be prosecuted for “illegal re-entry” as
part of Operation Streamline.12 After
receiving a sentence the person is taken
to a private facility for federal inmates
contracted with the U.S. Marshals Service (such as Florence, AZ).13 After
completing the sentence, the detainee
is released to ICE’s Enforcement and
Removal Operations (ERO) and is de-

ported to a Mexican border town such
as Nogales, Sonora.
The average length of incarceration
for those who go through Operation
Streamline is 30 days.14 The average
sentence for re-entry was 19 months.15
This trail of custody commonly results
in the loss of belongings because the
items stay with the local Border Patrol
when the detainee is transferred to a
prison, usually far from where they
were apprehended.

I A

A person is stopped by a police
agency. Through 287(g) (a joint Memorandum of Agreement between local
law enforcement and ICE) the local
official acts as an authority for immigration enforcement.16 The person is
then transferred into ICE custody and
is sent to an ICE detention center until they are given an order of removal.
The detainee is released to ICE ERO
and is sent from any location throughout the U.S. to a border town such as
Nogales, Sonora.

not returned. The report found that the problem is systemic
and due to a lack of inter-agency standards and cooperation
between Customs and Border Patrol, the Department of
Justice, and Department of Corrections.9 Their key findings
reveal that 34% of people had at least one of their belongings
taken and not returned, 31% had clothes or bags taken and
not returned, and one in four carrying a Mexican ID had
their ID taken and not returned. 57% of migrants processed
through Operation Streamline lost belongings compared to
23% of those who were processed through other means, and
$55 dollars was the median amount of money lost.
In 2013, The Binational Defense and Advocacy Program of
Mexico’s Northern Border Initiative released a report titled
‘Human Rights Violations of Mexican Migrants Detained in
the United States’.10 The report identified the issue of money
returned in forms such as checks and also provided general
data for deportees’ exposure to danger in Mexico such as extortion, theft, physical assault, and kidnapping. In 2014 the
group worked with the Institute for Justice and Journalism
to further publicize the dire consequences of the retention
of migrants’ belongings, which they describe as ‘invisible violence against migrants’.11

13

The average length of detention in
ICE custody is 31 days.17 This trail of
custody commonly results in cash being returned in forms that do not work
internationally, such as personal checks
and prepaid debit cards that are given to
the detainee from state and county jails.

N  P

In addition to naming the players
involved and the roles they play in the
webs of custody, naming this multifaceted problem has also been a challenge.
Although individual theft of immigrant
belongings certainly occurs, and is represented in our interview results, the
most common forms of dispossession
can be called structural, institutional or
systemic. The seizure of money and belongings and the failure to return them
can all be defined as anything from bureaucratic negligence to blatant, and in
many cases, intentional deprivation of
money and property. All of these terms
describe types of dispossession, which
is an umbrella term that will be used in
the report.

A C  D

The failure to return immigrants’ money and belongings is
one piece of a cycle of dispossession that includes exploitation and robbery by smugglers, bandits, employers and government officials. What these practices share in common is
the predatory financial exploitation of some of the most vulnerable members of our societies. The cycle of dispossession
includes lenders in individuals’ sending communities who
charge predatory interest rates to finance the migrant journey;
smugglers who threaten and extort migrants and their families; bandits who violently rob, kidnap and assault migrants
in the desert and along the journey; private employers who
engage in illegal and exploitative labor practices in the United
States; local police and towing companies that seize private
vehicles and charge exorbitant daily storage rates; detention
bonds and related fees associated with the immigration court
system; government officials in Mexico and the United States
who solicit bribes or otherwise directly rob migrants of their
belongings; private prison companies whose exploitative labor practices fail to follow basic standards established in the
Fair Labor Standards Act; and phone, commissary and credit
card companies that contract with prisons and extract exorbitant fees for the provision of basic services.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

APPREHENSION
LOCAL LAW
ENFORCEMENT

APPREHENSION
BORDER PATROL NEAR
US/MEXICO BORDER

ICE ‘HOLD’
PLACED ON
DETAINEE
COUNTY JAIL

BP KEEPS
BELONGINGS
AND FOREIGN
CURRENCY

OPERATION
STREAMLINE/
FEDERAL
PROSECUTION
USMS/BUREAU OF
PRISONS

CHECK/CARD
ISSUED BY
COUNTY JAIL

DETENTION AND
IMMIGRATION COURT
PROCEEDINGS
ICE

DEPORTATION

DEPORTATION

ICE ERO

ICE ERO

DEPORTATION SITES SUCH AS
NOGALES, SONORA, MEXICO
14

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

Humanitarian aid
volunteers assist two recent
deportees at Kino Border
Initiative’s soup kitchen in
Nogales, Sonora.

METHOD OLO GY
The data used for this report comes from two different
sources. The first is a survey used from April 2013 to April
2014 to elicit both qualitative and quantitative data from individuals who were recently deported without their money.
These individuals fell into two categories: those who did not
receive their money at all and those whose money was returned as a debit card, personal check, or money order they
could not easily cash in Mexico. The second source is No
More Deaths’s Property Recovery Assistance Project database, which contains over two thousand cases from 2008 to
the present. Each case consists of the following: an individual’s request for help recovering their belongings; a No More
Deaths volunteer’s research into the case; and, in cases where
the property was successfully recovered, a complete inventory of the contents and a record of how it was returned to
its owner.
Our analysis involves calculating total amounts of money in
Mexican pesos and U.S. dollars. Exchange rates change daily.
For simplicity and consistency, we have applied an exchange
rate of 13 (MXN) pesos to the (USD) dollar. All totals included in this report are in dollars, including cases reported
in pesos that have been converted to dollars.

S M

All volunteers collecting data with the survey were proficient in Spanish and thoroughly trained in the methods and
ethics of conducting interviews in addition to being trained
specifically by No More Deaths on direct service practices
with people deported to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.

15

The survey instrument was piloted between April and May
2013. Volunteers who conducted interviews during the pilot noted where the survey needed further clarity or failed
to cover aspects of money loss that were brought up by interviewees. Revisions were made to add clarifying questions
and additional options on multiple-choice questions. A copy
of the final survey instrument can be found in an appendix
available online at http://www.cultureofcruelty.org.
No More Deaths volunteers, as well as volunteers with the
Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a partner organization in Mexico, conducted all interviews one-on-one in facilities in Nogales, Sonora that provide basic services to people who have
been deported. Locations included the Centro de Atención
al Migrante Deportado (Deported Migrant Service Center), which is a meals program run by KBI, and Transportes
Fronterizos de Sonora, which is a bus station that provides
discounted tickets for migrants who want to return to their
places of origin in Mexico.
Volunteers explained the purpose of the survey and gained
thorough, verbal consent before beginning interviews. Thorough consent means that the interviewees’ desires were respected and they were informed of our advocacy efforts and
the use of their information in our reports. Volunteers involved in both direct service work and the survey project always made it clear to individuals that documenting their cases
was in no way linked to receiving services, and that they could
willingly choose to be part of either one without the other.
In cases where individuals needed volunteers’ help to recover
money, all steps were taken to address their immediate needs

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

Overview: Property Recovery Assistance Project
• Thousands of cases handled since 2008
• Volunteers pick up, safeguard, and deliver personal effects
to deportees and their families
• 84% of direct requests for assistance are traced to an initial
arrest by Customs and Border Protection

before the interview. All participants could remain anonymous or use their name if they chose to do so for any reason
or if a name was needed to help recover money or belongings
or file an official complaint. All names have been replaced with
pseudonyms for the stories included in this report. Additionally, all interviewees were offered the option of talking in a private location to maintain confidentiality.
Survey data was entered into a secure online database system created by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights. The database system is used by more than 20 organizations and is
designed to adapt to the needs specific to each campaign. The
original paper surveys are kept in a secure, centralized file after data entry.

D  S
P

There were 165 people completing in-depth interviews
with varying numbers of responses to demographic questions. 73% of interviewees identified as male and 3% as female. 23% gave their age, with a range from 21 to 67. For
nationality, 32% identified as Mexican and 0.6% (one person)
as Honduran.

P R A
P: B 
I

No More Deaths’s Property Recovery Assistance Project (PRAP) began in 2008, the year that the U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, working
in collaboration, initiated Arizona’s version of Operation
Streamline, a program of mass-prosecuting Border Patrol
detainees for unlawful entry. The initial basis of the PRAP
was a cooperative arrangement between No More Deaths
and the Federal Public Defender’s (FPD) office in Tucson,
which provides legal representation for Operation Streamline defendants and others prosecuted for unlawful entry.

16

Our arrangement continues to this day. For those of the
FPD’s clients at risk of dispossession by deportation, the
FPD picks up their personal effects from Border Patrol
headquarters and turns them over to No More Deaths (all
subject to clients’ consent; they can choose other options
as well). No More Deaths takes charge of returning their
belongings to them or their family. In a minority of cases,
we are able to return their belongings to them personally
in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, but most of the time we must
mail them to their family in their country of origin or the
United States.
Over PRAP’s history its scope has grown. In 2010 we began to accept requests for Border Patrol property-recovery
assistance directly from people who had not been reached by
the FPD arrangement: first working directly with deported
individuals in Nogales, then corresponding by mail with individuals still incarcerated and awaiting deportation. With
great frequency, individuals prosecuted in Arizona are placed
by the Federal Bureau of Prisons at contract facilities in Texas
and other states, guaranteeing that they are deported far from
anywhere we can work with them directly. To help our direct requesters recover their property, we developed another
cooperative arrangement, this time with the Consulate of
Mexico in Tucson.
We also began to pick up some people’s personal effects
ourselves directly from the arresting agency, without an intermediary, using a power-of-attorney document provided
by the property’s owner. This method enables us to assist
not only those arrested by Border Patrol, but also police and
sheriff ’s departments in Phoenix and Tucson and CBP at the
Nogales Port of Entry. Finally, we expanded beyond personal
effects to help people recover funds from prison and detention-center commissary accounts.
The PRAP database became systematized in 2010–2011.
Records from earlier years are not fully digitized. From this
working database of over two thousand records we have
drawn several samples for analysis:

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

DEPARTMENTS, AGENCIES, AND FACILITIES IMPLICATED FOR 165 MONEY-SPECIFIC CASES
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)- Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Border Patrol (BP), Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)- Bureau of Prisons (BOP), U.S. Marshals Service (USMS)
State Department of Corrections (DOC), Sheriff ’s Departments, Police Departments
Private Prisons (Owners and Management) and Transportation- Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO
Group, Management and Training Corporation (MTC), G4S
Arizona:
California:
• Border Patrol Stations: Tucson, Nogales, Douglas, Naco
• Border Patrol, El Centro Station
• ICE, Phoenix
• ICE, Los Angeles
• Tempe Police
• Imperial County Sheriff ’s Department
• Maricopa County Sheriff ’s Department
• FCI Lompoc
• SPC Florence
• CSP Corcoran
• FCC Florence
Texas:
• CADC Florence
• CI Reeves III, Pecos
• Pinal County Adult Detention Center
New Mexico:
• Eloy Detention Center
• Otero County Detention Center
• San Luis Detention Center
Colorado:
• ASPC Douglas
• FCI Florence
• ASPC Lewis
• Monte Vista Jail
• ASPC Tucson
New York:
• ASPC Safford
• New York Police Department
• ASPC Eyman
Nevada:
• ASPC Yuma
• Nevada Southern Detention Center
• ASP Kingman
Utah:
• ASP Phoenix West
• Utah County Jail
• ASP Florence West
Tennessee:
• Marana (MCCTF)
• Unknown Facility
• Lower Buckeye Jail
Pennsylvania:
• Yavapai County Jail
• Allenwood Federal
• Pima County Jail
• Santa Cruz County Jail
• FCI Tucson
• FCI Phoenix
• FCI Black Canyon
• 1,481 total property-recovery cases handled between
January 1, 2011, and March 5, 2014, whether resulting from
arrest by Border Patrol or another agency
• 1,033 direct requests for property-recovery assistance
submitted to No More Deaths by mail or in person between
June 1, 2010, and September 30, 2013
• 452 bags of personal effects received indirectly or directly from Border Patrol between June 1, 2011, and March 5,
2014, whose contents we itemized
• 222 direct requests for property-recovery assistance from
August 1, 2012, to September 30, 2013, traced to an arrest by
Border Patrol Tucson Sector and categorized by processing
type: Operation Streamline prosecution, other prosecution,
or not prosecuted
The database, like the project, is focused on providing
a service, property recovery, rather than documenting an

17

abuse, dispossession by deportation. We do document
each case fully, recording more information than is strictly
necessary to effect property recovery for the individual.
But ultimately the PRAP database is representative of individuals seeking to undo their dispossession, not simply
individuals affected by dispossession. The distinction is
important for reasons discussed in more detail in Section
One, Part One: the prospects of successful property recovery are very different for people in different categories,
and those prospects naturally affect the likelihood that a
person will seek to recover their property: some people,
at least, are aware of the prospects and make a rational
choice based on that. Therefore, the PRAP database assuredly overrepresents cases where prospects are relatively good and underrepresents cases where prospects are
relatively bad.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

SECTION ONE

D I S P O S S E S S IO N
P R AC T IC E S
165 Money-Specific Cases
Amount Lost & Recovered in U.S. Dollars

$37,024.50
Total that would have been lost if no help were available

$12,850.98
Total recovered with help

D  D

$24,173.52

Every year the detention and deportation system strips the
population of immigrants who have been deported of large
quantities of their own money. This money is lost in a small,
persistent trickle that is unreturned or impossible to recover,
which makes its way to the hands of the better-off: private
prisons, the U.S. Treasury, prepaid debit card companies,
and individual opportunists.
In this section of the report, we will explore in detail three
major avenues by which this money is taken:
• Entire belongings taken by Border Patrol during detention and not returned upon deportation;
• Cash placed in immigrants’ prison accounts that is returned, upon deportation, as a check or debit card that cannot be used internationally; and
• Money directly stolen by U.S. agents.
We discuss here the mechanisms by which dispossession
occurs, and the implications of our own rates of success in
attempting to help restore people’s property. Our documentation reveals massive loss, even after large efforts are made in
conjunction with other groups and individuals. The question
of where this money goes is addressed in Section Three.
Among the 165 money-specific interviews over the course
of one year, we documented a total of $24,173.52 lost for
good, with an average (mean) per person of $146.51 lost.

18

Total lost for good

Volunteers were able to help 97 (59%) of those interviewees
recover some or all of their lost funds. Those people we were
able to help recovered 35% of the total that would have been
lost. The full amount recovered was $12,850.98. The average
recovered per person was $77.88. It is impossible to assess
how much the 165 people would have recovered without our
help. If we assume they would not have been able to recover
anything on their own, then the total lost would have been
$37,024.50, with an average of $224.39 per person.
Among our 165 money-specific interviews there were:
• 106 cases of money returned as a personal check or money order that could not be cashed
• 21 cases of money missing from belongings that were
never returned
• 19 cases of money returned as a prepaid debit card
• 14 cases of prison labor earnings not received
• 9 cases of belongings returned with all or some of the
money missing
• 8 cases of money witnessed being stolen by agents
• 3 cases where prison accounts never reflected money deposited into them by family members
• 4 cases that did not fit into any of the above categories
(Note: the total adds up to 184 rather than 165 because
some interviewees reported cases that included multiple
categories)

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

Belongings of migrants in
storage at the Border Patrol
station in Tucson, AZ.

PART ONE

PART ONE

FA I LU R E TO R E T U R N BE L O N G I N G S A N D
M O N EY U P O N D E P O RTAT IO N
Ramiro lived in the U.S. for nine years (2003–2012), and
has a five-year-old son in Washington State. All of his immediate family, including his mother and brothers, live in
Washington. On July 30, 2013, Ramiro was detained by U.S.
Border Patrol agents in Douglas, AZ while trying to cross the
US/Mexico border to reunite with his family. He was sent to
court and criminally prosecuted, sentenced to 60 days, and
held in two different Corrections Corporation of America
(CCA) private prisons.
Ramiro was deported on September 28, 2013 to Nogales,
Sonora. He told No More Deaths volunteers conducting our
survey, “When we were released from Florence, we were on a
bus with 80 people, and we stopped at the Tucson Border Patrol station to pick up our belongings. At first, the BP agents
said that they checked their computer and did not have
anyone’s belongings. Then they could tell that people were
becoming agitated, so they said they would go look for our
things. They found about 70 people’s belongings out of 80
of us, but around 10 were not found, including mine. From
there the bus drove us to Nogales, where we were deported.”
Ramiro says that his belongings included a Mexican voting
credential, his Washington-state driver’s license, 3,000 pesos
($230.77), two cell phones, approximately $80 of prepaid airtime, a charger, a belt, one rosary, and clothing.

O S  F
I C

The scale of dispossession by deportation is largely a new
phenomenon. A major contributor to it is the strategy of

19

criminally prosecuting migrants detained on the southwest
border with federal charges. Migrants who receive a criminal
sentence are transferred to distant prisons while their belongings remain with the Border Patrol, where they are summarily destroyed 30 days after the date of arrest. Because many
immigrants receive a sentence of more than 30 days, this policy results in the de facto destruction of detained immigrant’s
belongings before they are even released.
Immigration-related charges now account for more than
half of all federal prosecutions and just five of the 94 federal
court districts handle 41% of all federal cases.18 This mass
prosecution of undocumented people is spearheaded by a
program initiated in 2005 known as Operation Streamline,
in which migrants apprehended in the borderlands are tried
en masse and convicted of federal criminal charges in one
hour-long hearing. The criminal charges used in Streamline
and in many other immigration-related prosecutions are unlawful entry, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days
in prison, and unlawful re-entry of a deported immigrant, a
felony punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.19 The
individuals who are mass processed in Operation Streamline
receive only a few minutes each with a public defender and
are encouraged to plead guilty to avoid even stronger charges
and more prison time.20
Once they are charged, migrants are transferred from Border Patrol to U.S. Marshals Service custody. The only part
of an inmate’s belongings the U.S. Marshals Service will accept is money in U.S. dollars (USD), which is transferred to
a prison account in the inmate’s name. Money in the form of

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

.

Breakdown by arresting agency, propertyrecovery requests received by No More
Deaths 2010–2013 (n = 1,033)

.

Customs and Border Protection (84%)
Border Patrol
(74%)

Port of Entry (10%)

Mexican Pesos or other foreign currency remains with the
bag of belongings held by Border Patrol, which means that all
money other than U.S. dollars is also lost after 30 days, when
their belongings are destroyed.
When undocumented border crossers complete their
sentences, they are released from the U.S. Marshals Service
custody or Bureau of Prisons custody to Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is responsible for their
deportation. So far there has been no collaboration at the
national level between ICE, Border Patrol, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Prisons to address the fact
that this custody chain results in the de facto seizure and
destruction of the belongings of most immigration detainees sent to Operation Streamline or prosecuted through
other channels.

A D L  D 
P

Operation Streamline is only one component of the
dispossession by prosecution that affects so many of the
immigrants being deported from the U.S. There are also
many prosecutions based on charges pressed against border crossers by Border Patrol outside of the Streamline
program. In the Tucson Sector, they actually outnumber Streamline prosecutions (approx. 23,000 vs. approx.
16,000 annually). Nevertheless, Streamline has gained
currency as an overall term for the mass-prosecution approach being pursued by CBP and its partners in the Department of Justice.

20

Other/unspecified (16%)

This approach radically “streamlines” notions of due process
and judicial discretion while massively benefitting the private
prison industry. Through most of its history, CBP processed
the people it detained civilly and returned them directly to
Mexico. CBP often refers to that approach derisively as “catch
and release.”21 In contrast, the current strategy stems from
the “Consequence Delivery System,” which provides agents
with a menu of “consequences” to “deliver” to each detainee,
the main one being criminal prosecution.22 However, one of
the unadvertised consequences of the new approach is mass
dispossession.
It is fair to call dispossession a systematic consequence of
prosecution. According to the University of Arizona report,
“Bordering on Criminal: The Routine Abuse of Migrants in
the Removal System,”23 57% of those sent through Streamline reported dispossession, compared to 23% among those
who had been deported without being criminally prosecuted. Turning individuals over to the criminal justice system
instead of returning them to their country of origin greatly
increases their likelihood of being separated from their personal effects.

L F: B P’
T S

While overall a majority of individuals who are brought up on
immigration charges by Border Patrol suffer the consequence
of dispossession, our experience in the Border Patrol’s Tucson
Sector indicates that the rate of (permanent) dispossession can
vary greatly, and arbitrarily, as the result of several factors.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

Prosecution and property-recovery success,
2012–2013, for PRAP requesters arrested by
Border Patrol in Tucson Sector (n = 222)

Operation Streamline (139)
Other prosecution
initiative (57)

Successful
(19%)

Successful (71%)

Not prosecuted
(26)

Successful
(27%)

Success rate on
requests made after
deportation: 12%
(3/26)
One factor that mitigates loss is a local arrangement between ICE and Border Patrol authorities. It provides for
ICE deportation buses departing from Florence, Arizona
(where both the U.S. Marshals Service and ICE have detention facilities that are owned and operated by Corrections
Corporation of America) to stop in Tucson at Border Patrol
headquarters and pick up detainees’ personal belongings on
their way to be deported to Nogales, Mexico. Based on our
experience in Nogales, this is happening regularly, but not
consistently. This arrangement is helpful as far as it goes, but
is limited by its local scope. It fails to serve individuals transferred out of state to serve their sentence and whose property is still waiting for them in Tucson when they get out,
since they are deported by a different ICE office to a different
part of the border.
These border crossers shipped out of state and away from
their belongings are well represented in PRAP’s database.
Of the 211 bags of property we recovered in 2013 from the
Border Patrol for people, 55% of them had an out-of-state
prison address.
A second local factor besides the cooperative arrangement
with ICE is a Border Patrol concession. As part of the 2008
rollout of Operation Streamline to Tucson Sector, the sector authorities adopted an exceptional policy on “abandoned
property” (the personal belongings of detainees who are
transferred to the custody of the U.S Marshals Service to be
prosecuted and imprisoned). For Tucson Sector Streamline
cases only, instead of destroying personal effects 30 days after
their owner “abandoned” them in BP custody, which is the

21

usual policy, Border Patrol would instead wait until 30 days
past the end of their sentence (up to 210 days). To accommodate this policy, sector headquarters has had to acquire six
shipping containers that are now full of belongings just for
Operation Streamline prosecutions.
This special policy is, again, helpful as far as it goes, but
its arbitrary limitation to Streamline cases results in striking disparities. Obviously, if a non-Streamline defendant is
in custody longer than 30 days, then their property will not
be waiting for them in Tucson when (or if ) their deportation
bus stops there because it will already have been destroyed.
And staying in custody longer than 30 days is quite common
both for those prosecuted outside of Streamline and even for
those not prosecuted at all. We have dealt with several individuals who were kept in custody longer than 30 days in
order to testify for the prosecution as a material witness and
lost their personal effects as a result.
The chart on page 21 illustrates the disparate effects of the
Streamline-only exception in the Tucson Sector. Streamline
defendants who requested their property through us recovered it most of the time, whereas everyone else was unsuccessful most of the time. The most unsuccessful of all were
non-Streamline defendants who did not contact us until after
being deported: we got their property back for them just 12%
of the time. We are also struck by the relatively small number
of non-Streamline defendants in this 13-month period (57)
compared to Streamline defendants (139), considering that
in the Tucson Sector, non-Streamline prosecutions outnumber Streamline prosecutions. A likely interpretation is that

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

Overview: Money not returned with belongings
30 cases documented - 18% of our money-specific cases.
(13% - belongings containing money not returned at all.
5% - belongings were returned with money missing.)
3.33% recovery rate
Range: $5.38 - $5,500 USD
Average (mean) including $5,500 outlier: $486.62
Average (mean) excluding $5,500 outlier: $313.75
An example of confiscated money that has
been properly inventoried by CBP standards.
CBP Directive 5240-007 requires agents to
take inventory of detainees’ belongings in the
owner’s presence. Since 2009, however, agents
have disregarded their own standards and
stopped routinely inventorying and bagging
foreign currency.

many non-Streamline defendants, by the time they have an
opportunity to contact us, already know that their property
has been destroyed and there is no point trying to recover it.
As insufficient as the local arrangements are, they do not
always work the way they are supposed to. Many of the 139
Streamline defendants in our sample are people who were deported via Tucson to Nogales and approached our volunteers
there. Both the ICE arrangement and the BP concession applied to them, yet their property was not returned to them.
The most frequent reason given is that the deportation bus
failed to stop in Tucson at BP headquarters, with the driver
sometimes citing scheduling reasons.
In sum, although the local arrangements in Arizona are
good on paper, as far as they go, in practice many people are
still left without their belongings, and others who recover
them eventually still suffer from not having their property
when they need it most– at the time of deportation.

A D:
S  P R

If ICE fails to reunite you with your personal effects before
deporting you, forcing you to leave the United States without the things you would never willingly leave your house
without—your ID, your cell phone, and your money—what
can you do? The PRAP data we have presented is the result of a five-year effort to provide a recourse. It behooves us
to point out this recourse’s inadequacy. PRAP is not “part
of the solution.” It is a stop-gap measure that helps only a
small portion of those affected. Even if we had the human

22

and financial capacity to reach out to everyone affected and
provide them the same assistance, our assistance does not
and cannot address the vulnerability a deportee experiences
in the initial minutes, hours, and days after deportation. We
would have to be at every port of entry along the border, 24
hours a day, simultaneously. Not even for one person can we
do what ICE can do: return their belongings to them upon
deportation.
Even if property recovery is ultimately successful, the
amount of time its owner spends without can be anything but
brief. Many people have no idea they will be dispossessed by
deportation until it has happened. Someone who has already
been deported without making arrangements to recover their
property may still have a chance to recover it, but it typically
takes months. During that time, they may be unable to work
for lack of their official ID; the money they are waiting to
recover may be a loan that is accumulating interest; and the
whole time the questions “yes or no” and “how much longer”
may have no clear answer.
Besides contacting No More Deaths, individuals who have
suffered, or are at risk of suffering, dispossession by deportation may also seek help from their consulate. Consulates
are, at least, not run by volunteers; in theory they have a less
limited capacity than we do. In some cases they even have
personnel assigned full-time to property-recovery assistance.
But neither humanitarian groups nor foreign consulates can
take the place of the U.S. government fulfilling its responsibility to ensure that belongings are always returned to their
rightful owner.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
JULIO – DEPORTED FROM THE HOSPITAL WITHOUT BELONGINGS
Julio and two friends were separated
from their group and lost in the desert.
Having gone days without water, one of
his friends became so desperate and suicidal that he began searching for sticks
with which to stab himself. At one
point Julio’s friend was so thirsty that
he sprayed deodorant into his mouth,
receiving a chemical burn. Julio and the
other friend tied him to a tree so that

he could not hurt himself while they
went to seek help. They encountered a
Border Patrol agent and all three were
rescued and detained. Because he was
carrying all the belongings, they were
mistakenly put in Julio’s name. Julio
was in the hospital for eight days. He
was released, processed and deported
without getting any of the belongings
back, which included $30 dollars and

M L V  L 
B

In No More Deaths’ survey, we had two separate categories
related to belongings: money left in belongings that were not
returned, and belongings returned with the money missing
from them. 18% of the total missing money cases (30 out of
165) were related to belongings, with 13% due to money left
in belongings that were never returned, and 5% due to belongings that were returned with the money missing. In only
2 of those 30 cases (6% of the time) was the money able to
be recovered.
In almost every case when belongings were returned without the money, the owner was surprised that it was missing
and did not understand why it was not there or where it
went. When asked if they declared their money upon arrest,
16 said yes, eight said they were not asked, and only two said
no, that they failed to declare their money in an inventory
of belongings. The range of money lost for good per person
was between $5.38 and $5,500 U.S. dollars, with an average
(mean) of $486.62 and a median of $142.31 (The unusually
large outlier of $5,500 shifted the average much higher. With
that case removed, the average becomes $313.75). A total of
$14,598.69 USD was reported as lost because of failure to
return belongings or money.

D  M:
F  O P
S

Looking at mass prosecution from the point of view of
law-enforcement standards and practices leads to a different
set of concerns than what we have discussed so far. Unlike
a municipal police department, filing criminal charges was a
fairly marginal part of CBP’s work for most of its history. The
advent of the doctrine of ‘Consequence Delivery’ has led to
an observable decline in standards. In its drive to implement

23

4,200 pesos. He was particularly worried because the other two men’s possessions were also missing. With assistance from No More Deaths, Julio
was able to recover the belongings by
calling the Nogales Border Patrol station, where they agreed to bring the
backpacks to the Nogales Port of Entry
for the Mexican Consulate to pick up
the following day.

mass prosecution– an entirely elective strategy– CBP has
sought (or, from the operational point of view, been forced)
to sidestep or “streamline” basic property-and-evidence standards common to all law-enforcement agencies and duly recognized by CBP. The standards relevant to detained personal
effects are reflected in CBP Directive 5240-007, Regarding
Personal Property Disposition Procedures, Nov. 6, 2006.
The key passage in Directive 5240-007 is the following:24
At the time of seizure or arrest, a 100 percent inventory shall be taken of all personal effects possessed by
the violator. . . . CBP supervisors shall ensure, where
it is safe and practical, that the violator and the seizing/arresting officer jointly complete this 100 percent
inventory of all the violator’s personal effects.
The meaning of a “100 percent inventory” is unambiguous and
a prerequisite for accountability within the chain of custody.
It is clearly never acceptable to inventory belongings as merely
just a ‘bag of stuff ’. The chain of custody in this case includes
not only CBP and private contractors such as G4S, but also
third parties who receive individuals’ property on their behalf.
If something goes missing from the property, there is no paper trail that might help determine whether it went missing
in CBP custody or in a third party’s custody.
We have observed the failings in CBP’s property-management standards from our Property Recovery Assistance Project
(PRAP), in which volunteers receive and handle hundreds of
bags of personal effects detained by CBP. We initiated PRAP in
2008. Over the course of five years, we have observed and documented that in the Tucson Sector, CBP’s disregard for its own
standards dates back to at least 2008, specifically with respect
to the 100% inventory. Additionally, we have observed that this
disregard escalated in the spring of 2009 in a specific and crucial way: at that time, agents stopped routinely inventorying and
bagging foreign currency (primarily Mexican pesos). In our experience, a 100% inventory is virtually never conducted by CBP

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

......................
......................
....................
.....
.............
.....
........
..
..
.
Percentage of Money-Specific Cases by Category

Check or Money Order / 64%

Unpaid Prison Labor / 8%

No Belongings Returned / 13%

Stolen by Agents / 5%

Prepaid Debit Card / 12%

Deposit to Prison Account did not Arrive / 2%

Belongings Returned without Money / 5%

Other / 2%

in accordance with Directive 5240-007. Further, in cases where
individuals are detained and have their property taken away,
even if an inventory is made, foreign money is rarely recorded in
that inventory and it is never separately bagged.
The explanation CBP has offered humanitarian aid groups
for why currency might be un-inventoried is that detainees
are unforthcoming and deceitful about any money in their
possession, and that it is often deliberately concealed in the
lining of clothing (to guard against theft). This concealment
would ostensibly apply only to foreign currency, not U.S.
currency. In our experience, this type of concealment is not
particularly common: when we open a bag of belongings and
find un-inventoried (foreign) currency inside, it is typically in
the wallet or a jacket pocket or even loose among the clothing, in plain view through the plastic bag. More extraordinary is CBP’s claim that a full inventory of personal effects is
the detainee’s responsibility. Standard property procedure in
nearly all law enforcement requires that property of detainees be inventoried in the owner’s presence, the same practice
called for in CBP Directive 5240-007, rather than simply
asking the owner what their property contains and taking it
at face-value.
Another fundamental principle of property management
is good stewardship. In our experience through PRAP, on
multiple occasions No More Deaths volunteers have opened
sealed property bags whose contents, including currency, were
wet, reeking, and hopelessly mold-damaged.

D  D: D
M

Those who cross the Sonoran desert into the U.S. are typically walking anywhere from two days to two weeks. In most

24

Note: some interviewees
reported multiple categories.

cases, it is simply not possible to carry enough food and water.
Whatever other small items people bring in their backpacks
tend to be invaluable keepsakes, such as family heirlooms and
one-of-a-kind photographs. If they are apprehended in the
desert, many individuals report being forced to dump out
their belongings on the desert soil before being crammed into
the back of Border Patrol vehicles. People are often forced
to leave their blankets, food, and water aside before they are
taken to facilities that can be freezing cold, and where food
and water is many times denied.
Though this type of abuse was not included in the survey
administered in Nogales, the Desert Aid Working Group
of No More Deaths reports that such scattered belongings
have been found frequently since 2004, and many migrants
in Nogales corroborate that Border Patrol agents forcibly
dumped their belongings in the desert. Furthermore, Desert
Aid volunteers have found money amidst such piles, which
demonstrates that monetary loss is also a part of this abusive practice.

D  C: A
E  S A

No More Deaths has participated in Non-Governmental
Organization (NGO) efforts to bring the failure to return
belongings to the attention of top CBP officials and CBP
Tucson Sector officials. CBP officials often respond that any
efforts they make to return belongings is going above and beyond, and that they technically can seize all property if they
choose to do so. The implication of these responses is that
returning these belongings is not part of their responsibility
and that migrants are not automatically entitled to getting
their belongings back. CBP states that they have done their

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
ALEJANDRO – BUS FAILS TO STOP FOR BELONGINGS DURING DEPORTATION
Alejandro was detained by Border
Patrol in the desert outside Nogales,
Arizona, on January 31, 2014. He was
carrying $226.24 in cash as well as his
cell phone, a change of clothes and his
Mexican voter ID card. Everything
stayed with Border Patrol while he was
sent to the federal courthouse in Tucson
to be prosecuted through Operation
Streamline. Alejandro was sentenced to
60 days in prison for illegal entry.
His lawyer then told him that his belongings would be returned upon completion of his sentence, and that the
bus would stop at the Border Patrol
Station in Tucson to pick up his items
on the way to the border. Alejandro
served two months in Florence, Ari-

zona at a Corrections Corporation of
America facility, and then was released
to ICE to be deported. He was placed
on the bus, but the bus did not stop in
Tucson. Alejandro asked an ICE official about his belongings and was told
that they wouldn’t be returned. He was
then deported to Mexico at 3 a.m. on
March 28, 2014, with only the clothes
on his back.
All of the people on that bus were
deported at 3 a.m., but none of them
received their belongings. In addition
to Alejandro, volunteers talked to four
other men: Sergio, Pablo, Alvaro and
Ramon. Sergio’s belongings consisted
of a cell phone, $15 in cash his Mexican
voter ID card and clothing. Pablo had

part and followed due process by notifying individuals on
how they can recover their belongings within 30 days without
acknowledging that this process, on a practical level, is usually
unrealistic or impossible.
Some agents have indicated that they go out of their way
to ensure the return of confiscated belongings, but view this
activity as a favor outside of the scope of their duties. We
were disturbed by this attitude, especially considering that
the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects
against “unreasonable . . . seizures” and Article 17.2 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibits arbitrary
deprivation of property.25 According to the U.S. Constitution, property can be seized only for use as evidence or in the
event that it is identified as the illicit proceeds of a crime. The
comments made by these officers as well as the higher-level
officials suggest a willingness, at all levels of CBP, to use the
power to seize belongings at will rather than in accordance
with the law.

B CBP: I I
E  D

As mentioned at the beginning of this section, not all
post-deportation requests in the PRAP database relate to
a CBP arrest: at least 17% come from individuals whose

25

a blue backpack with his cell phone,
$12.82 in cash, his Mexican voter ID
card and his birth certificate. Alvaro
had a cell phone, $75 in cash, a voter ID
card, driver’s license, pants, and a plaid
jacket with $150 hidden in it to prevent
theft. Ramon had $98.39 in cash, his
voter ID card, a birth registration card
and clothing.
The men were able to contact the
Mexican Consulate to report their losses. The Consulate told them that their
belongings, if not already destroyed,
would take three or four months to recover from Border Patrol. In the meantime, the men were on their own to figure out how to get home without any
money or identification.

deportation began with an encounter with local authorities, most frequently in Phoenix or Tucson. The mechanism for dispossession in these cases is very similar to
what we have already seen: the jurisdiction that receives
the immigrant detainee from the arresting agency (such
as the county sheriff if the undocumented immigrant was
arrested on the street) accepts only a minimal list of personal effects, so the rest of the property remains with the
arresting agency.
Thus, the common denominator in almost all cases of dispossession is not arrest by CBP, but deportation by ICE. It
is ultimately ICE’s responsibility then to ensure that belongings follow immigrants who are detained through the end of
their chain of custody, to their release. It is not a stretch to argue that, both on law-enforcement grounds and humanitarian grounds, one of the primary items on ICE’s “deportation
checklist” must be to reunite detained individuals with their
personal property upon release. Personal property includes
not just personal effects held by the arresting agency that are
subject to scheduled destruction if ICE does not take active
steps to recover them, but also commissary funds held in trust
by the jail, prison or detention center from which ICE picks
up the detainee and takes them directly to a foreign country.
This is the subject of the next section.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

PART TWO

M O N EY R E T U R N E D I N F O R M S DI F F IC U LT O R
I M P O S S I BL E TO U S E I N T E R NAT IO NA L LY

Detention centers often give
individuals their money back
in the form of a check before
deporting them to Mexico. Banks
and check-cashing facilities in
Mexico do not accept U.S. checks,
so deportees are left unable to
access their own money.

In July of 2013, four men who were deported from Utah
County Jail in Spanish Fork, Utah arrived in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. They had all lived in the U.S. for at least six years
and had been detained in a workplace raid. The money each
man had in his wallet when detained was deposited by officials in a prison account, and just before being deported they
were given checks. The smallest check was for $41.00, and the
largest was $257.00. No casa de cambio (currency exchange)
would accept the checks.
One of the men had not been in Mexico for over 15 years,
and then was suddenly in Nogales without any money, but
in possession of a check that, in his words, was “a useless
piece of paper.” All four men felt they were in danger because without money, they couldn’t pay for shelter, food,
communication home, or travel away from Nogales. No
More Deaths volunteers helped the four men call family in
Utah and Mexico, and make plans to receive money through
Western Union. They left Nogales without being able to
cash the checks.

C  L
E

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 set the stage for never before
seen, widespread immigration enforcement by local and state
officers. Such enforcement was specifically enabled through
a section called 287(g). Furthermore, in 2008 Secure Communities was created which operates through a federal information-sharing partnership between ICE and the Federal

26

Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to identify deportable individuals in their databases.26
As a result of 287(g) and Secure Community agreements,
detention beds filled up rapidly which has fueled both the
private and public industry. As of 2014 a bed quota now requires “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
to hold an average of 34,000 individuals in detention on a
daily basis.”27 Another product of these inter-agency agreements has been the inter-agency mismanagement of funds,
specifically by the Department of Corrections and ICE.

W H  P’ M
W T A I 
I V

When someone without documents has been detained–
either crossing the border or within their community here in
the U.S.– and kept in custody for any reason, the cash in U.S.
dollars they were carrying on them is deposited into a prison
commissary account in their name. Their family may also add
money to this account if they are able.
Very few immigrants detained by ICE are held in facilities
run by ICE; the agency outsources most detention functions
to other entities. Typically, these functions are delegated by
contract to county jails and state Department of Corrections
facilities, or to private, for-profit detention centers, primarily
those run by the Corrections Corporation of America and
the GEO Group, Inc.
ICE detainees are also held in facilities contracted by
the U.S. Bureau of Prisons or Intergovernmental Service

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
ALONZO - $1,000 CHECK STOLEN BY FAKE CHECK-CASHING SCHEME
Alonzo was deported to Nogales,
Mexico, on Oct. 15, 2013, after being
held in the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence, Arizona. His $1,000
in cash was returned in the form of a
Bank of America check from the Arizona State Department of Corrections.
He attempted to cash the check at every casa de cambio and bank available
within walking distance of the border,
but did not succeed. An individual on

the street noticed his problem and offered to help. He said he could cash
Alonzo’s check in the U.S. and come
back with the money, and asked Alonzo
to endorse the check. Alonzo entrusted
him with the check, but the man never
returned and instead stole the endorsed
check. No More Deaths volunteers met
Alonzo and helped him prepare a notarized letter to the Inmate Trust Account at ASPC-Florence. He asked

Agreement (IGSA) Facilities that provide detention beds
in jails, prisons and other facilities, which can be operated
by private companies. ICE therefore has little day-to-day
involvement with the people they are holding, instead abdicating those responsibilities to third parties.
Each facility has its own policy for returning money to
people upon release, and these policies vary significantly
from institution to institution. In Nogales, Sonora, Mexico,
we have met deported people with their money returned
as checks, debit cards, money orders and cash. All forms of
currency other than cash present immediate problems upon
deportation.

C R   C  M
O

By far the most common money-related problem for people
deported to Mexico after spending time in detention is being
given a check in U.S. dollars instead of cash. Both personal
checks and money orders are domestic financial instruments,
not for international use. Mexican banks will not accept them
for deposit, and money exchange facilities on the border generally do not change them, although a few will do so at an
exorbitant exchange rate.28 The only real option migrants
have for recovering their money from these checks is to have
it cashed by someone able to cross the border into the U.S.
This option comes with a new set of barriers and an elevated
risk of being exploited and robbed.
The fact that cash seized from detainees may be returned
to them, upon their release, in the form of checks or money

27

them to stop payment on the check and
re-issue it to a migrant service organization called San Toribio Romo Migrante, which could then cash the check
and send him the money via Western
Union. Alonzo had to seek other resources to be able to leave Nogales because it would take at least two weeks
for the check to be stopped and re-issued– if it hadn’t already been cashed
and the money stolen for good.

orders is due to a combination of insufficient policies for the
safe return of inmate funds, a lack of coordination among
government agencies and detention centers, and, above all, a
lack of concern for the well-being of those directly affected.
Prisons and jails typically issue these checks during transfers
between agencies and facilities, which requires the next custodial agency to open an account for the detainee during intake and deposit the check in it on their behalf.
ICE is the agency that takes custody of people who are to
be deported. However, because the amount of time spent in
ICE custody is usually brief, typically a couple of days while
being processed, the checks are simply handed to the person
being deported – right before they are expelled from the only
country where the check is valid. People are given no opportunity to cash their checks in the U.S. before deportation and
ICE has so far neglected its responsibility to cash the checks
for them.
64% of the dispossession of money cases documented in
our survey (106 out of 165) involved personal checks or money orders that could not be cashed in Mexico. These checks
contained a total of $15,402.91, with an average of $145.31
USD per person. The smallest check was for $0.37, and the
largest was for $1,146.48. In 80 cases, volunteers were able to
help the person recover some or all of the money. Successfully
recovered was $9,206.03, which is 60% of the total funds
documented from the checks reported to us, for an average
of $115.08 recovered per person who received help cashing
their checks. The other 40%, a total of $6,196.88, was likely
lost for good. Bank of America issued 63 of the checks, Wells

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
ROBERTO– BORDER PATROL EXCHANGED CASH
FOR A MONEY ORDER DESPITE OWNER’S PLEAS
Roberto was detained by Border
Patrol in the desert north of Douglas,
Arizona on March 25, 2014. At the
BP station in Douglas, agents said they
were going to exchange the $226.00 in
cash he had been carrying for a money
order. He asked them not to and told
them that he wouldn’t be able to use
the money order in Mexico. They disregarded his pleas and told him that it

wasn’t safe for him to carry cash. An
agent purchased a MoneyGram money
order in Roberto’s name for the amount
of $224.81, with a receipt showing a
$1.19 charge for the transaction. The
agent laughed when Roberto objected
to accepting the money order and receipt before being transferred to the
Border Patrol station in Tucson. He
was deported the following day to No-

Fargo issued 25, and the rest came from other regional banks.
The checks recorded in our surveys came from at least 26 different facilities in six states: Arizona, Utah, Texas, Nevada,
California and Tennessee.
Most of the deported individuals No More Deaths spoke
to about their checks had already made significant efforts trying to cash them. Out of the 108 cases:
• 58 had asked other migrant service organizations to help
cash it
• 33 had tried to cash it at a casa de cambio
• 27 had tried to cash it at a Mexican bank
• Six had tried to exchange the check for goods and
services
• Two had given the check to a stranger to try to cash it in
the U.S.
• One had asked the Mexican consulate for help
exchanging it
When asked what the major barriers were to cashing
their checks:
• 43 responded that “Mexican banks will not accept it”
• 10 responded that “It takes too long”
• Nine responded that they “did not have identification”
• Two responded that “The name on the check is different
from real name” because they had used a false name in
detention
• Two responded that “The amount was too low to cash.”
We often met people who had already ripped up and
thrown away their checks because they believed the check
was completely useless. Some people never even tried to

28

gales, Mexico. Once there, he tried to
cash the money order at every relevant
establishment he could think of–casas
de cambio, banks, repatriation services
of the Mexican government– and nothing worked.
Roberto said that because all his
money was on a money order he
couldn’t use, he hadn’t been able to eat,
couldn’t buy a bus ticket home, and

cash them because they had heard from others that it was
impossible.
One person reported being told—as they tried in vain
to cash their check in Nogales, Sonora—that the jail had
tricked him because there is no money on those checks. An
employee at a money exchange business said to him, “It’s a
joke that they are playing on you.” He reiterated, “Es una
burla que nos esta dando.”
In most cases recently deported immigrants wanted to
cash their check the same day in order to have money to
leave the border region, regardless of the amount they would
have to sacrifice to get the money quickly. Previously, there
was one same-day option for cashing checks in Nogales: a
casa de cambio (money exchange business) that would buy
the checks at an exorbitant 25% rate. This explains why the
average recovered per person ($115.08) is significantly lower
than the average check per person ($145.31). This casa de
cambio would only cash checks from the Arizona Department of Corrections—there were no options for individuals deported from detention facilities in other states. In October 2013, this operation closed and there is no longer a
single bank or money exchange business in Nogales, Mexico
(where approximately 45,000 people are deported each year)
that will accept checks in U.S. dollars issued by the Arizona
DOC or any other agency.
Money orders appear to be far less common, at least in Nogales. Only five cases were reported during our study, and in
each case the money order was through MoneyGram and given by a local police or sheriff ’s department in Arizona (and in

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

couldn’t pay for a safe place to stay. He
was desperate to get out of Nogales because he had been kidnapped there in
early 2013 and held at gunpoint for six
days in order to extort money from his
family in the U.S. He thought he was
going to be killed. When he was finally
released, he was told not to say anything about what had happened and
never to return to Nogales.

On top of that previous trauma, Roberto had just been lost in the desert
for four days, until finding a highway
where he was able to flag down a Border Patrol vehicle and turn himself in.
Recognizing Roberto’s urgent need
to leave Nogales, humanitarian aid volunteers exchanged the money order for
all the cash they had on hand, hoping
to cash the money order later back on
the U.S. side of the border. The volun-

one instance given by Border Patrol) as opposed to a prison
facility. Unlike a check, a money order is actually purchased
from MoneyGram, which holds the money until it is cashed
(rather than the law enforcement agency doing so). Any issues with the money order must be handled directly through
MoneyGram, and if the money is never claimed, it stays with
MoneyGram. Although MoneyGram is an international
company with locations in Mexico, in our experience, the
MoneyGram tellers in Nogales, Mexico will not cash U.S.
money orders issued by branches of their company outside
the country.
Casas de cambio offering to cash U.S. checks (for a high
profit) generally only do so temporarily because of tighter
regulations aimed at preventing money-laundering that have
gone into effect since the attacks of 9/11. Small money exchange operations just south of the border would purchase
migrants’ checks with the knowledge that, once the checks
have been endorsed, they may be deposited into a U.S. bank
account north of the border. However, because any U.S. bank
account that regularly deposits “third-party checks” (made out
to someone other than the account-holder) will eventually be
flagged by the bank for suspicious activity, casas de cambio
generally do not continue to cash the checks for very long.
Although uncommon, if the check-holder has their own
U.S. bank account the check can be deposited directly into
that account by someone able to cross into the U.S., either at
the teller or through an ATM belonging to their bank.
Without options for cashing checks in Mexico, or in any
other country besides the U.S., deported people are faced

29

teers did not have the total amount of
the money order, they were short more
than $20. They offered to send the difference later via Western Union, but
Roberto insisted that the remaining
money be used to help someone else
in need. He also donated an additional $10 to the Kino Border Initiative,
which offers home-cooked meals and
other services to recently deported migrants in Nogales, Mexico.

with the challenge of figuring out how to get their check
deposited into a U.S. bank account if they hope to recover
their money. The process of cashing a check then becomes
a multi-day or even multi-week affair for people who need
their cash immediately. If the deported individual has a
trusted family member or friend in the U.S. who is willing
to help, they may be able to contact the facility where the
check was issued and ask to have the existing check voided
and a new check issued in the name of the trusted person
in the U.S. In this case, the re-issued check must be mailed
to the home address of the friend or family member. Once
the new check arrives it can be cashed, and then the money
must be sent via Western Union to the deported individual
in Mexico. However, even this convoluted solution is often
unworkable, as many people are also deported without their
identification cards, making it impossible to receive money
sent via Western Union. (See PART 1: Failure to Return
Belongings and Money Upon Deportation for details of
how identity documents are routinely “lost” while people are
in custody.)
If the detention facility cannot or will not do this, the
check can be endorsed by the owner and mailed to a trusted
friend or family member in the U.S. This person must have a
U.S. checking account in order to deposit the check through
an ATM. Humanitarian aid volunteers in Nogales typically
cross the border into the U.S. to mail the check domestically
rather than internationally. There are obvious risks associated with this approach because it requires sending an endorsed check through the mail, which means that the check

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

Overview: Personal Checks in U.S. Dollars
106 cases documented
64% of money-specific cases
A total of $15,402.91 on the checks
60% recovered with help of humanitarian aid organizations
40% lost for good
Checks documented in Nogales, Mex. were issued by 26 prison facilities in six states

could be stolen and cashed without the rightful owner having any recourse.
Because the process of sending an endorsed check or having
a re-issued check sent to a trusted friend or relative will take a
minimum of three to five days, and often longer, the deported
individual may ask their friend or family member to send
money as soon as possible, with the understanding that it will
be reimbursed when the check arrives. Money is most often
sent through Western Union, which requires a valid form of
ID to receive the money. Additionally, the sender is subject to
fees in order transfer funds, which can be significant depending on the amount being sent. This approach does not work
for deported individuals who do not have such personal ties
in the United States, or don’t know anyone specifically able to
help in the above-mentioned fashion.
In such cases, the money is likely lost for good. The only
other options are to trust strangers who offer to help, a prospect fraught with problems and filled with opportunists, or
to find border-based humanitarian aid volunteers that are
willing and able to help people cash checks. These solutions
are piecemeal and partial at best, unable to even remotely approach the capacity necessary to successfully ameliorate this
issue. The only feasible solution lies with the checks being
cashed before deportation, in the U.S.

C R   D C

Some county jails and detention facilities give people their
money on pre-paid VISA and MasterCard debit cards upon
release instead of returning their cash. In Nogales, 12%, or 19

30

out of the 165 cases documented in our missing money survey, resulted from debit cards that were difficult or impossible
to use in Mexico. Most people deported with debit cards are
not given verbal instructions on how to use them, often only
written instructions in English.
Edwin, a 39-year-old Honduran man, arrived in Nogales,
Sonora on May 2, 2013 after a grueling and dangerous trip
north through Mexico riding on top of trains. He met volunteers and told them about his previous attempt to enter the
U.S. in September 2012. That time he had run out of money
by the time he reached Nogales, Sonora, so he stayed for two
months and worked before crossing. He saved everything he
could– a total of $50.00, and then attempted to enter the
United States.
Edwin was detained in the desert outside of Tucson and
held for almost four months in the Pinal County Jail; he was
then deported to Honduras on January 3, 2014. His $50.00
was returned to him on a debit card, with instructions in
English that he could not read. After being deported to Honduras, he attempted to use the card at an ATM and then at
a bank, but the teller told him that the number was blocked.
He threw the card in the trash and considered the money lost
for good.
After hearing this story upon his return to Nogales, volunteers worked with Edwin to call the Pinal County Jail and
have the money re-issued as a check. Unfortunately, the check
could only be written in his name and by the time it arrived
in Nogales, two weeks later, he had already tried to cross into
the U.S. and had been detained again. Eventually, five months

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
JULIO– LIFE ENDANGERED BY BEING DEPORTED
WITH A DEBIT CARD INSTEAD OF CASH
In April 2013, Julio’s life was endangered when he was discovered to be
an informant on the drug cartels for
the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
(DEA). In Nogales, Sonora, Mexico
he was shot in the leg by cartel members and jumped from the back of a
moving truck to escape from them.
He then called his wife and told her to
leave the house immediately with their
three kids, all under the age of 5. She
and the kids took a taxi and met him
at the port of entry to the U.S. At the
border crossing the entire family presented themselves to request asylum.
Julio was brought to a hospital for his
bullet wound, and his wife and children
were released inside the U.S. After his
medical condition stabilized, Julio was
transferred to the Pinal County Jail in

Florence, Arizona. His family sent him
money regularly so he could pay for
phone calls, though some of the money
was deducted to pay for his meals.
In early May 2013, Julio went to a
hearing where he was told he would
not be released from detention if he
pursued asylum, and that he could be
held in detention and separated from
his family for years during the asylumseeking process. He did not receive the
support from the DEA that he had
anticipated. Out of desperation to get
out of detention, he signed a voluntary
departure and decided that he would
try to relocate his family to somewhere
within Mexico that was safer; he asked
only that he not be deported to Nogales, Mexico where he expected people
would try to kill him as they had before.

later, volunteers were able to get the check cashed and send
his money to him in Honduras through Western Union. Notably, the money had to be sent in his mother’s name because
he had been deported without the identification required to
receive it.
The first immediate barrier to using debit cards from detention facilities is that sometimes they are not yet activated.
Activation of the card almost always requires calling a 1-800
number in the U.S., which cannot be dialed internationally
with a calling card. Anyone deported to a foreign country
with their money on a debit card has no ability to activate
and use that card– except by taking creative and extraordinary measures.
In Nogales, No More Deaths provides U.S. cell phones
that receive signal across the border into Mexico to dial the
1-800 numbers listed on the debit cards given to deportees in
order to activate these cards. Alternately, people with family
members and friends living in the U.S. may be able to call
someone there and ask them to dial the activation number on
their behalf. Because all of the deported individual’s money is
on this debit card, making a long-distance phone call from a
public phone is a difficult endeavor. In many cases, this first,
immediate barrier of debit card activation is also the final barrier. Even so, 10 of the 19 individuals with debit cards in our
survey reported having attempted to call the number on the
back of the card to activate it or to change the PIN number.

31

His wishes were not respected, and he
was deported directly onto the street in
downtown Nogales.
The $80.00 remaining balance in his
prison account at Pinal County Jail was
given to him in the form of a Chase
Bank VISA prepaid debit card. Humanitarian aid volunteers helped him
activate the card though use of U.S.
phones, but he could not get the card
to work at either an ATM or in a store.
Because he was in imminent danger
and needed to get out of Nogales as
soon as possible, a volunteer purchased
the card for the $80 it was supposed to
be worth. Julio immediately left to head
as far south as he could go. The volunteer attempted to use the card, making
multiple calls to VISA, but was never
able to get it to work.

In some cases, those who have been deported with debit
cards were told that the PIN is their birth-date minus the
year. However, in the U.S., dates are written as month/day/
year, while in most of the world (including Mexico and Central America), dates are written as day/month/year. Many
people who arrive deported to Nogales, especially those who
have never lived in the U.S., are unaware of this difference.
As a result, they try to use a PIN that is the day and then
month of their birth-date, which will not work because the
PIN has been programmed as the month and then day of
their birth-date.
Many people we talked to never received a PIN number
or never received instructions on how to use the card. Those
who did receive instructions were unable to find the PIN on
the debit card instructions given to them. Visa debit card
instructions are written in English and Spanish, but the instructions for peeling off the paper covering the PIN appear
only in English.
Anyone having trouble with a debit card PIN is instructed
to call the number on the back of the card to request help
or change the PIN. However, to identify themselves as the
cardholder of a Visa debit card issued through Chase Bank,
they are required to enter a Social Security number. In small
print on the back of the debit card, there are instructions
to “...enter your BOP register number followed by a zero”
or when prompted, to “enter your Social Security number.”

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
SAMUEL – DEPORTED AT 3 A.M. WITH A NON-FUNCTIONING DEBIT CARD
AND MONEY STOLEN BY ARRESTING OFFICER IN TEMPE, ARIZONA
On November 30, 2013, Samuel was
pulled over by the Tempe police while
driving at 7 a.m. to pick up breakfast
for his family. Samuel had given space
to a bicyclist on the right-hand side of
the road while passing, following the
“Give a bike 5 feet” rule. He says his
tire had only slightly crossed the yellow
line and that he used his turn signals
while he was maneuvering to give the
bicycle space. The officer asked for his
driver’s license and Samuel told him
that he didn’t have one. The officer then
reached in and took Samuel’s wallet
out of his pocket. He took out $250
in cash, eyed it, then put it back in the
wallet and drove Samuel to the Tempe
police station.
Once inside the station, the arresting
officer turned Samuel over to the booking officer and joked about using Samuel’s money to buy donuts and coffee.
While being booked, Samuel asked to
call his wife, so he could tell her he had
been detained and would not be home
to watch their daughters, ages 1 and 7.
The officers told him no. At 11:00 a.m.,
he was finally allowed to call his wife,
who was at work by that time. She had
left their children at her brother’s house

without milk or diapers that morning,
thinking that Samuel would be returning shortly after to pick them up and
feed them breakfast. He never made it.
At 3:00 a.m., Samuel was sent to
Durango, a Maricopa County jail. The
Tempe police station gave him a written inventory of his belongings but the
$250.00 was not listed. Six days later
when he was transferred to the Florence
Service Processing Center (FSPC),
he saw that his wallet was empty. He
complained about his missing money
to FSPC. They called the Tempe police station, but Tempe said his money
wasn’t there. Durango said the same.
Samuel spent three days at Florence
SPC before being transferred to the
Pinal County Adult Detention Center where he was held for two months,
during which time he never appeared
before a judge, never talked to a lawyer,
and was never charged with anything.
In early February 2014, someone from
ICE was visiting the jail and Samuel
asked him what was going to happen to
him. Samuel told him he’d been there
for two months already.
The ICE official told Samuel that
he would be seeing a judge and that

These directions are written only in English and use an abbreviation for “Bureau of Prisons” that would not be familiar
to many English-speakers, let alone Spanish-speakers.
Many of the people who receive these debit cards are from
rural regions of Mexico and Central America, and may never
have interacted with a formal banking system before. For
some it is the first time they have ever had a debit or credit
card of any kind. In our survey, we asked “Have you ever used
a debit card before?” and “Do you know how to use this specific card?” 12 people responded that they had never used a
debit card; six said they had. 11 people responded that they
did not know how to use this specific card; six responded that
they did.

32

if he didn’t sign at that moment then
he would stay in jail for a year or two
longer. On February 13, 2014 Samuel
saw a judge, signed what he was asked
to sign, and was deported at 3 a.m.
the following morning to Nogales,
Sonora, Mexico.
During his time in Pinal County his
wife had sent him a money order for $50
in the mail that was deposited into his
prison account. Before being released
to ICE custody to be deported, Pinal
County issued him a debit card from
Numi Financial with a $50 balance.
Samuel said the first thing he did
when he was dumped in Nogales at
3 a.m. was go to a bank to withdraw
the money on the card. He said that
it didn’t work, so he broke the card in
frustration and threw it in the trash.
He walked around the streets of Nogales without any money for the rest of
the night and following day until he was
able to find a place to stay at a shelter
for migrants. He has been in Nogales
ever since. Because he doesn’t have any
identification with him—his passport
is at his home in Phoenix—he hasn’t
been able to receive money transfers in
his name from his family.

Even if a debit card is activated and the PIN is known,
people deported with their money on debit cards still face
difficulties in accessing those funds. They have two options
to get money from the card: make an ATM withdrawal or
make purchases at a store that accepts credit cards. Using an
ATM in Mexico (or elsewhere) to withdraw the amount on
the card, which is from the U.S., results in numerous fees, including an international transaction fee, withdrawal fee, and
balance inquiry fees.
Those who were able to successfully withdraw money from an ATM with their card reported an average of
$15.08 USD lost in fees and ATM restrictions. In addition to numerous fees, ATMs only allow for withdrawals

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

Overview: Money returned on Prepaid
Debit Cards
19 cases documented, which is 12% of
money-specific cases
Total of $520.28 lost for good
Total of $1,059.21 recovered with
humanitarian aid
68% of people managed to recover at
least some of their funds with the help of
humanitarian aid volunteers

in large, specific increments and any quantity of money
that does not fit into those increments is sacrificed. For
example, if someone had $50 USD, the equivalent of 650
MXN, they would first be charged at least 5 dollars for
the international transaction from the debit card company,
plus an equivalent fee in pesos from the ATM in Mexico,
leaving around 520 MXN on the card. They would then
only be able to withdraw 500 MXN (two 200 peso bills
and one 100 peso bill), forfeiting the remaining 20 pesos
($1.50) for a total loss of 150 MXN ($11.54 USD). This
is a best case scenario, assuming that there were no additional service charges assessed for “card maintenance,” “balance inquiry,” or “declined transaction,” to name a few of the
possible fees.
The other option is to use the card to purchase items from
a store and possibly receive cash back. Many people deported to Nogales, Mexico attempt to do this at OXXOs (the
most common convenience store there), and while the purchase of small items is sometimes successful, these transactions result in large international fees and the stores will not
give cash back.

D C T  C

Facilities that issue debit cards obligate those in detention
to receive their money in the form of a debit card upon release– cash is never an option.
People are likewise obligated to accept the terms and conditions imposed by debit card companies if they want to get their
money back. The forced acceptance of these terms and conditions amounts to a contract of adhesion, or a non-voluntary
contract. Contracts of adhesion are unenforceable in court,
and yet people being released from taxpayer-funded detention
centers are being coerced into accepting these cards and forced

33

to accept whatever fees are charged for using them to get their
money back, no matter how exorbitant or unreasonable.
One company’s cardholder agreement is written in text
smaller than 8-point font and in English only. On the back
of the debit card itself there is the following notice: “Use of
this card constitutes acceptance of all terms and conditions
as set forth in the Cardholder Agreement.” Therefore, when
someone wants to use their own money to buy food, pay for
lodging, or buy a bus ticket home, the simple act of using the
debit card that they were given without a choice means acceptance of any and all fees.
These imbalanced contracts, where one side has all the power and dictates all the terms, are ideal for companies seeking to
maximize profits. The debit card company or bank can set their
terms and the other party, in this case a person being released
from detention, is forced by prison officials to accept these
terms as a condition of their release. Furthermore, because the
other party is being physically removed from the United States
immediately after being given the debit card, they will have little or no recourse through the U.S. judicial system or consumer
protection agencies if they are defrauded in any way.
(See Section 3: Who Profits? for more on how private
corporations profit off of the mass incarceration of immigrants.)
Based on the information from our missing money surveys,
the banks that issue debit cards to individuals being deported
are First California Bank and Chase Bank. Others reported
problems with cards from a company called Numi Financial,
which claims on its website to be “the leader in stored value
card solutions for the criminal justice & corrections industry.”
There was also one instance documented of an individual being deported with an “EZ Exit Card,” which was issued by
EZ Card & Kiosk LLC.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

PART THREE

C A S H DI R E C T LY S TO L E N BY U. S . AG E N TS

Overview: Cash Directly Stolen by U.S.
Agents
8 cases documented
5% of money-specific cases
A total of $2,193.92 reported as stolen
100% of this cash was lost for good
The responsible agents were from 4 different
agencies: CBP, U.S. Marshals Service, Tempe
Police Department, and the Maricopa County
Sheriff’s Office.

In April 2013, Manuel, 36, was detained by Border Patrol
while crossing the border near Douglas, Arizona. He was
transferred to the Tucson Border Patrol detention facility
and selected as one of 70-plus people to be prosecuted that
day through Operation Streamline with criminal charges of
“illegal entry.”
The group to be prosecuted along with Manuel was bused
to the federal courthouse in Tucson. Before entering the
courtroom, the group was divided by gender and the migrants
had to undress in a room downstairs. At that time, they were
also to show a U.S. Marshal what they had hidden in their
clothing. Manuel had $360.00 in $20.00 bills sewn into his
underwear. The Marshal found the money and left to put it
aside without speaking to Manuel.
After getting dressed, Manuel says that he asked the Marshal, “What is going to happen with my money?” and the official responded, in Spanish, “Don’t count on getting that money back. I’m going to buy beer with it this weekend.” Some
40 other detainees heard the statement and many protested
that this was unfair and inappropriate. There were no other
officials in the room.
During Operation Streamline, Manuel was sentenced to
one month in the Florence-CCA. He was deported to No-

34

gales on May 7, 2014, and never saw his money again. When
we met him in Nogales, he was struggling to get a bus ticket
out of Nogales without a way to pay for it and felt he was in
danger on the street with no money.
Many people are aware that migrants are subject to robbery
on their journey to the U.S., targeted by armed bandits, drug
cartels, and the guides they pay to lead them across the desert.
The hidden story is that there are frequent reports of U.S.
agents robbing cash from migrants during apprehension and
detention. The original survey, piloted in spring 2013, did not
include a category for stolen cash. However, when three cases
of cash being stolen by U.S. agents were reported during the
pilot period, we added this category.
In 5% (8 out of 165) of the missing money cases reported to
No More Deaths, migrants in detention witnessed agents of
the state stealing their cash. Many detainees are passed from
the custody of one agency to another. At each stage, they are
potentially subject to being robbed due to lack of impartial
oversight of the chain of custody and lack of agency accountability for such losses.
Nine individuals reported money in cash stolen by U.S.
agents, with a total of $2,193.92 taken, for an average of
$274.24 stolen per person. The range of amount stolen per

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

(left)
Border Patrol vehicle in the Tucson
Sector. Border Patrol agents usually
work alone or with one other agent
and are not supervised or monitored
during the apprehension process.
(below)
Roberto displays his wounds after
being beaten and left alone in the
desert by Border Patrol agents.

CASE EXAMPLES
LETICIA: MONEY TAKEN IN MARICOPA COUNTY JAIL
Leticia was detained in Tempe, Arizona in November of 2012, and deported to Nogales, Sonora in April
2013 after 4.5 months in the Maricopa
County Jail. She told No More Deaths
volunteers that during the intake process, she presented $374.00 she had
on her for her belongings inventory,
including three $100.00 bills. The officer told her that the jail does not accept $100.00 bills for inmate accounts,
and did not include those on the inventory. He recorded only the $74.00, but
took all of her cash, including the three
$100.00 bills.

person was from 570 pesos (43.85 USD) to $500 USD.
When they are apprehended in the desert in the Tucson
sector, most migrants are arrested by one, two, or a small
group of Border Patrol agents. Currently, there is no monitoring or supervision of the apprehension process. A Border
Patrol vehicle or a private, contracted security agency named
G4S (formerly known as Wackenhut) will then drive apprehended individuals to a Border Patrol short-term detention
facility. When detainees are processed, an inventory is taken of their belongings and they should receive a written receipt. The individuals selected for Operation Streamline are
then transported on a G4S bus to the Pima County Federal
Courthouse, where they are processed by the U.S. Marshals
Service and strip-searched before being handcuffed, shackled, and then brought to the courtroom.
The diversity in the stories we received about stolen money
indicates that migrants are at risk of robbery at nearly every
phase of the process described above. In the nine reported
cases of theft we documented, four separate agencies were
implicated (Customs and Border Protection, Tempe Police
Department, U.S. Marshals, and the Maricopa County Sheriff ’s Office). Additionally, these thefts took place under six
different circumstances. Our cases include examples of:
• Cash having been taken by a Border Patrol agent during
the apprehension process in the desert. (1 case)
• Cash that detainees attempted to report during intake as
part of an inventory of their belongings having been stolen.
This cash was never written on the inventory; it was, instead,

35

When Leticia was deported, she received only the remaining $74. She
believes the officer simply stole the
$300.00. In the Maricopa County Jail
policies related to money and belongings, which are publicly available, nowhere does it state that $100.00 bills
are not accepted, nor does it suggest
that anything less than the full amount
of money confiscated during the intake
process will be returned upon release.29
There was no evidence that the $300.00
was seized because it was related to illegal profits.

taken and kept by the agent who performed the inventory.
(3 cases)
• A wallet containing $500.00 cash having been taken by
a customs agent during a secondary search of a person attempting to cross through the port of entry with false papers.
(1 case)
• Money that a detainee had hidden in his clothing found
and stolen by U.S. Marshals during a strip-search in the
federal courthouse before an Operation Streamline hearing.
(1 case)
• Money stolen during intake by the Maricopa County
Sheriff ’s Office. (1 case)
Note that there is one case in which the agency and specific
circumstances are unknown.
In cases where a migrant has been directly robbed, there
is little to no recourse available. When an individual steals
cash in the above-listed circumstances, there is no documentation of the money existing or changing hands. The
only evidence is the migrant’s word against the agent’s.
Similar to other allegations of abuse in detention, reporting
robbery by agents can lead to a migrant being marked as a
troublemaker who makes false accusations, which can result
in harassment, retaliation and indefinite detention while a
investigation is supposedly occurring. If such investigations
actually take place, they are certainly not transparent. All of
these factors lead to a very low rate of such thefts being reported while migrants are still in the same detention facility
where the robbery occurred.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
ROBERTO: ROBBED AND BEATEN IN THE DESERT, AND THEN LEFT BEHIND
Roberto tells his experience in his own
words: “When the Border Patrol agents
stopped me at the border around midnight [on the Tohono O’odham Nation,
where the border wall is only a barbed
wire fence], they yelled at me, “Stop!”
and then “Te vamos a matar!” (We are
going to kill you). There were three Border Patrol agents and one had a shirt
with the name ‘John’ on it. One of them
hit me in the left eye, and another agent
hit me in the mouth on the left side. I
was on the ground, bleeding, and they
looked into the pockets of my pants and
stole all my money I had there, a total of
$354.00. The agents continued hitting
me in the head, the arms and the left

leg. They put something sharp under
my fingernail on my index finger and
ripped off the nail and it was bleeding.
They grabbed and dragged me by the
hair and then threw me over the barbed
wire that marks the border in that area.
They called me ‘motherfucker.’
“They went away and left me there
bleeding. I had my [Mexican] cell phone
and I called Grupo Beta [*the Mexican
federal agency for migrants]. This was
about 3:00 a.m. now. Grupo Beta said
they would come for me, but I tried to
walk, barely dragging myself along because I could not walk. About an hour
and a half later Grupo Beta arrived, and
brought me to the general hospital in

Nogales. It took 45 minutes of driving
to get there. At the hospital, they gave
me stitches in the wound close to my
left eye. They put hydrogen peroxide on
the fingernail that had been ripped out.
I told both Grupo Beta and the doctor
at the hospital about what the Border
Patrol agents did to me. They gave me
a prescription for medicine that fights
both the infection and the pain.
“This is an injustice! Why do they do
this? Why do they beat people? They
see us as animals, as dogs. I wasn’t carrying drugs, nothing, not people, I’m
not a trafficker. I don’t use drugs. If
they are going to detain someone, okay,
but don’t mistreat us.”

Belongings/Money Not Returned

5

Out of the 11 cases, the interviewees were missing the following:

Ide
nti
fic
ati
on

4

Money
($40-$584)

3

Items of
$100+ value

3

Sentimental or
practical value

Number of people for each category Tijuana sample

B N: M M 
B  T

Because all of No More Deaths’ interviews were conducted
in Nogales, Sonora, we wanted to understand if dispossession
issues are affecting people who have been deported to other
places on the border in similar ways. When people are apprehended in other Border Patrol sectors they are subject to
distinct practices that differ from those we see in the Tucson
sector. Detainees are also processed and held in facilities that
are operated by other states and counties meaning that the
forms in which they return money could differ from our Nogales based research results. American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) of San Diego offered to help, and hired a researcher
in March 2014 to investigate whether migrants held in California and deported to Tijuana face similar problems.
The investigator conducted 11 interviews with individuals
who had been deported to Tijuana, Mexico, and spoke to key
informants working in the shelter and meal programs that
serve them. Here is what they found:

36

• In Tijuana, the two most common non-returned items
are official forms of identification and cell phones.
• While checks and debit cards can be issued to deportees in lieu of their original cash, this practice may be less
common than it is in Nogales due to the fact that fewer
people deported to Tijuana have gone through the criminal
justice system. (San Diego has a 5% prosecution rate, while
Tucson has a 32% prosecution rate for people detained by
Border Patrol).
• In Tijuana, it appears that people who were held in California prisons used to receive checks upon deportation in lieu
of their original cash, but within the past year they began
receiving debit cards in cases of inter-agency transfers when
cash is not returned.
• There have been several cases of debit cards being stapled
directly to paperwork, which usually damages a debit card’s
magnetic strip, preventing it from functioning properly.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

SECTION 2

C ATA S T RO P H I C
CONSEQUENCES
W H AT D O E S I T M E A N TO BE D E P O RT E D
W I T H O U T M O N EY O R BE L O N G I N G S ?

The Consequence Delivery System is part of a CBP strategy to administer repercussions for unauthorized entry in
hopes of reducing recidivism. Programs such as the Alien
Transfer Exit Program (ATEP), which deports people far
from where they were picked up, and Operation Streamline,
which federally prosecutes migrants, are two examples of this
strategy. ICE also engages in deterrence programs such as
287(g) and Secure Community programs that result in the
incarceration of undocumented people in detention centers
nationwide.30 Reckless repatriation practices, such as dropping people off in the middle of the night, far from where
they entered, and without their belongings are demonstrative of the innate cruelty of deterrence practices. The consequences of these programs and strategies, whether direct or
collateral, are catastrophic.

A I M

What is it like to be deported to Nogales with no money or
belongings? Among the 45,000 people deported to Nogales
each year are women and family members separated from
their husbands, who were laterally repatriated to other border cities like Mexicali or Ciudad Acuña;31 campesinos from
the poorest, southernmost Mexican states who have never
heard of Nogales; those in dire need of the medical care they
were denied in detention; and those who had lived in the U.S.
for so long that they are more comfortable speaking English
than Spanish and have no ties to Mexico.
What individuals from such different walks of life have in
common is that they suddenly find themselves–often in the

37

middle of the night, with buses arriving regularly between
2:00 and 4:00 a.m.32 – in an unfamiliar border town with
many industries, both illegal and legal, that center around
their exploitation. Whether people call the US, Mexico, or
any other country home, the stress of the urgency to buy a
bus ticket to return to family and support networks33 is shadowed by the utter impossibility of achieving such an escape
without money.

M L

Some survey participants were also asked about what kinds
of problems they faced as a result of being deported without
access to their money in cash. Out of the 88 respondents:
• 81% said, “Could not afford to travel home”
• 77% said, “Could not afford food”
• 69% said, “Could not afford shelter”
• 64% said, “Lost time”
• 53% said, “Exposure to danger”
In addition to the five categories listed on the survey, 26
participants added their own responses:
• Six said that it kept them from communicating with their
family, causing worry among family members.
• Three said that they could not afford medical supplies
that they needed: one person needed crutches; one person
needed medication for a pre-existing condition; and the third
person needed to treat the wounds of an abuse suffered.
• Three said that they could not receive money through
Western Union from family because their identification was
not returned either.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

Based on the personal effects recovered from Border
Patrol between 2011 and 2014, whose contents we
inventoried, Border Patrol detainees have on average
$38.14 in Mexican currency; 60% have one or more
foreign-government-issued IDs; and 52% have a cell
phone. These are the elements of one’s personal effects
that make a crucial difference for their safety and well
being at the moment of deportation and afterwards.

• One said that he couldn’t send money to his wife and children–that the money was intended for them.
• Two said that they could not get around locally without
money for buses.
• Four said that it caused a great amount of confusion and
frustration.
• Three said that they could not afford clothing and hygiene
products, such as soap and toothpaste. Among these, one
stated, “I felt ashamed to not be able to change my clothes,
and to look crazy (parecer loco)”
• Three expressed that it was an affront to their basic human dignity. (“To live with dignity, you need money.”)

T R  T  R
M

Upon arrival in a border town, every step a person who has
been deported might take to get money to get home involves
significant risk. The useless pieces of paper that are checks
cashable only in the U.S. could represent that person’s life
savings, or months, if not years, of prison wages. Barring humanitarian intervention, all too often these checks are “cashed”
by enterprising exploiters, who cross stateside to “help” the
deported individual get their money, only to never be heard
from again.
The danger continues: if a deported individual knows
someone who could wire them money and scrounges up
change for a pay phone, there is nothing stopping an ill-intentioned passerby from redialing the number and claiming
to be holding the person hostage in order to demand money.

38

Such fake hostage situations and related extortions are regular occurrences. The perpetrators know that those who have
been deported have virtually no legal recourse.
Even if a deported individual contacts family to have money wired, they need a government-issued identification, e.g. a
Mexican voting card (credencial), to receive money through
Western Union or MoneyGram. We have found that rarely
did someone choose to travel without an official form of identification – rather, migrants without IDs are usually missing
it because it was taken during detention and never returned.
Opportunists looking to capitalize on this situation may offer
to have money wired in their name, for a fee, on behalf of the
migrant without ID. Again, there is no accountability or legal
recourse if the person receiving the money decides to keep it
and disappear.

P L

What would it mean for you to leave home carrying only
what you are able to fit into one backpack alongside the food
and water you must also haul across a vast desert for days on
end? What would you choose to bring? This is the decision
that hundreds of thousands of migrants must make every
year as they travel north into the U.S.
Common items found in migrants’ backpacks include
one-of-a-kind photos, family heirlooms, religious keepsakes,
prescriptions and medications, important identification documents such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses, telephones and notebooks with important contacts, a change of
clothes, hygiene products, food, and cash.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
RAMIRO: POLICE HARASSMENT
Ramiro was imprisoned for two
months for “illegal entry” after he was
detained for crossing the border. He was
deported without his belongings, which
included ID and 3,000 pesos ($250.00
USD). He told us that not having his
belongings has caused many problems
and even danger. First of all, he could
not buy a bus ticket to travel south to his
community of origin in Mexico. Without identification, he could not receive

Not only are people denied medical care while in custody,
but also pre-existing medical conditions are aggravated by
them not having important, and in some situations lifesaving,
medications returned. Not only are people separated from
their families, but also cherished and irreplaceable mementos
are lost. Not only are people over-crammed into cells and denied hygiene materials in custody, but they are also deported
without a change of clothes or hygiene products, which makes
them more identifiable as a recent deportee and thus more
easily exploitable by predators. Not only are people starved
while in custody, the food they had on them is not returned.
Not only are people denied phone calls in custody, but they
also lose important numbers that were written on paper or
inside a cellphone directory, leaving them isolated.

T D  D
 C P  M
I

Even if people receive their money in cash upon deportation, they can still be stranded if they don’t receive belongings
such as a cell phone containing numbers for family members
or other contacts. Many individuals are unable to find family
members who may be lost in the desert, still in detention, or
already deported to another location on the border through
the Alien Transfer Exit Program (ATEP).
Not being able to receive a wire transfer is only one of
myriad problems caused by not having formal identification. Local police in Nogales and elsewhere in Mexico often
seek out people who look like migrants and ask to see their

39

money from family through Western
Union. A day after arriving in Mexico,
the local police stopped him and asked
for his identification. When he did not
have identification to show, they threatened to arrest him if he did not pay a
bribe, but he also had no money. Eventually he showed them his deportation
paper issued by Repatriación Humana,
and they allowed him to go, but the
event left him scared and shaken.

credencial (voter ID card) with the justification that many
migrants are from Central America and do not have legal
status in Mexico. When the person being questioned is not
able to produce the requisite identification, the police may
then attempt to bribe the individual under the threat of arrest. If the person does not have any money, he or she may
be arrested under suspicion of being Central American. Alternately, an officer may fabricate charges as a pretense for
arrest. Once arrested, migrants are at risk of being physically brutalized, sexually harassed or abused, and subject to
other ill treatment.
People without government-issued identification cannot work legally in Mexico, which leaves them in economic
limbo. Some accept under-the-table jobs in extremely poor
conditions, with long hours, relatively low pay, and no recourse if the employer chooses to not pay them. Loss of
identification can also result in being unable to travel and
for those needing medical attention, not having access to a
public hospital.

A R  B D
W M  B

While there are basic services such as meals and shelter for
migrants in Nogales, not every border community has the
same amenities–and most programs have a limited number
of days a deported individual can receive their services. Many
deported individuals find themselves stuck on the border for
longer than the few nights offered at the shelters and then
begin sleeping on the streets or in the graveyard. Due to the

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
MIGUEL: ADDITIONAL DANGERS DUE TO SEXUAL ORIENTATION
Miguel is from Oaxaca but feels that
he cannot return because his family
will not accept that he is gay. He was
held in three detention facilities, two
of which were owned by the private
prison company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and then
deported to Nogales, Mexico. He did
not receive any of his belongings upon
deportation. He was initially told by

a Border Patrol agent that they would
keep his belongings for 30 days, but he
was subsequently detained for 45 days.
The consulate told him that even if his
belongings were still available, it would
take four months to recover them.
When he heard this news, he did not
know what he was going to do. When
we spoke with Miguel, he was considering looking for work in Nogales so he
could buy a ticket south.

dangerous repatriation practice of not returning money and
belongings, someone sleeping on the street and going hungry
could have a check for hundreds of U.S. dollars in his or her
pocket with no way to cash it.
Arriving without money, belongings and identification
drastically increases one’s vulnerability. For individuals already at greater risk due to gender identity, sexual orientation,
age and ethnicity, arriving empty-handed can heighten the
chance of assault and exploitation. Though questions about
identity and risk were not included in the No More Deaths
interviews, the issue did come up numerous times when interviewees were asked if they felt that they were exposed to a
danger as a result of not having their money and belongings.
In 2013 a group in northern Mexico called The Binational
Defense and Advocacy Program (Programa de Defensa e
Incidencia Binacional) published a report detailing human
rights violations for migrants in the U.S. and in Mexico. Their
report lists extortion as the number one most common abuse
in Mexico for migrants, followed by physical assault. Other
abuses reported are theft, verbal assault, threats, negative attention, and kidnapping.34

from a loan taken out against the family’s home or farming
land. In some cases, it is the largest amount of cash they have
ever possessed. A migrant who returns without that money
would risk losing everything if unable to pay back the loan.
In this context, the solicitations of organized crime networks become tempting. Individuals may take small roles in
the border drug trade, even if they never before would have
participated, to recover the money. Many report making this
decision out of desperation and lack of options. Often these
inexperienced new recruits are placed in risky roles and sacrificed to arrest or physical harm, while seasoned cartel members protect themselves.
When their losses push migrants to try crossing the border
again, this leaves them at risk of further charges, extended
detention, and the whole process all over again. Multiple migrants have reported that because of their experiences and
knowledge of abuses by law enforcement, they will do anything they can to avoid being detained, even if that means dying. Border Patrol lists 445 border deaths in 2013, meaning
that at least one person each day loses their life.36

L  M  B =
L  O

Long-term mental health impacts must also be taken into
account as part of the consequences of deportation. Deportation exposes people to violence, instability, and fear, which
can result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Separating people from their families and communities is
traumatic enough and is only exacerbated by stripping away
their money and belongings, which results in increased vulnerabilities. Though the immediate impacts have been documented in this report, the long-term impact of deportation
and dispossession may not be fully assessed for years to come
as communities continue to be divided and exploited, causing
inter-generational trauma.

People deported without their money and belongings must
consider their most realistic options moving forward. Many
say they prefer to return to a place of origin and not immediately attempt the arduous and risky journey to the U.S. again.
A 2013 University of Arizona study found that only 25% of
those recently deported planned to attempt to cross the border again during the next week.35
For some, trying to cross through the desert again feels less
risky than returning home empty-handed. Much of the cash
that is stolen from migrants is borrowed money that came

40

In addition to losing his backpack and
belongings, he lost $317.07 that he had
inside of his backpack. He reported not
having access to food or shelter, and felt
that he was generally exposed to a great
deal of danger. Miguel was experiencing a lot of confusion and psychological
damage. He reported feeling additional
fear because he is gay and is more vulnerable without money and resources.

M H I

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

CASE EXAMPLES
RAMONA: STUCK IN NOGALES
Ramona, a 54-year-old mother of
three working in Phoenix for many
years, intended to briefly visit her
hometown of Puebla, Mexico to attend
to her son with a broken leg. As she attempted to re-enter the US, she carried
with her the cash to pay her $5,000.00
crossing fee in full. She came up with
the money through pawning jewelry
and an advance on alimony payments
from her ex-husband. When arrested,
Ramona was carrying $5,636 in total,
all of it in U.S. dollars.
Border Patrol agents detained Ramona in Sasabe, Arizona, in a group of
three migrants and their guía (guide).
The agents told them to declare any
valuables they had, but Ramona’s money was sewn into her clothing as she
was concerned about losing it. At Border Patrol headquarters in Tucson, Ramona surrendered her personal effects
including the money. She observed that
two Form I-77 tags were assigned, one
to her bag of personal effects and one
to her money. However, she was not allowed to have a copy of either one and
received no documentation regarding
her money. She was, however, assured
repeatedly that her money would be returned to her.
Ramona and the two other members of her group were identified as
material witnesses for the prosecution
of their guide. She was interrogated
twice, shouted at, and asked accusing

41

questions about the money she was
carrying—was it money that people
had paid her for their crossings? Even
the accusing agent told her after that
the money would be returned when
she “got out of jail.” Upon transfer to a
detention center, she requested to call
her consulate about the matter, but was
not allowed. After spending eight days
at the Florence CCA Detention Center, ICE officers drove her to Tucson
on their way to Nogales, Mexico. She
inquired about her money, but because
she was never given a receipt they told
her she would just have to take it up
with her Consulate.
After connecting with the Mexican
Consulate in Tucson with the help of
No More Deaths volunteers working in
Nogales, Mexico, she acquired a letter
dated July 18, 2013 from the BP Tucson Asset Forfeiture office, addressed
to her in Puebla, Mexico. The letter was
to inform her that her money had been
seized and was “subject to forfeiture . .
. as proceeds of unlawful activity.” The
letter added that she had 30 days from
the date of the letter to petition for remission of forfeiture by filling out the
enclosed forms.
Ramona received at the same time a
copy of another letter, dated August 22,
2013, asserting that CBP had initiated
forfeiture proceedings by publishing a
notice on a government website for 30
consecutive days starting July 26, 2013.

By the time she obtained this letter,
those 30 days had already elapsed and
it was too late to confirm whether such
a notice had in fact appeared on that
website, let alone contest the forfeiture.
All of the letters and forms that Ramona received were written in English,
which she does not speak. They were
also written in legal jargon versus plain
language.37 Representatives of the Consulate of Mexico expressed an inability
to understand the options offered well
enough to advise Ramona or to help
her fill out the forms provided. Furthermore, the “petition for relief from forfeiture” form provided placed a very high
burden on Ramona for the recovery of
her money. She would have to provide
originals or certified copies of receipts
proving that the money was not ill-gotten gains. She was expressly required
to submit her petition in English, and
to have the completed form notarized.
Notarization in Mexico is not a simple
matter and can cost a week’s pay.
As of October 30, 2013, more than
three months after her deportation,
Ramona still had not recovered her
money and was coping with the effects
of the loss. Interest continued to accrue
on the loan of her pawned jewelry. Because several months of advance payments of her alimony were also tied up
in the seizure, she was obliged to take
a cleaning job in Nogales for $80.00 a
week to sustain herself.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

SECTION 3

W H O P RO F I TS ?
F O L L OW I N G T H E
M O N EY T R A I L
The question of where all of these belongings and money
end up, once lost by the rightful owners, leads to a very tangled and complex web. While there is no simple answer, there
are a number of overarching trends that help us understand
exactly who is profiting from money taken from immigrants
and never returned.
One perplexing fact is that in many cases, the agency that
takes the money is not the agency that keeps the money after it is considered “abandoned.” When all Department of
Homeland Security protocols are followed, much of the
money eventually ends up in the U.S. Treasury fund. There
are also many profiteers siphoning money along the way.
Money appears to end up with private prisons such as CCA,
MoneyGram, for-profit prepaid debit card companies such as
NUMI Financial, and individual agents.
We see two basic paths for tracking where the money of
dispossessed migrants ends up: what happens to non-U.S.
currency that remains in belongings with Border Patrol; and
what happens to U.S. dollars in inmate accounts for immigrants who have been criminally prosecuted and are eventually deported by ICE.

M  B D 
CBP

When migrants who have been detained while crossing the
border are criminally prosecuted for “illegal (re)entry,” their
belongings stay behind with Border Patrol and are destroyed
30 days after detention in most locations. In the Tucson Sector, the belongings are held for up to 210 days: through the
length of the sentence plus an additional 30 days after release
from detention for Operation Streamline prosecutions.
The destination of the money left in these belongings depends on whether that money was properly recorded on an
inventory form, called 6051D, during its owner’s intake processing. Inventoried money is supposed to be retained when
belongings are destroyed and then placed in a CBP suspense
account in the owner’s name. This means that when proper
procedures are followed, money can be claimed by its owner

42

long after the other belongings have been destroyed. After
three years, any money still unclaimed is released and goes
into the U.S. Treasury fund.
Cash left in belongings that was not inventoried properly
is technically destroyed with the rest of the belongings. Certainly in some cases, for instance when bills are effectively
hidden by being sewn into clothing or stowed inside of perishable items, this money may be literally destroyed. However, based on our observations, a great deal of money simply
isn’t accounted for. There is currently no mechanism by which
found money is officially logged after the original inventory,
and we are not aware of any protocol requiring CBP to hold
onto such money for its owner if it is found in the destruction
process without having been recorded. While we have no way
to know for sure what happens to such money, we find it hard
to believe that cash, when discovered and not inventoried,
would be physically destroyed. If it isn’t being destroyed, we
have no way of knowing if cash gets pocketed by individual
agents or immediately turned over to the U.S. Treasury.
According to a 2006 CBP directive titled Regarding Personal Property Disposition Procedures, seized or abandoned
property determined to have a commercial value must be
sold through a private company, referred to as the “National
Seized Property Contractor.”38

U F  P
A

Money in U.S. dollars transferred to the owners’ prison accounts or deposited into these accounts by friends and family
is more difficult to track if it is never recovered. Again, many
deported individuals lose money that was returned as money
orders, checks, or pre-paid debit cards.
The money from checks that are never cashed would remain in the bank account of the source that issued the check
(e.g., Arizona Department of Corrections), just as any uncashed personal check would. In some cases, when the check
is cashed through a money exchange operation in Mexico,
25% or more of the money goes to that business’s profits.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

When funds are returned by money order, companies such
as MoneyGram actually receive the funds from the detention
center and then own that money. This would indicate that
MoneyGram and similar companies keep the funds when a
money order cannot be cashed.
Finally, for funds returned on cards, the quantity not
claimed would simply go to the financial services company
that produces those cards, such as NUMI Financial.
It is relatively simple to track how debit card and money
order companies, such as MoneyGram, take over custody of
a detainee’s funds and then absorb these funds as profit when
the owner is not able to recover the money after being deported. It is, however, slightly more complex to track the flow
of money when a deported individual’s check goes un-cashed.
If a private prison company owns the detention center that issued the check (as opposed to just operating it), as is the case
with Florence FCC, for instance, the unclaimed funds appear
to stay with that company.
On the other hand, in the case of federal or county facilities, even those operated by private companies, the unclaimed
funds are supposed to be turned over to a governmental account. For example, when No More Deaths volunteers interviewed an accounts manager at CI Reeves III, a Geo Groupoperated, but Bureau of Prisons-owned, facility in Pecos,
Texas, they were informed that if checks issued by their facility are not cashed within three months, the funds are sent to
the U.S. government’s lockbox and designated as “unclaimed
funds.” This is consistent with the Arizona DOC’s “Department Order Manual on Inmate Property,” which states that
unclaimed funds, after they come to be considered forfeited,
go into a general fund or to the state (909.07 1.7.4).

N F: C
P  I W

Numi Financial (Numi) is one of many obscure companies
that are profiting from the privatization of incarceration. According to its website, “Numi Financial is the leader in stored
value card solutions for the criminal justice and corrections
industry.”39 Operating since 1998, Numi Financial specializes
in MasterCard prepaid access cards and markets specifically
to the corrections industry. According to its website, its “product offerings include inmate release cards, work release cards,
juror pay cards, and other industry specific card programs.”40
Numi Financial’s website also suggests that there is little to
no cost to a prison, itself, for utilizing Numi Financial’s services. Specifically, they say “all facilities can opt into the program at no charge,” and they quote a customer from Cumberland County Jail as saying, “We no longer have to buy checks,
which saves us a lot of money.”41
Numi Financial’s profits appear to be gained almost entirely
from exorbitant cardholder fees. These fees include: a $2.50

43

per week account maintenance fee that is first charged two
days after activation rather than at the end of the first week of
service; a $3.50 fee to call customer service and another $3.95
fee to speak to a customer representative; over $5.00 in fees
for each international ATM use; a $0.50 fee for each denied
transaction; and a $1.50 fee for a balance inquiry. While Arizona DOC unclaimed inmate funds are legally supposed to
be returned to a state general fund after three years, the $2.50
weekly maintenance fee alone would have eaten away $390
by that time – larger than the amount on most deported immigrants’ cards.
The Numi Financial sales pitch to prison facilities includes
rhetoric stressing “efficiency.” One key component of this
pitch that Numi promotes is, “No more unclaimed property reporting… Eliminate customer service duties as Numi
handles all lost, stolen, and card usage issues.”42 Ultimately,
the facilities profit by handing over accountability for all unclaimed funds and the problems former inmates have with
accessing their money. Numi, in turn, profits from this particular arrangement by keeping money that is not recovered
by its owner.
Pinal County Jail in Arizona, which up until 2014 had
625 beds contracted to ICE for immigrant detainees,43 uses
Numi Financial prepaid debit cards to return funds to people
who are being deported. A cursory investigation of Numi
Financial’s legal compliance with Arizona law brought No
More Deaths into contact with the Arizona Department of
Financial Institutions (AZDFI). An examiner at the AZDFI
determined that Numi Financial has never been licensed to
do business in Arizona and might be operating illegally. The
AZDFI issued a letter to Numi Financial in March 2014
that gave the company 30 days to explain why it did not need
a business license, and indicating that Numi would be prohibited from operating in Arizona.
At the end of May, 2014 the company and its lawyers responded to the notice with documents from other states and
a legal justification of their unlicensed operation. The AZDFI has sent that information to the state Attorney General’s
office, which will review it, consult the relevant Arizona statutes, and make a final decision. If it is determined that Numi
Financial has been operating illegally without a business license, their operations in the state will be shut down and they
face the possibility of fines.
No More Deaths has also helped involuntary customers of
Numi Financial submit consumer complaints to the AZDFI
seeking reimbursement from the company for fees charged
and changes to the company’s practices. Furthermore, the
AZDFI has sent a notice about the company to its counterparts in other states so they can do their own investigations
into whether the company is complying with state laws regulating business activity.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

SECTION 4

C O N C LU S I O N &
R E C O M M E N DAT I O N S
For people caught up in today’s nexus between the criminal justice system and immigration enforcement—including
Operation Streamline and Secure Communities as well as
the broader strategy of mass prosecution and mass deportation—the consequences far exceed the penalties officially imposed, and are sometimes unexpected. We have shown that
one of the unofficial but systematic “consequences” of being
detained for immigration reasons is the loss of belongings
and money, which has many ramifications up to and including endangerment of lives.
There are a few simple and clear changes that would go a
long way to ensure that money and belongings are returned
appropriately to everyone being deported from the U.S.
We assert that first and foremost, law enforcement agencies
should preserve basic law enforcement standards and principles, such as property and evidence management and the
primary safety of the individual.
Recommendations for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS):
1. Immigrant detainees must always have access to vital
belongings while in custody, such as medications necessary
for their health and phone numbers necessary to contact
loved ones.
CBP, ICE officials or Local Enforcement Agencies must all
allow those they apprehend this right. Ensuring that detainees have access to their most urgent and essential items while
in custody is step one in respecting their needs connected to
their belongings and is an important precursor to that same
respect being extended upon release and/or removal.
2. Immigrant detainees who will eventually be deported
by ICE should have their belongings, including money,
follow them to the end of their chain of custody and they
should be reunited with these items (including money in
its original form) immediately upon their release.
ICE must ensure that each immigrant in their custody has
all of their original belongings before deporting them to their
country of origin. DHS must also require in their ICE con-

44

tracts that all prisons holding ICE detainees must allow their
belongings to come along with them. Short of that, DHS
must require that each detainee’s belongings be transferred
from CBP or any other arresting agency directly to the ICE
ERO facility that will be responsible for that person’s deportation, so that each person will receive their belongings before
being deported.
A special emphasis should be placed on returning any
form of identification, money, phones and legal documents.
It is not adequate to depend on consulates to help recover
belongings after deportation because these items are vital
for each person to have immediately upon arriving on the
border, for their safety. ICE should coordinate with its partner and peer agencies– CBP, local sheriff and police departments, the U.S. Marshals Service, BOP, State Departments
of Corrections—as well as its own detention facilities to
ensure restoration of all belongings, or at minimum, the essential belongings noted above.
3. ICE ERO must ensure that every individual has the
opportunity to convert their commissary funds to cash before deportation.
DHS has ultimate responsibility for ensuring that funds
are returned to their owners in a form that can be used
after deportation. Therefore, DHS must either provide a
way for individuals to cash checks and debit card balances
before deportation or require that all facilities that hold
immigrant detainees return the money from their inmate
accounts in cash. ICE-Enforcement and Removal Operations (ICE-ERO) is specifically the branch of DHS that
is in charge of removing individuals for deportation and as
such should be responsible for ensuring that those deported have their cash in hand when leaving the U.S. While
DHS policy is most important to change, individual facilities could also address the problems and risks associated
with dispossession of money and belongings by returning
money in the form of cash to everyone being transferred to
ICE for deportation.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

4. CBP should retain prosecuted individuals’ belongings for a minimum of 30 days past the end of their prison
sentence, or until ICE picks up the belongings. Belongings
should never be destroyed while their owner is still serving
a sentence.
The people subject to DHS’s mass-prosecution initiatives,
although officially transferred to the criminal justice system,
in effect remain under DHS responsibility: they are systematically returned to DHS after serving their sentence, without
recovering their liberty in the meantime. Because most prosecuted individuals receive sentences of 30 days or longer, their
belongings are de facto forfeited at the time of prosecution,
unless they receive extraordinary and efficient outside help.
CBP should expand the Tucson Sector’s special retention
policy for Operation Streamline prosecutions to the entire
border, and to all of its prosecution initiatives. Under this
policy each person’s belongings are retained until 30 days past
the end of their prison sentence, allowing the opportunity to
claim it after release.
5. CBP property-management practices must be brought
into conformity with law-enforcement norms and CBP’s
own written policies.
An accurate 100% inventory of belongings, including
money, should be made for each detainee. All detained
personal effects should be completely reviewed and documented by a uniformed officer in the presence of the property’s owner (the detainee) and at least one other officer.
Every individual who becomes part of the chain of custody
of a detainee’s property, whether a government employee
or not, should sign for an itemized list of that property. All
currency, both foreign and domestic, must be counted and
bagged separately from other belongings. All unclaimed
currency must be placed in a suspense account in the owner’s name, and not destroyed, whether it was originally inventoried or not. Good stewardship of belongings should
be exercised and appropriate preservation measures taken
(e.g., wet clothes should be allowed to dry prior to being
stored).
6. DHS must create an accessible and transparent
mechanism for accepting complaints filed by migrants

45

and ensure adequate oversight to remedy the problems
identified by the complaints.
This complaint process should be accessible to both immigrants currently in detention and those recently deported, and
allow real avenues for prompt and fair redress. A yearly report
with a total of all of the money that is never returned to or
claimed by its original owner should be released publicly by
both CBP and ICE. This report should also indicate the number of belongings that were destroyed, and the number of people impacted by dispossession. This report should include an
explanation of why it was not possible to return these items,
and what steps are being taken to alleviate future issues.
All of these recommendations are remedies that the Obama
Administration could implement immediately; none of these
recommendations would require legislative approval from
Congress.
Recommendation for jurisdictions that work with DHS:
Both federal and local jurisdictions should end or limit collaboration with ICE and CBP until ICE and CBP demonstrate that they are taking appropriate measures to reliably
restore detainees’ personal property.
• DHS’s lack of policies to guarantee the return of property
and money, resulting in dispossession, is only one of a host
of reasons for jurisdictions to refrain, beyond any minimal
legal obligations that may be imposed upon them, from facilitating mass deportation and mass prosecution. Among the
organisms that should end or limit their cooperation are municipalities, states, and the U.S. Department of Justice (U.S.
Attorneys, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Prisons,
and the Federal Public Defender).
The issue of dispossession makes a strong argument that
mixing immigration and criminal justice results in dangerous repatriation practices and an attack on human rights.
The best way to address the issue would be to end criminal
prosecutions for immigration-related charges. Furthermore,
to comprehensively address the full range of human rights
abuses associated with immigration-related charges, the most
effective solution would be to end detention and deportation
as a whole and to respect the dignity and freedom of movement of all people.

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

E N D N OT E S
1. Preston, Julia. “Amid Steady Deportation, Fear and Worry
Multiply Among Immigrants”; New York Times, December 22,
2013.
<http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/23/us/fears-multiply-amida-surge-in-deportation.html?_r=0>
2. Martinez, Slack, and Heyman. “Bordering on Criminal:
The Routine Abuse of Migrants in the Removal System (Part
II: Possessions Taken and Not Returned)”; Special Report,
December 2013.
3. In English, “This goes in the trash!”
4. Libal, Bob. “Immigration Reform Must End, Not Expand,
Operation Streamline” 01/25/2013.
<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-libal/immigration-reformmust-end_b_2537547.html>
5. United States Sentencing Commission: Quick Facts.
<http://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-andpublications/quick-facts/Quick_Facts_Illegal_Reentry.pdf>
6. Immigration Policy Center. “No Action Taken: Lack of CBP
Accountability in Responding to Complaints of Abuse”; May 4,
2014. <http://immigrationpolicy.org/special-reports/no-actiontaken-lack-cbp-accountability-responding-complaints-abuse>
7. WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America). “Multimedia
Package: Five Ways to Stop Unsafe Deportations”; March 19,
2014. <http://www.wola.org/commentary/four_deportation_
practices_that_put_migrants_at_risk>
8. The Center for Latin American Studies, The University
of Arizona. “In the Shadow of the Wall: Family Separation,
Immigration Enforcement and Security”; Final Report, 2013.
<http://las.arizona.edu/sites/las.arizona.edu/files/shadow_of_
the_wall_final_web.pdf>
9. Martinez, Slack, and Heyman. “Bordering on Criminal:
The Routine Abuse of Migrants in the Removal System (Part
II: Possessions Taken and Not Returned)”; Special Report,
December 2013.
<http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/ipc/
Border%20-%20Possessions%20FINAL.pdf>
10. Del Angel, Florez, Martinez, Moreno Mena, Navarrete, and
Sui. “Human Rights Violations of Mexican Migrants Detained in
the United States”; May, 2013.
< http://programadefensaincidenciabinacional.files.wordpress.
com/2012/05/2do-informe-violaciones-a-ddh-de-mexicanosdeportados-de-usa.pdf>

46

11. Institute for Justice & Journalism. “Retained Belongings”;
April 6, 2014.
<http://justicejournalism.org/projects/retained-belongings/>
12. ‘Operation Streamline’ is a term commonly used to describe
the rapid and mass criminal prosecutions of entry and re-entry,
though many of these proceedings are not officially understood to
be Operation Streamline.
13. Alternatively, the person might be taken to a different federal
court, sentenced for “illegal re-entry” then sent to a BOP Criminal
Alien Requirement federal facility (such as Willacy, Texas).
14. Libal, Bob. “Immigration Reform Must End, Not Expand
Operation Streamline”; January 25, 2013.
<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-libal/immigration-reformmust-end_b_2537547.html>
15. United States Sentencing Commission: Quick Facts.
<http://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-andpublications/quick-facts/Quick_Facts_Illegal_Reentry.pdf>
16. Alternatively, the person might have their immigration status
called into question in a county jail where a database search
(enabled by a federal information-sharing partnership known as
Secure Communities) results in ICE issuing a “hold” to the local
police.
17. TRAC Immigration. “Legal Noncitizens Receive Longest
ICE Detention”; June 3, 2013. <http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/
reports/321/>
18. Letter requesting removal of private prison contract beds from
budget; September 10, 2012.
<http://grassrootsleadership.org/sites/default/files/uploads/
Org-Sign-on-Letter-Opposing-Operation-Streamline-CARPrisons-9-10-12.pdf>
19. 8 U.S.C. 1325–1326. Robertson, Beaty, Atkinson, and
Libal/Grassroots Leadership. “Operation Streamline: Costs and
Consequences”; September 2012.
<http://grassrootsleadership.org/sites/default/files/uploads/
GRL_Sept2012_Report-final.pdf>
20. cf above. <http://grassrootsleadership.org/sites/default/files/
uploads/GRL_Sept2012_Report-final.pdf>
21. McCombs, Brady. “’Catch-and-Release’ is Reality for Now”;
Arizona Daily Star, January 31, 2009.
<http://tucson.com/news/local/border/catch-and-releaseis-reality-for-now/article_bec2956d-b9dc-51b2-8b415c80aa0bbc13.html>

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

22. <http://immigrationimpact.com/tag/consequence-deliverysystem/ >
23. cf The Center for Latin American Studies, University of
Arizona; September, 2012.
<http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/ipc/
Border%20-%20Possessions%20FINAL.pdf>
24. CBP Directive 5240-007, Regarding Personal Property
Disposition Procedures, Nov. 6, 2006
25. Article 17 (1). Everyone has the right to own property alone as
well as in association with others. (2). No one shall be arbitrarily
deprived of his property.
<http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_
Translations/eng.pdf>
26. Kohli, Markovitz, and Chavez. “Secure Communities By
the Numbers: An Analysis of Demographic and Due Process”,
The Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute of Lawand Social Policy,
University of California Berkeley Law School. October 2011.
<https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/Secure_Communities_by_
the_Numbers.pdf>
27. Miroff, Nick. “Controversial quota drives immigration
detention”; Washington Post, October 13, 2013.
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/controversial-quotadrives-immigration-detention-boom/2013/10/13/09bb689e214c-11e3-ad1a-1a919f2ed890_story.html>
Note: The United States currently incarcerates more people
than any other nation on the planet, including a world record for
immigration detainees as well.
http://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/americas/
united-states/introduction.html
28. Even this option has ceased to be a possibility for checkholders deported to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. As of May 2014
none of the literally dozens of money exchange businesses, “casas
de cambio” that line the streets immediately surrounding the U.S.
port of entry are willing to cash checks issued by U.S. detention
facilities.
29. Maricopa County Sheriff ’s Office: “Information For Families
of the Incarcerated (Current as of 3/24/2014 – Information is
subject to change)”
<http://www.mcso.org/Multimedia/PDF/Information_family.
pdf>
30. cf “In the Shadow of the Wall” above
<http://las.arizona.edu/sites/las.arizona.edu/files/UA_
Immigration_Report2013web.pdf>

47

31. WOLA. “Border Security and Migration: A Report from
Arizona”; December 5, 2013.
<http://www.wola.org/publications/border_security_and_
migration#deport>
32. WOLA. cf above.
< http://www.wola.org/publications/border_security_and_
migration#deport>
33. According to the 2013 University of Arizona study “In
the Shadow of the Wall: Family Separation, Immigration
Enforcement, and Security,” only 25% of those recently deported
planned to attempt to cross the border again during the next week.
34. Programa Defensa e Incidencia Binacional. “Violaciones a
derechos humanos de personas migrantes mexicanas detenidas en
los Estados Unidos” ; May 2013.
<http://programadefensaincidenciabinacional.files.wordpress.
com/2012/05/2do-informe-violaciones-a-ddh-de-mexicanosdeportados-de-usa.pdf>
35. cf “Bordering on Criminal: The Routine Abuse of Migrants
in the Removal System, Part II: Possessions Taken and Not
Returned”
<http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/ipc/
Border%20-%20Possessions%20FINAL.pdf>
36. United States Border Patrol: Southwest Border Sectors/
Southwest Border Deaths By Fiscal Yeat (Oct. 1 through Sept.
30th)
<http://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/U.S.%20Bo
rder%20Patrol%20Fiscal%20Year%20Statistics%20SWB%20Sect
or%20Deaths%20FY1998%20-%20FY2013.pdf>
37. Plain Language.gov. “Improving Communication from the
Federal Government to the Public”; Guidelines March 2011-Rev.
1, May 2011. <www.plainlanguage.gov>
38. CBP Directive 5240-007 Regarding Personal Property
Disposition Procedures, Chief David Aguilar, 6 November, 2006.
39. http://www.numifinancial.com
40. Ibid.
41. Ibid.
42. Ibid.
43. http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/sites/
detentionwatchnetwork.org/files/ExposeClose/Expose-Pinal1113.pdf

NO MORE DEATHS / NO MÁS MUERTES

AC K N OW L E D G M E N TS
REPORT AUTHORS
Hannah Hafter
David Hill
Ricky Cheney
Elizabeth Shurcliff
Hazel Robin
Cameron Jones
Mary Molinary
Alicia Dinsmore
Allison Semmler
Geoff Boyce
INTERVIEWERS
Alicia Dinsmore
Hannah Hafter
Cameron Jones
Elizabeth Shurcliff
Allison Semmler
Eva Lewis
Marla Conrad
Engracia Robles
Hanim Cigdem
Lupita Aguirre

TIJUANA RESEARCH
Daniel Watman
Esmeralda Flores
Mitra Ebadolahi
El Desayunador Padre Chava
DATA PREPARATION
Dr. Kat Sinclair
Elizabeth Shurcliff
Hannah Hafter
David Hill
COPY EDITORS AND
PROOFREADERS
Beck Iosca
Denise Holley
Leila Pine
Geoff Boyce
Sarah Launius
Dr. Kat Sinclair, PhD
Ricky Cheney
Hannah Hafter
Allison Semmler
Cameron Jones

TRANSLATION
Ari Belathar
PHOTOGRAPHY
Bob Torres
David Hill
Brian Erickson
Rex Koningsor
Hannah Hafter
Craig McComb
LAYOUT/DESIGN
Joshua Sutton
PRINT
The Gloo Factory

SPECIAL THANKS
The Kino Border Initiative
The ACLU of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights
for providing use of their bi-national abuse documentation system
Dwight, Amy, Emrys and the rest of the Gloo Factory crew

48

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