Dispossession through Deportation
A recent report released by the humanitarian advocacy group, No More Deaths states that of the 400,000 people deported from the United States during the fiscal year 2013, nearly one third were deported without their personal belongings and money. This is a serious issue that often goes unreported and continues under the radar, since these deported individuals simply can no longer fight for themselves. One of our greatest American values is the right to property and it appears as though these migrants are not offered this essential protection.
The release of this report by humanitarian organizations fighting for people for whom it may unfortunately already be too late, as they are back in their home countries and their possessions are long gone may at least shed light on the problematic reality. In 13% of the reported cases there was a complete failure of U.S. officials to return money and belongings. Another problem was that the cash was returned in forms that cannot be accessed internationally such as Visa or Mastercard debit cards. The report cites that in 5% of these cases immigration officials and border agents took the belongings and pocketed the money in plain sight.
The reason these migrants are separated from their belongings in the first place is due to the assembly-line justice system that has emerged at the border. Daily court hearings are held where dozens of detained migrants plea to criminal charges of illegal entry. After receiving prison sentences, the migrants are transferred to the custody of the US Marshals Service but the possessions remain with Customs and Border Patrol and are destroyed after 30 days. Inmate bank accounts only allow for the transfer of U.S. currency, so foreign currency is destroyed. This is unnerving as obviously the majority of these migrants have their own national currency and no ability to convert it. Although recently CBP and ICE have acknowledged the concerns of these migrants and attention from advocacy groups in finding better ways to return the possessions, officials affirm that migrants are not entitled to receiving their possessions.
The loss of these possessions is a serious concern. Financially, the quantity lost may have been the migrant’s entire livelihood, money saved up for years. To be thrown back into these treacherous and dangerous countries without any economic support is terrifying. The loss of identity documents such as passports and national identification cards leaves the migrant extremely vulnerable to encounters post-deportation. They are harassed by police, cannot access money transfers from family since they cannot prove their identities, lack access to legitimate employment opportunities, and are more susceptible to falling into organized crime. Loss of personal effects such as medication, cell phones, notes with vital contact information, irreplaceable keepsakes, etc. can affect a migrant’s well-being. To lose all evidence of one’s history and connection to loved ones negatively impacts the migrant physically, spiritually and psychologically.
More awareness must be raised in combating this serious problem of migrants losing vital property rights once they are deported. The plan forward should be promoting agency accountability and accessibility, ensuring access to money prior to the deportation and guaranteeing access to the belongings.