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CBP To Pay Over $1.5 Million For Illegally Detaining Two Young US Citizens

The US Customs and Border Protection agency has been ordered to compensate a family over $1.5 million. This follows a decision by a federal judge that officers wrongly held a 9-year-old girl and her 14-year-old brother captive upon their entry into the US from Mexico, intending to attend school.

US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel determined that the agency unlawfully detained two American citizens — Julia, who was 9 at the time, for 34 hours, and her brother, Oscar, who was 14, for approximately 14 hours. Curiel also concluded that the agency was responsible for intentionally causing emotional distress and for failing to exercise reasonable care in the incident.

Facts of the case

In March 2019, Oscar Amparo Medina, aged 14, and his younger sister Julia Isabel Amparo, who was 9 years old, were detained at the Tijuana-San Ysidro border when they were on their way to school in San Ysidro.

The border officers believed that the older sibling, Oscar, might have been dishonest about who he was and suspected that the younger sibling, Julia, could have been involved in illegal activities.

The usual process of entering the country became surreal when a border guard officer asserted that the girl in her passport photo was not the same as the one standing in front of them, arguing that the photo either showed a “mole,” as the authorities described it, or a “dot,” as the defense argued it was, on the child’s face, which was not apparent upon her arrival at the border.

  • The false confession

The two US citizens were then escorted to an additional inspection zone. Julia faced questioning by a border guard named Willmy Lara, who was not identified as a defendant in the case. The Amparo Medina family alleged that Lara, an officer “reputed for obtaining confessions,” pressured Julia into admitting she was her cousin, Melany.

On the other hand, the government contended that Julia and Oscar devised a plan to fabricate Julia’s identity.

The government failed to provide clear reasoning behind its stance, but the outcome of the situation remains uncertain. Lara interviewed the children by herself, without any observer or audio recording of the event, breaking the rules set by US Customs and Border Protection.

As a result, Julia made up a false admission. Initially, she claimed to be Julia, but later, due to the strong influence and coercion from a notorious officer famous for obtaining confessions, she conceded that she was Melany. The presence of two officers during an interrogation is intended to balance the force applied by the officers, but this balance was not achieved.

  • The detention

The kids were then taken to a different location and put into various holding areas, where Oscar mentioned he was threatened with arrest and prosecution for human and organ trafficking if he didn’t confess that his sister was, in fact, his cousin.

After spending several hours being questioned and threatened, along with promises of his release if he signed a confession, Oscar eventually gave in to the false accusation, according to his family. This led to his release from jail. The officers then presented his sister with the fabricated confession, after which Julia falsely claimed to be his cousin.

However, unlike her brother, she remained in jail. Oscar was set free that evening after spending 14 hours behind bars, whereas Julia stayed locked up for an additional 20 hours. Following the event, both Julia and her brother sought counseling to deal with the emotional turmoil they experienced.

Preliminary trial

In the preliminary hearing in March, Thelma, the mother of the children, stated that in 2021, Julia underwent surgery while under anesthesia, during which Julia cried out in distress, insisting she was Julia, not Melaney. Thelma further expressed her ongoing worry for her children’s safety when they travel across the border.

The court’s decision

The court held that the officers’ harsh behavior was made worse because they held positions of control and power over the victims. Thus, the court found that the CBP’s actions were severe and beyond the pale. No sensible individual should have to endure the suffering the victims endured. Judge Curiel won Julia $1.1 million in compensation, Oscar $175,000, and Thelma $250,000.

Comment

Joseph McMullen, the family lawyer, expressed gratitude to Curiel for the outcome of the case and for giving them the chance to present evidence against the top CBP officials involved in the misconduct. He mentioned that the agency failed to address or look into the actions that resulted in the wrongful admissions.

Judge Curiel’s decision strongly conveys that CBP officers must adhere to the law, particularly in dealing with minors. Check our news section or visit their website to stay updated and informed.

CBP To Pay Over $1.5 Million For Illegally Detaining Two Young US Citizens

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