Teen Sues US Over Cavity Drug Search for Which She Was Billed $575

Ashley Cervantes, a then 18-year-old American citizen, was stopped at the Mexico border and, for some unspecified reason, perhaps related to her being young and of Hispanic ethnicity, accused by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of smuggling drugs.

What Drugs?

A search of her person and belongings proved fruitless, which often is a strong indicator that there are no drugs. The process involved being locked into a detention room for several hours, handcuffed to a chair, while several dogs were brought in to sniff at her. A request to call her mother was denied.

But bullying is the best law enforcement tactic, so they gave her a body cavity search, which means a CBP agent put on some rubber gloves and shoved a finger up her vagina and butt. She was also made to squat pantless so female investigators could visually inspect her privates. Still no drugs.

So Customs and Border Protection took her to a local hospital against her will, in handcuffs. No warrant, no consent. Instead, a Customs and Border Protection agent signed a “Treatment Authorization Request” as she was considered an alleged “potential internal carrier of foreign substance.” That form requested an X-ray.

After the X-ray showed no drugs, doctors performed another vaginal and anal search. No drugs. She was finally released after seven hours of humiliation and given a bill for $575 for “medical treatment.”

What Rights?

Cervantes now has a civil rights lawsuit pending against the government. “[I] had never before been to a gynecologist and, for the remainder of my life, will always remember that my first pelvic and rectal exams were done under the most inhumane circumstances imaginable to a U.S. citizen at a hospital on U.S. soil,” she charges.

What Border?

Begin at America’s borders. Most people believe they are in the United States as soon as they step off an international flight, or as long as they are waiting for their outbound flight, or as they enter a CBP office on the border, as with Cervantes in the case above, and are thus fully covered by the Bill of Rights.

Wrong. And the irony that a person can be separated from his Constitutional rights by a border marked by a pane of glass is not to be missed.

The truth has, in the twenty-first century, become infinitely more complicated as long-standing practices are manipulated to serve the expanding desires of the national security state.

Over the years, recognizing that certain situations could render Fourth Amendment requirements impractical or against the public interest, the Supreme Court crafted various exceptions to them. One was the “border search.” The idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by stopping and examining people entering or leaving the country. As a result, routine border searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable” simply by virtue of where they take place. It’s a concept with a long history, enumerated by the First Congress in 1789.

What Border, 2016 Edition?

Here’s the twist in the present era: The definition of “border” has been changed. Upon arriving in the United States from abroad, you are not legally present in the country until allowed to enter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. You know, the guys who look into your luggage and stamp your passport. Until that moment, you exist in a legal void where the protections of the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States do not apply. This concept also predates Post-Constitutional America and the DHS. Remember the sorting process at Ellis Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? No lawyers allowed there.

What once were modest exceptions in Constitutional America morphed into a vast “Constitution-free zone.” The “border” is now a strip of land circling the country and extending 100 miles inland that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population. In this vast region, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can and conduct warrantless searches.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.

10 thoughts on “Teen Sues US Over Cavity Drug Search for Which She Was Billed $575”

  1. If an America commit a crime in international waters they are taken to an American court and tried using American laws. Yet no protection if innocent?

  2. As far as I’m concerned, the CBP are guilty of sexual assault. Maybe they should change there name to the CBR, the Customs and Border Rapists. Or maybe just cowards.

  3. This may appear myopic, but I’ve always found government border police a good argument for open immigration.

  4. Let’s hope she wins in full. The US has a rather severe case of autoimmune disease and cancer and the slow and painful process of recovery towards a sane country must start as soon as possible.

  5. Step into Arizona and it gets wierder and the credibility gap wider. I remember vividly the morning La Migra took my innocence I thought that since I was an American citizen, on this side of the border, waiting for my boss to show up so I could go to work. I had grade school very limited Spanish which comes into the picture too. The bastards did a u-turn in front of me, a black unmarked van, 5 guys wearing black fatigues and black masks, no insignia, shouting at me in Spanish which at the time I didn’t speak, and waving those pocket size machine guns, like an Uzi. I don’t know the make and model. Just there were these muzzles, less than half inch across but they looked THIS BIG (imagine my arms spread wide) then later told me it was my fault because I “look mex”.

    So I’m Indian, big deal. I’m not supposed to say that was racist but I will anyway. And not jack crap I could do about it because I was close to the border (El Paso)
    Now they have vigilantes who have granted themselves the same privilege, that’s where the Arizona part comes in. If the Border Patrol, who are professionals and supposed to be trained, can’t tell the difference between a citizen and an alien, that’s a condition which 100% guaranteed is going to cause misidentification.

    Mexican isn’t a race. There’s an Irish neighborhood in Juarez about a half mile from where this incident happened. Irish are whiter than white. But their families have been Mexican citizens since the first Mexican revolution.

    Put that kind of power in the hands of some goatropers with preposterous delusions of being some kind of Volunteer Police and you have a guaranteed recipe for mayhem. My encounter with the Real Border Patrol was in 1986. It’s gotten dangerously worse ever since. Are the methods successful? I can go down to certain places here in Colorado and hire people from just anywhere in the world. I can go literally across the street and get some of the finest recreational psychopharmaceuticals. I guess the whole abrogation of human rights just makes them feel good and puts money in the pockets of the same “defense” contractors who supply the Army with the tools of the trade.

    Amigos, we’ve been sold. That wouldn’t be (comparably) as bad if they would at least pay US some of the bread for which we were sold.

  6. Welcome to the 4th Reich. The U.S.A. = Inverted totalitarianism. And as this article makes clear, perverted totalitarianism.

    A malignant society, indeed, as Chalmers Johnson aptly characterized it.

  7. Aided and abetted by the Supreme Court mind you. There is no Constitutional authority for any federal Court to issue any ruling much less one having to do with Constitutional provisions see 11th Amendment US Constitution.

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