Return to the USDOJ/OIG Home Page
Return to the Table of Contents

Juvenile Repatriation Practices at Border
Patrol Sectors on the Southwest Border

Report Number I-2001-010
September 2001


During our visit to the El Centro Border Patrol Sector, we did not observe overcrowding, any indication of substandard detention conditions, or maltreatment of juveniles. We interviewed the one unaccompanied Mexican juvenile that was in custody on Sunday, July 15. The juvenile was apprehended on Saturday, July 14, and subsequently repatriated on Monday, July 16. The El Centro and Calexico Border Patrol Station staffs expressed concern for the welfare of juveniles and stated that all possible measures were taken for their safety and comfort within the constraints of the available resources. Border Patrol Station staffs told us that unaccompanied juveniles are segregated from adults in the holding cells and that female juveniles are also segregated from male juveniles. The stations have designated juvenile holding cells for this purpose. If these cells become crowded, the juveniles could be moved to a larger cell (and kept segregated from adults). The El Centro SPC provides lunches and hot meals for the juveniles. Milk, juice, and water are also provided. If a juvenile needs clothing, the station staff contacts the El Centro SPC. Juveniles at both locations must sleep on the floor of the holding cells. The holding cells do not have beds or bathing facilities because they were built for temporary confinement only. The stations do not have provisions for juveniles to bathe. Not all of the holding cells have seating for the detainees.

Sector Juvenile Repatriation Procedures

The El Centro Border Patrol Sector detains unaccompanied Mexican juveniles for extended confinement in its holding cells.

Our review of the electronic form I-213, obtained from the INS's ENFORCE system, and manifests from March 1 through May 31, 2001, showed that the El Centro Border Patrol Sector does not always repatriate Mexican juveniles to Mexico within hours of apprehension. During the period March through May 2001, the Sector repatriated 591 unaccompanied Mexican juveniles to Mexico. Forty-two juveniles were not promptly repatriated. The Border Patrol does not have a standard for the maximum length of time that a juvenile may be held in its holding cells prior to repatriation. For our review, we devised an arbitrary standard and considered confinement of unaccompanied Mexican juveniles that spanned more than two days to be extended confinement.

We could not determine the specific amount of time it took to repatriate some juveniles because of incomplete Sector record keeping (discussed in a later section, Sector Juvenile Repatriation Records). All 42 incidents involved detaining juveniles over a weekend, with five instances of extended confinement beginning as early as Thursday. In all cases, the juveniles were held at the Border Patrol stations in regular holding cells, which were built for temporary confinement only. The results of our document review are summarized in the following table.

Table 1 - Unaccompanied Mexican Juveniles Held For Extended Confinement

 Day of Apprehension/Day of Repatriation 
Station Thursday/Saturday Friday/Monday Saturday/Monday Total
El Centro 0 0 12 12
Calexico 1 4 25 30
Total 1 4 37 42
Source: Unaccompanied Mexican Juveniles Manifests, March 1 - May 31, 2001.

The Border Patrol supervisors and agents we interviewed were fully aware that they confined juveniles for two or three days. They stated that "their hands are tied" because they are bound by three local agreements with the Mexican Consulate in Calexico, California. 2 These agreements are:

These agreements stipulate that Mexican juveniles will not be repatriated without first being interviewed by the Mexican Consulate. The Border Patrol supervisors and agents told us that the required interviews with the juveniles by a Mexican consular officer prior to repatriation occurs in one of four ways at the two stations:

The El Centro Border Patrol Sector usually transports apprehended juveniles to the Mexican Consulate in Calexico. Mexican officials interview the juveniles to determine whether they are Mexican nationals. If the juveniles are determined to be Mexican nationals, the Mexican officials take custody of the juveniles and repatriate them. Although both Border Patrol stations are able to conduct interviews with the Mexican Consulate using video teleconferencing, Border Patrol staff said use of the system ranged from not at all to frequent.

The Sector staff told us that the Mexican Consulate is not usually available on the weekends to conduct juvenile interviews. Therefore, Mexican juveniles apprehended on weekends usually have to wait until Monday morning for their interviews and repatriation leading to extended detention time in the station holding cells. Our interviews with the Sector supervisors and managers indicated an awareness of the problem and concerns about detaining juveniles in holding cells over the weekend.

Station staff described different repatriation practices at the El Centro and Calexico Border Patrol Stations. El Centro Border Patrol Station supervisors told us that the Mexican Consulate in Calexico is available to interview juveniles until 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. Juveniles apprehended before 2:00 p.m. can be repatriated on Saturday but juveniles apprehended after 2:00 p.m. must wait until the following Monday for their interviews and repatriation.

Station staff described four different weekend juvenile repatriation practices at the Calexico Border Patrol Station. They were:

The Chief Patrol Agent stated that the repatriation problem lies with Mexican social services, Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF), which takes physical custody of the juveniles from the Mexican Consulate because the DIF does not have resources to respond Saturday afternoons or Sundays. The Chief Patrol Agent said this issue has been discussed, though not yet resolved, at the local Migratory and Consular Affairs Working Group, which is composed of U.S. and Mexican government officials who meet to discuss and resolve local border issues. The El Centro Border Patrol Sector and representatives from the San Diego District are members of this group. The Chief Patrol Agent stated that the Mexican Consulate is aware of the problem but states it does not have the power to correct the situation.

For reasons which we were not able to determine, the El Centro Border Patrol Sector did not inform either the Western Region or the San Diego District about its problem with juvenile repatriation. The Western Region and the San Diego District officials we interviewed told us that they were unaware of the problem. The Western Region officials discussed a number of possible solutions with us, ranging from providing the Sector with a suitable facility for detaining juveniles on the weekends to bringing additional pressure on Mexican authorities to interview and repatriate juveniles on weekends.

Sector Juvenile Repatriation Policy

The El Centro Border Patrol Sector policy for juvenile repatriation is not comprehensive, is not readily available to the Sector staff, and is not consistent with agreements with the Mexican Consulate.

The Sector juvenile repatriation policy is composed of three internal policy memoranda generated by the Chief Patrol Agent and directed to Sector staff. They are the:

In order to fully comply with Sector policy, supervisors and Border Patrol agents need access to all three of the policy memoranda. The policy memoranda have some overlap in that they provide similar general instructions. For example, all memoranda require the completion of the manifest. However, some contain unique instructions. For example, the Juvenile Voluntary Returns/Voluntary Return Verification Procedure policy provides instructions to supervisors to ensure only unaccompanied juveniles are voluntarily returned to Mexico.

The 1987 and 1997 policy memoranda state that if the Mexican Consulate is not available to interview the juveniles, the juveniles may be turned over to a Mexican immigration official. This is contrary to the current agreements with the Mexican Consulate, which require the Consulate to interview all juveniles prior to repatriation.

The local policy memoranda do not require the escorting Border Patrol agent or detention enforcement officer to record the time of the transfer of custody to Mexican authorities. Without this information, there is no way to know when the repatriation occurred. Also, the local policy memoranda do not provide guidance for special treatment or services that should be provided to juveniles who are going to be detained for extended periods of time.

Sector Juvenile Repatriation Records

The El Centro Border Patrol Sector does not always complete repatriation records.

The 1987 and 1997 policy memoranda specify record keeping requirements. These requirements include recording:

We found that information frequently was not recorded on the manifest. For example, we reviewed 66 manifests at the Calexico Border Patrol Station and found the following omissions:

A detention enforcement officer told us that the detention enforcement officers who transport juveniles to the Mexican consular office for the interview and repatriation are responsible for ensuring that the manifest was completely filled out, including data regarding the Mexican consular official.

The Juvenile Voluntary Returns/Voluntary Return Verification Procedure policy memorandum requires that Sector staff document and report incidents of problems with repatriation. It does not specify how to report or to whom to report. While Sector staff recorded in a logbook several incidents when the Mexican Consulate could not be contacted, we could not find any evidence that these problems were reported to Western Region officials.

INS Juvenile Repatriation Policy

The INS Juvenile Affairs Division does not include policies and procedures for detaining and repatriating voluntarily returned juveniles.

The INS Juvenile Affairs Division establishes requirements for appropriate treatment of certain unaccompanied juveniles. The program addresses juveniles that have been apprehended, will be detained by the INS for more than 72 hours, and will be placed into formal immigration hearings. The INS Juvenile Affairs Division is managed from INS headquarters, through the regions, and to the districts.

The INS Juvenile Affairs Division does not provide guidelines or procedures for detaining and repatriating Mexican juveniles. The INS does not include this group of juveniles because it assumes that, with a few exceptions, Mexican juveniles are voluntarily returned to Mexico in a matter of hours, are not placed in immigration proceedings, and are not in INS custody for an extended time. Despite the large number of Mexican juveniles the Border Patrol apprehends and voluntarily returns, no national guidance exists that states what the Border Patrol's responsibilities are when these juveniles are in prolonged custody prior to repatriation and for repatriating the juveniles. The individual sectors develop policies and procedures and resolve problems on their own.

  1. Each Border Patrol sector along the Southwest Border negotiates its own repatriation agreement with its local Mexican Consulate.