Deportees congregate outside a bus station in Matamoros. Hundreds of immigrants are deported to this dangerous border city every week. [Photo by María Inés Zamudio]

Many immigrants who are deported or detained while trying to cross the U.S. border illegally are abused or reported having their belongings taken from them while in custody, according to two reports from the Immigration Policy Center released Tuesday.

About 11 percent of the 1,095 migrants interviewed for the study reported being hit, pushed, grabbed and abused sexually while in custody, the report,  “Bordering on Criminal: The Routine Abuse of Migrants in the Removal System,” said.

Nearly 1 in 4 migrants reported being verbally abused. These men and women reported that border patrol agents and other immigration officers used racial slurs, including “wetback and dirty little Mexican.”

The second part of the report found that 34 percent of the migrants interviewed reported having a possession, including identifications, cellphones, money and backpacks, taken away while in custody.

“This is not a question of a few bad apples; this is a systematic problem at an institutional level,” said Jeremy Slack, co-author of both studies and who coordinated six teams of researchers along the U.S.-Mexico border. “This type of repetitive level of abuse is very disturbing because it suggests that this is not an isolated incident this is an institutional problem.”
 The study was part of the “Migrant Border Crossing Study” housed at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona and the Department of Sociology at George Washington University. It is a multi-institution study of a randomly selected sample of about 1,110 immigrants repatriated to six Mexican cities between 2009 and 2012.

“[Under the immigration Senate bill] Operation Stream line would increase to the entire border and would double in the Tucson Sector,” said Daniel Martinez, co-author of the study. “This will undoubtedly exacerbate the problem.”

Many of the undocumented immigrants from Chicago are often deported to Matamoros, a city not included in this study. Some of these deportees in Matamoros told The Chicago Reporter they had money and other possessions taken away.

In 2012, more than 62,000 deportations were made to Matamoros, a seven-fold increase from 2008. The Reporter traveled there earlier this year to document the hardships deportees face when they are deported to the dangerous border city without money or a viable way to return to their towns of origin.

Headshot of María Inés Zamudio

María Inés Zamudio

María Inés Zamudio covers immigration as part of WBEZ's race, class and communities team. She's previously served on investigative teams for American Public Media, the Memphis Commercial Appeal and The...