National Farm Worker Ministry
A new lawsuit filed by an American woman alleges that she was subjected to an unconstitutional search by border agents and then an extensive cavity search by a male doctor acting on their orders.
The civil complaint, which was filed last week in federal court in Tucson and seeks unspecified damages, targets the government, Customs and Border Protection, the CBP agent, and the doctor who searched her, among others.The court filing describes 18-year-old Ashley Cervantes’ harrowing experience over the course of seven hours in October 2014.
She had just returned from Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) back into Nogales, Arizona—she had come back from eating breakfast at one of her favorite spots.
According to the complaint, after presenting her identity documents, an unidentified CBP agent accused Cervantes of possessing illegal drugs, which she denied.
She was ordered to proceed to a detention room, where she was handcuffed to a chair.
There, she was sniffed by a dog (in violation of CBP policy) and was taken to another room where she was ordered to squat so that female officers could visually inspect her.
Unsatisfied that they had not found the drugs, the agents escalated their search.
CBP Agent Shameka Leggett then filled out an Immigration Health Services’ form, known as a Treatment Authorization Request (TAR), describing Cervantes as being “diagnosed” as an apparent “potential internal carrier of foreign substance.” The agent recommended that she be X-rayed at a hospital.
Cervantes was then transported in custody from the border to Holy Cross Hospital.
As one of her lawyers, Brian Marchetti, wrote in the complaint:
From the time of her arrival until she was released from Holy Cross, Ashley did not present any symptoms consistent with internal drug smuggling nor did she exhibit any symptoms of feeling sick or unwell.
She was, however, in the midst of her menstrual cycle.
Without obtaining a knowing or willful consent, or obtaining an accurate detailed medical history, agents/servants/employees of Holy Cross, including Dr. [Patrick] Martinez, searched Ashley for contraband.
The Holy Cross records from Ashley’s time at the facility include a number of factual inaccuracies, including inaccurately setting out that Ashley was accompanied by her mother and arrived in a private vehicle.
In reality, Ashley was transported in a CBP vehicle. Her handcuffs were not removed until she changed into a hospital gown for the alleged purpose of undergoing an X-Ray.
Ashley was never X-rayed, despite that being the only “course of treatment” authorized by the TAR.
The complaint goes on to describe how Dr. Martinez “forcefully and digitally probed her vagina and anus.”
Ashley had never before been to a gynecologist and, for the remainder of her life, will always remember that her first pelvic and rectal exams were under the most inhumane circumstances imaginable to a U.S. citizen at a hospital on U.S. soil.
Ashley was shocked and humiliated by these exceedingly intrusive searches.
That an audience of CBP Agents and Holy Cross staff observed her being probed compounded her feeling of degradation. No drugs were found inside Ashley, who was then discharged from Holy Cross and transported, by CBP, back to the Port of Entry.
The Arizona Capitol Times quoted Marchetti as saying that her parents were also served with a $575 hospital bill.
Holy Cross Hospital did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.
Rob Daniels, a CBP spokesman, e-mailed Ars: “It is CBP policy not to comment on pending litigation.”