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Border Patrol made migrants throw away backpacks, passports, birth certificates

Asylum seekers given clear bags for their belongings in Yuma
Asylum seekers line up in Yuma in April. Border Patrol only allows a small plastic bag for their possessions.

Every morning before the sun comes up and before he takes his daughter to school, Fernando Quiroz gets up and drives to the U.S.-Mexico border from his home in Yuma, and greets the migrants waiting to be detained by Border Patrol.

“These are individuals from Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Haiti, India, Russians, Georgians from Europe, Peruvians. But those are the majority of individuals that I come and contact every single day,” Quiroz said.

In that area, he says he’ll see anywhere from 400 to 1,000 migrants arrive every day, and for the most part, they are not trying to escape authorities. Quite the opposite.

“Ninety-nine percent are individuals who are not evading Border Patrol; these are not people trying to hide or sneak across,” Quiroz said. “These are individuals who are trying just to come in and turn themselves in to the authorities, such as Border Patrol, to be processed and start their journey as asylum seekers.”

They bring backpacks, clothes, supplies, toys, money, important documents, and starting last year, Quiroz says much of it was being thrown in the trash when they were taken into custody. He took pictures of entire dumpsters filled with their belongings and he asked Border Patrol about it.

“They would say, ‘We here at this Yuma sector, we are not travel agents. We do not have the manpower, we don’t have the people, we don’t have the storage and it's also a safety issue for us for these individuals to carry their backpacks or their belongings into our sector,’” Quiroz said. “So every single one, imagine every single day, from 400 to 1,000 individuals who are told, ‘Throw your backpack in the trash.’ It is heartbreaking. It typically is very heartbreaking. We’re talking about  — this is all they have.”

Now activists like Quiroz have brought this issue front and center.

Asylum seekers belongings in a dumpster by the border wall in Yuma
Volunteers from the community and the county maintain these two dumpsters where asylum seekers are forced to leave behind their possessions in Yuma.

Journalists are documenting it, and after reporting surfaced about Sikh migrants having their turbans confiscated, lawmakers, including southern Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva, are demanding accountability from Border Patrol.

“I have here things that I have collected of individuals that have thrown in the trash, from prayer rugs to Bibles to Qurans to religious artifacts. It is sad,” Quiroz said.

Customs and Border Protection sent us a statement from CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus saying, “We take allegations of this nature very seriously,” and that steps were immediately taken to address the situation after it was first brought to their attention in June. There is now an internal investigation into these allegations.

Melissa del Bosque has written about the U.S.-Mexico border since 1998 for various media outlets — including ProPublica, the Intercept, the Guardian and Harper’s. Now she runs a Substack called the Border Chronicle. She was one of the journalists who documented this trend and talked to Border Patrol about it.

She spoke to The Show about what she found.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Fernando Quiroz's name. 

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.