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Audit: Border Patrol inconsistently handling migrants' possessions

A government audit found that Border Patrol agents don’t consistently keep track of the personal possessions of the people they take into custody. 

The Government Accountability Office reviewed the agency’s practices at 16 facilities including here in Arizona. It found that while the agency has policies in place for safeguarding migrants’ possessions, different stations interpret those policies in different ways.

For example, GAO auditors found that sometimes agents made people dispose of extra clothes and backpacks because those were deemed a potential health hazard. In other cases, agents threw out the turbans worn by people of the Sikh faith because they didn’t grasp the turban’s significance.

"This GAO report confirms what my office has been hearing from individuals and advocacy groups for years: CBP continues to force individuals to do away with their personal belongings while in custody, despite policy stating they must safeguard, itemize, document, and keep possessions accessible," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva in a release. "These inconsistencies within DHS must stop." Grijalva and other border lawmakers asked the GAO to investigate complaints. 

The GAO recommended better leadership directions to stop inconsistently handling people’s belongings. 

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.