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Women Describe 'Horrifying' Searches by US Customs

The Center for Public Integrity is taking a closer look
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 19, 2018 11:15 AM CDT
A woman goes through airport security.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Tameika Lovell's case is harrowing—but isn't the only one of its kind. The 34-year-old was returning from a quick jaunt to Jamaica in 2016 when Customs and Border Patrol officers at JFK International allegedly took her into a secure room, squeezed her breasts, searched her vagina with "four gloved fingers," and had Lovell part her buttocks "for viewing." Now Lovell, who is black, has filed a lawsuit claiming the CBP violated her constitutional rights and ignored agency rules about invasive body searches, the Washington Post reports. Her experience is one of about a dozen the Center for Public Integrity has examined over the past few years (including a particularly scary one)—all brought by women, including two minors, who say the CBP conducted demeaning body searches but found no contraband.

Lovell's case is pending, but six of the lawsuits were settled for $1.2 million and one lost in a courtroom. At issue are CBP rules, which allow federal border officers to make people disrobe for rectal or genital searches and give observed bowel movements as drug checks, all without a warrant. But the agency handbook requires officers to note a substantial justification for each step and respect people's dignity. Other issues include race—each case highlighted by the Post involves a woman of color—and possible pressure exerted by President Trump's administration on border officers, per the Washington Examiner. For Lovell, it all amounts to a daunting legal battle: "Even though you are the victim," she says, "there's always that shadow of a doubt that people have about you." (Read more airport security stories.)

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