Gay Mexican Immigrant in Miami Sues Border Protection Agents for MisconductEXPAND
U.S. Customs and Border Protection / Wikimedia Commons

Gay Mexican Immigrant in Miami Sues Border Protection Agents for Misconduct

Before deporting anyone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are supposed to ask refugees, asylum seekers, and anyone else they meet at the nation's borders whether they're fleeing persecution in another country. José Crespo-Cagant says that after he came out as gay while living in Mexico in 2002, he was fired, threatened by his family, and even attacked, gagged, and threatened with a gun. So he fled to the United States and settled in Miami with his longtime partner, who is a U.S. citizen.

But Crespo was placed in deportation proceedings in 2012 due to what a federal judge later deemed an improper apprehension, and now, three years after winning a difficult fight to remain in America, Crespo is suing the federal government in Miami federal court over the ordeal.

"This case involves the extraordinary misconduct of agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who unlawfully prevented Mr. Crespo from pursuing relief from deportation to which he was legally entitled, falsified documents to support their illegal actions, and, as found by Judge Ursula Ungaro, sitting in this Court, did not testify credibly regarding Mr. Crespo’s deportation," the suit reads. "As a result of their conduct, Mr. Crespo was improperly removed from the United States and was prosecuted for a federal criminal offense without legal basis."

Crespo's claims are not unprecedented. In April, a joint ProPublica/Philadelphia Inquirer investigation detailed numerous cases in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have "allegedly engaged in racial profiling, conducted warrantless searches, detained people without probable cause, fabricated evidence," and, in at least one case, solicited a bribe, but faced no discipline. Though noncitizens arrested for crimes are given the same due-process rights as American citizens, people in immigration courts do not have the right to a lawyer and are significantly less likely to contest their cases or even notice if immigration agents have broken the law.

Crespo's story, which illustrates the insane difficulties immigrants and asylum seekers encounter when dealing with alleged misconduct by border guards, begins in 2002. That year, Crespo attempted to flee persecution in Mexico for the first time. He tried to enter the United States by using a false identity. Crespo elaborated in his lawsuit that he then made it across the border within about a month but was forced to travel back to Mexico in 2004 to attend his father's funeral. On his way back to the States, he says, he received a legal Border Crossing Card and was allowed to enter the country and stay for the next ten years. In 2005, he was given a student visa by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and, in 2009, he successfully changed his immigration status to a "TN-2 Nonimmigrant" after he began working at a restaurant.

In 2011, he says, his attorney told him to travel back to Mexico City to obtain his TN-2 visa. But when he arrived, Crespo says, CBP told him his job didn't qualify for TN-2 status and then revoked his Border Crossing Card. He says CBP initially promised to return the card, but he never got it back.

In the meantime, Crespo had bought a house with his longtime partner, Alan Wurts. But Wurts fell ill in 2012. Desperate, Crespo says, he crossed the Rio Grande near Hidalgo, Texas, that year to try to reach Wurts in Miami. Crespo was apprehended hours later and taken to what he describes as a freezing-cold and crowded holding cell. The arrest also sparked an asthma attack.

Once inside the holding facility, Crespo says, border agents treated him with shocking callousness. He says that despite the fact that Crespo could speak little English at the time, a border agent refused to interview him in Spanish or provide an interpreter.

"At the time he conducted this interview, Officer [Brenton] Reveruzzi’s only formal training in Spanish was an 8-week course provided to CBP officers," the suit reads.

Instead, Crespo says, the CBP agent conducted the entire interview in English, filled out documentation issuing Crespo an "expedited removal," and at no point asked if Crespo was fleeing persecution.

More egregious, Crespo says, the documentation Reveruzzi filed was startlingly inaccurate. Reveruzzi wrote that he'd properly explained Crespo's rights to him (though Crespo says he could barely understand a thing) and that Crespo had not told anyone he was fleeing anti-gay abuse in Mexico, which Crespo says was because no one bothered to ask him in a language he understood.

Most glaring, Crespo claims Reveruzzi outright made things up. The CBP agent allegedly wrote that Crespo was hoping to work in McAllen, Texas, even though Crespo had a home and a husband waiting for him in Miami. The suit says that, though Reveruzzi wrote that Crespo was in "good health," Crespo was suffering from a fever and an asthma attack. And, the suit claims, the agent wrote that Crespo's parents lived in Veracruz, Mexico, even though they were dead.

Then, another agent, Daniel Garcia, signed off on the interview questionnaire. Garcia allegedly wrote, falsely, that Crespo was not carrying a U.S. ID card at the time and signed off on sending Crespo back into Mexico.

Crespo was deported in January 2012. He then crossed the border again a month later — and CBP agents raided the home where he was temporarily staying and arrested him a second time. This time, the CBP agent spoke Spanish, but Crespo claims the agent still refused to let him speak to an asylum agent, in an alleged violation of U.S. law. CBP instead used the aforementioned, allegedly false documents to reinstate Crespo's deportation proceedings and then falsely claimed in another document that he was apparently on his way to Houston. Still, Crespo was deported again.

He then reentered the country a third time a month later and finally made it back to Wurts in Miami. The pair married the following year, and Crespo was able to obtain a green card.

But two years later, Crespo says, someone knocked on his door the morning of July 28, 2015. The visitors were cops, who, with guns drawn, told Crespo he was under arrest for illegally reentering the country after being deported.

"The officers were armed with guns," the suit reads. "They banged on the door and entered the home. The officers shouted at Mr. Crespo and Mr. Wurts who had just awoke and were still in boxers. One officer raised his gun and pointed it at Mr. Wurts and then Mr. Crespo. The officers forced Mr. Crespo and Mr. Wurts into the street in front of their home without allowing them to put on clothes."

During the criminal proceedings, Reveruzzi was called to testify, and, the suit says, he admitted on the stand that his command of Spanish was almost comically poor and that he did not know how to ask Spanish speakers if they had proper visas and that he either relied on Spanish-language scrips provided by the government or just called Spanish-speaking supervisors for help if he felt overwhelmed.

Though the government dropped Crespo's criminal charges, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigated whether Reveruzzi could be trusted to continue testifying as a CBP guard, but the OIG declined to discipline him. According to the suit, the OIG report made no mention of the false statements in Reveruzzi's paperwork.

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