Women accuse U.S. customs officers of invasive body searches

Tameika Lovell was retrieving luggage at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport when Customs and Border
Protection officers detained her for a random search. It was Nov. 27, 2016, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the school
counselor from Long Island had just returned from a short Jamaica vacation. Lovell, who is black, had been stopped
before, but this time a CBP supervisor began asking questions she hadn’t heard previously.

“Don’t you think you’re spending too much money traveling?” Lovell, 34, recalls a CBP supervisor asking.
What happened next is the subject of a harrowing lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New
York. Inside a secure room, Lovell’s litigation alleges, a female CBP officer searched Lovell’s belongings, presumably for
illegal drugs, and asked if she was using a tampon or sanitary pad. The question upset her, but Lovell replied “no” and
complied when told to remove her shoes, lift her arms and spread her legs.

As a second female officer observed, hand on her firearm, the lawsuit says, the first officer touched Lovell “from head to
toe” before ordering her to squat. Lovell was clothed, but the lawsuit claims that the officer squeezed Lovell’s breasts, and,
“placed her right hand into [Lovell’s] pants ‘forcibly’ inserting four gloved fingers into plaintiff’s vagina” before parting
Lovell’s buttocks “for viewing.”

Lovell has accused CBP officers of violating her constitutional rights and sidestepping the agency’s rules prohibiting officers
from conducting invasive body searches. Her case is one of at least 11 since 2011 examined by the Center for Public
Integrity. Each raises unsettling questions about authorities’ considerable power to detain people at the nation’s 328 ports of
entry, underscoring critics’ concerns about CBP officer accountability as the Trump administration seeks to expand the
agency and significantly enhance immigration enforcement.