A School Counselor Says Customs Agents Searched Her Genitals Without Cause
Tameika Lovell says the search violated her Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.
A school counselor decided to take a tropical vacation in Jamaica over Thanksgiving break in 2016. The fun came to a screeching halt when she encountered U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents while retrieving her luggage at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. The encounter that followed led to a lawsuit currently pending in a U.S. District Court.
Tameika Lovell tells The Washington Post that her 2016 stop was unlike any she had previously experienced. To start, the questions in this encounter were noticeably different. A CBP supervisor inquired about her finances, asking, "Don't you think you're spending too much money traveling?" A female CBP officer then prepared Lovell for a search, apparently for illegal drugs. Lovell was asked if she was wearing a tampon or a sanitary pad, to which she replied "no." She recalled that the question was upsetting. The female officer then began to search Lovell while a second watched while holding on to her firearm. After squeezing Lovell's breasts, the officer "placed her right hand into [Lovell's] pants 'forcibly' inserting four gloved fingers into plaintiff's vagina" and then her buttocks "for viewing."
Lovell filed a suit in March in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Lovell argued that the "random [search]"—which Lovell, a black woman, partially attributes to her race—violated her Fourth and Fifth Amendment.
Lovell's story is covered in a larger report by the Center for Public Integrity. The report details several disturbing cases of body cavity searches, including one where a male CBP agent in in Presidio, Texas, was accused of touching the genital area and breasts of an undocumented teen girl while allegedly checking for weapons. Another story details the invasive search of a church volunteer reentering the country from an orphanage in Tijuana. CBP agents decided to check the woman further even after clearing her identity. After the volunteer was told to line up with three other detainees, a female CBP officer allegedly used the same glove to place her fingers down the pants of each woman.
And these aren't the only times that CBP officials have been accused of overzealous and unceremonious proding in body cavity searches. In 2016, for example, a Canadian businesswoman accused three male officers of conducting an invasive search without cause at the Roosville, Montana, border crossing.