RENO — Reno-Tahoe International Airport has filed a complaint with U.S. customs officials over the treatment of a 15-year-old Mexican girl who allegedly was detained and questioned for several hours without a chance to contact her family.
The girl was held for five hours last month after she flew to Reno from Guadalajara, Mexico, officials for the airport authority said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said she was pulled aside during processing because she had overstayed her travel visa by 11 days during a previous visit to the United States.
The girl, a Mexican citizen whose name is being withheld because she is a minor, says the customs agents told her that her visa was cancelled and she was going to be deported.
Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority President Marily Mora and Andy Wirth, chairman of its board, said they filed the formal complaint Dec. 16. They said they’ve heard criticism from local Hispanics since summer about alleged mistreatment by federal border protection agents at the airport, which added its first direct flight to Mexico about a year ago.
“The treatment she received was appalling on every level and deeply disconcerting,” Wirth said.
The girl, who speaks little English, was visiting family for the holidays. The complaint says she was denied contact with her family, who was not informed of the situation until about three hours after her arrival. Customs agents released the girl at about 6:30 p.m.
Frank Falcon, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection in San Francisco, said he had not heard of the situation until the Reno Gazette-Journal contacted him (http://tinyurl.com/qb98xd2 ). He said overstaying a visa is a federal violation that can result in deportation, depending on the specific situation.
“Rules are rules, but we definitely look at minors differently. It’s a case by case basis though. There are so many different circumstances,” Falcon told the newspaper.
In their complaint against the customs officials, the airport said the family was concerned the girl was left alone with another adult detainee.
Wirth said he has a daughter about the same age as the Mexican girl.
“If my daughter had received this treatment while traveling to any country, particularly to a neighboring, friendly country - I would be incensed, absolutely incensed,” said Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, which owns a ski resort near Lake Tahoe that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.
Reno City Councilman Oscar Delgado said complaints began this summer with reports of waits to get through customs at the Reno airport lasting two to six hours. But he said more recently they’ve increasingly referenced the agents’ demeanor.