We Demand an Investigation Into Asylum Seeker’s Missing Pet
Today, we filed an administrative civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) on behalf of our client, Nirvana Mujica-Aguero, a teenage asylum seeker whose pet Estrella, a three-year-old purebred female Schnauzer, was taken and lost by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. We submitted this complaint to demand that the DHS Office of CRCL conduct an independent investigation into Nirvana’s missing Schnauzer, Estrella, and ensure that this does not happen again.
In March 2022, Nirvana and her brother, Bryan, arrived at the southern Texas-Mexico border from Venezuela with their Schnauzer, Estrella. The siblings and their pet were apprehended and taken into custody by CBP officers by Eagle Pass, Texas. When CBP agents separated Estrella from the siblings, Nirvana and Bryan were distraught and emotionally devastated – Estrella had been their constant source of support in their long, arduous journey to seek safety.
Once they were in detention, a CBP agent told Nirvana and Bryan that after CBP processed and released them, they could pick up Estrella at Eagle Pass Animal Control. However, one agent remarked that Estrella was an expensive dog and that he had a dog of the same type, implying an intent to breed her. Upon his release two days later, Bryan went directly to Eagle Pass Animal Control, where staff informed him that animal control had not received any dog that matched Estrella’s description. The only other animal shelter in Eagle Pass, Maverick County Animal Control, stated that Estrella was never registered there and that they did not accept any dogs from CBP during March 2022.
Critically, the employee at the Eagle Pass animal shelter shared that TCRP was the eighth person that month to call regarding a dog lost or removed by CBP.
The practice of CBP taking and losing dogs and other pets is not uncommon. Asylum seekers often bring pets with them as they make the treacherous journey across multiple countries to seek a better life. When asylum seekers are detained by CBP, they’re forced to separate from their pets, often with no knowledge of where the pet is going or how to find the pet after being released. Those same pets are taken to local animal organizations and abandoned with little to no information about the owners or how to reunite them in the future. According to the Laredo Morning Times, at least one family pet has been taken home to the private residence of CBP agents for the agent’s personal enjoyment because the agent “fell in love” with the dog.
After numerous meetings with Nirvana and phone calls to search for Estrella, TCRP has advised Nirvana that it will be extremely difficult to ever find or reclaim Estrella. Despite this reality, Nirvana still holds out hope that she will find out what happened, and maybe even reunite with her beloved pet.
Mandating clarity, accountability, and certainty in the handling of pets is especially significant for an asylum-seeker like Nirvana, who has already experienced significant losses, upheaval, and insecurity and who relied on her pet for both companionship and comfort. That’s why TCRP demanded that CBP not only release information about Estrella, but also share the procedures for handling pets in its custody. If no such procedure exists, we demanded that CBP create and release a standard operating procedure which conforms with the specific laws governing the agency’s handling of property, due process protections, and fundamental respect towards the individuals in its custody. Even if Nirvana is not reunited with Estrella, she is owed transparency, and she hopes that future losses can be prevented by demanding a process for the handling of pets.
Our pets are part of our families and should be treated as such. TCRP’s Beyond Borders Program is dedicated to advancing human dignity, protecting freedom of movement, and advocating for Texas border communities, particularly immigrants. We are committed to protecting the civil rights of asylum seekers in CBP custody, including the right to be free from the unpredictable seizure of irreplaceable personal property.
We encourage you to join our fight to ensure everyone stays together during this long and traumatic process of seeking asylum. Follow our efforts to seek justice for Nirvana and Estrella and create lasting change for all migrants coming to seek a better life with their pets.
Read the full complaint here.