COLUMBUS, Ohio — Border Patrol agents detained an Ohio woman for eight hours and falsely accused her of human smuggling. The woman said she and her husband were leaving a funeral in California when agents stopped them at a checkpoint.
For nearly 40 hours, Reina and her husband made the 2,000-mile drive from their home in Columbus, Ohio to Calexico, California. The couple was taking in the scenic views state-by-state, "Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Oklahoma until we got to California," recalled Reina.
The two were attending a funeral in the border city for a family friend. However, the quick trip would turn into a frightful and long ordeal, Reina said. She would eventually be left stranded in the California desert.
"I said 'I'm in trouble, I have to find my way home,' " said Reina.
Her troubles all began on their way home. Reina and her husband were driving up Highway 86 when they came across a toll-like booth under a white canopy. It was a Border Patrol checkpoint near the Salton Sea.
"I don't know if it's because we have out-of-state tags or because of what we look like, but he asked us what is our citizenship," Reina recounted. "I answered, then they asked my husband."
Reina, an American of Puerto Rican descent, handed agents her passport, but it wasn't so simple for her husband. He is an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, and without the proper papers, agents detained Reina's husband and then shifted their attention to her.
"And he said 'Take off your jewelry.' I said 'Why?' He said, 'Cause you are being arrested.' I said, 'For what?' he said 'For smuggling,' " said Reina.
Agents were accusing her of traveling to the border to smuggle her husband into the United States.
"He said 'You came here and picked up your husband, didn't you?' " recalled Reina.
Reina said she insisted she had proof the two traveled together. She had hotel and gas receipts detailing their journey. But agents booked and fingerprinted Reina and placed her in a locked holding cell.
"It is freezing like an icebox in there," she said. "The benches are aluminum. The toilet is stainless steel, and there is a camera in the corner watching you."
Minutes turned to hours before Reina said she was taken in for another round of questioning.
"He said, 'Oh I didn't know you were still here; they forgot about you,' " said Reina.
The U.S. Attorney's office decided against charging Reina with smuggling. Only then was she free to go, after sitting in that cell for eight hours.
"I felt violated. I felt betrayed because I was an American and I have my own rights," said Reina.
She was then left to find her own way home since Border Patrol agents confiscated the couple's rental car. Reina said agents dropped her off at a truck stop a few minutes up the road close to midnight.
She said a manager there drove her an hour to the nearest airport. That is where she booked a $739 plane ticket home.
WEWS reached out to the United States Border Patrol. They said agents followed the protocol for when someone is suspected of "alien smuggling." They also say when a person is released, it is up to them to get a ride or agents will take them to a nearby public place.