“We do not tolerate abuse within our ranks, and we fully cooperate with any criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, on or off duty.”
As is highlighted in PBS’ new Need to Know report “Crossing the Line”, allegations of abuses by Border Patrol agents are widespread, and those responsible are seldom investigated and sanctioned. Border groups, human rights organizations and regional and international human rights bodies have documented multiple human rights violations committed by Border Patrol agents against migrants during the detention and deportation process.
From fall 2008 to spring 2011 the Arizona-based organization No More Deaths interviewed almost 13,000 migrants who had been in Border Patrol custody, in the Arizona border towns of Naco, Nogales, and Agua Prieta. Their report, A Culture of Cruelty, documents an alarming pattern of abuses including denial of or insufficient water and food; failure to provide medical treatment; verbal, physical and psychological abuse; separation of family members and dangerous repatriation practices.
In May 2012, the ACLU Southern Border Affiliates sent a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and to the Inspector General of DHS regarding abuses by agents of the CBP Office of Field Operations, which staffs official border ports of entry. The memo details incidents of “excessive force; unwarranted, invasive and humiliating personal searches; unjustified and repeated detentions based on misidentification; and the use of coercion to force individuals to surrender their legal rights, citizenship documents, and property.”
Between 2010 and 2011 excessive use of force by Border Patrol and Field Operations agents has led to the death of six Mexican citizens. This includes the May 2010 death of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas, who died after being beaten and then shocked by a Taser by a group of CBP officers at the San Ysidro port of entry near San Diego. His case is featured in part 1 of the Crossing the Line report.
While the Border Patrol is quick to investigate and sanction agents allegedly involved in drug trafficking, human smuggling or other activities, they rarely address and investigate abuses against migrants. At a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, No More Deaths affirmed that in spite of raising their concerns with Customs and Border Protection for several years, “the agency has taken the position that such abuses simply do not occur.” Other organizations with whom WOLA spoke during our research in border zones have also asserted that at best, even serious incidents such as the shootings of migrants result in administrative, not criminal, investigations and sanctions.
In February, Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher stated during a Congressional hearing that his agency takes allegations of abuse seriously. This statement and increased NGO dialogue with the CBP are certainly steps in the right direction given the magnitude of the problem.
By Maureen Meyer