On the Border: 3 Years and 30,000 Incidents of Human Rights Abuse

by on September 29, 2011 · 7 comments

in Civil Rights

Three Years, 30,000 Incidents of Human Rights Abuse: Are Border Patrol Agents the Real Criminals?

By Valeria Fernandez / AlterNet – New America Media / September 29 , 2011

Allegations range from Border Patrol agents denying food and water to adults and children in detention for several days, to purposely separating families during deportation.

Those are the findings of a new report released by the Arizona humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths.

The report, “A Culture of Cruelty,” documents 30,000 incidents of human rights abuses against undocumented immigrants in short-term detention between fall 2008 and spring 2011. Nearly 13,000 people were interviewed in the Mexican border towns of Naco, Nogales and Agua Prieta.

Allegations range from Border Patrol agents denying food and water to adults and children in detention for several days, to purposely separating families during deportation or forcing people to sign removal orders.

They also include concerns that detainees were not provided the right to due process.

 “We didn’t go out looking for these stories. They came to us and they were inescapable,” said Hannah Hafter, a co-author of the report who works as a volunteer for No More Deaths helping deported immigrants.

 “Many of the grassroots services we provide wouldn’t need to exist if the Border Patrol was doing the right thing,” she said.

 The report contends that the alleged physical and verbal abuse suffered by immigrants fits the international definition of torture.

According to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, physiological abuse can be defined as “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering […] upon another person within his custody or physical control.”

Allegations of torture include threatening detainees with death while in custody, and verbal and physical abuse.

 “That is a pretty serious allegation, and any allegation we are going to take very seriously and we’re going to look into it,” said Colleen Agle, a spokesperson from the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol.

 Agle said the Border Patrol couldn’t provide statistics on the number of complaints referred to the agency. But she said they would seriously consider the findings in this report and investigate if there are credible allegations.

 “This has nothing to do with how you or I feel about immigration policies,” said Reverend Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which represents over 1,000 congregations with Jewish-Christian roots. “The majority of Americans don’t want to see this kind of treatment of innocent people, women and children, in their name,” said Morales, who has been involved in acts of civil disobedience in Phoenix against the anti-immigration law SB 1070.

 Hafter said that part of the problem is a culture of abuse within the agency.

 “Above all, Border Patrol’s steadfast denial of abuse in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is indicative of an institution vehemently resistant to any measure of accountability,” the report claims.

 But an even more significant issue for Hafter is the lack of an adequate process for immigrants in detention to file complaints without fearing retaliation or being held for long periods of time.

Agle said that normally immigrants in detention can either report a complaint with Border Patrol itself or request to see a consular official from their country. She said whether or not they stay longer in detention would depend on the individual case.

The Inspector General ultimately handles complaints against the Border Patrol, she said.

Activists, meanwhile, have been filing complaints with the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, a branch within the Department of Homeland Security. They’ve filed 75 complaints so far but say they have received no answer on whether or not action was taken.

Danielle Alvarado, one of the co-authors of the report, says part of the problem is that there is no uniformity in the way complaints are handled.

“A lot of times when they get complains they refer it back to the agency they’re investigating,” said Alvarado. “The only way we have of knowing if the complaint process is working is talking to people afterwards to see if trends are changing.”

Agle said that due to privacy concerns she wasn’t able to reveal how many complaints the Border Patrol has investigated or the outcome of those cases.

Some of the complaints in the report allege violations of international agreements between Mexico and the United States, for example, the agreements that families should be kept together during the removal process and that vulnerable populations like women with children should be deported during daylight hours.

Activists have criticized some Border Patrol policies for putting immigrants in harm’s way. One example is the practice of “lateral removal.”

According to the Border Patrol, this is part of a “consequence delivery system” whose goal is to deter immigrants from re-entering into the country illegally.

Through “lateral removal,” immigrants get deported to areas that are far away from where they first tried to enter illegally.

“The smugglers are preying on them so we want to get them out of their hands, so they don’t continue to be put into a dangerous situation,” explained Border Patrol spokesperson Agle.

But this can result in deporting immigrants to dangerous cities they are unfamiliar with where they could be exposed to kidnappings or violence, according to Hafter, co-author of the report.

No More Deaths has documented a change in the demographics of those who are being deported from the country. A survey of 100 people found that the majority of the immigrants being deported have been living in the United States for an average of 14 years. Many have more than two children in the United States.

Almost 70 percent of those interviewed said they would continue to try to cross the border to reunite with their loved ones.

“No amount of personal risk or inhumane treatment will ever be an effective deterrent,” the report concludes.

Among the report’s recommendations is the creation of an independent commission that would investigate alleged Border Patrol abuses to improve transparency and accountability of the agency.

Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist in Phoenix, Arizona. She worked for La Voz newspaper for the last six years covering the immigration beat and she is a guest contributor on Race Wire. Valeria was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, and moved to the United States in 1999.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

radicaluterus September 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm

These abuses occur because good people turn a blind eye. Not all illegals are criminals. They are poor people doing what poor people have always done. Take a risk for a better future for their children.

Who are the real criminals? Governments dominated by corrupt lawmakers? Fast and Furious, Iran Contra, Wall Street, International Bankers,Big Oil, Big Pharma,Big Money, ring a bell?


The Bearded Obecian September 30, 2011 at 10:19 am

Not to make light of your comment, but all illegals are, in fact, criminals. Their first act by nature of crossing the border is to break the law. Now, being sympathetic to their plight is a different issue altogether and one that should be viewed through a humanitarian lens.


john September 30, 2011 at 1:55 pm

“Not all illegals are criminals. ”

Really? Is trespassing a crime?

“They are poor people doing what poor people have always done. Take a risk for a better future for their children.”

What about the people who built a country with democratically enacted laws for a better future for their children? Shall we discard that for a system where whoever runs or swims fastest or resorts to their most primal urges (AKA every man for himself) gets to feed their kids?

“Fast and Furious, Iran Contra, Wall Street, International Bankers,Big Oil, Big Pharma,Big Money, ring a bell?”

Seems your standard of condemnation is merely their accumulation of wealth. Yet this is what you are commending illegals for pursuing.

“How many of us are native to this continent? I’m freckled face white, my ancestors were dutch, german and english. Illegals crossing the border have a rich history on this continent.”

What “rich history” do you mean? Have you ever heard of a country called Spain?

What race is American? What does skin color have to do with this? I was born here in America, abortion was illegal and my mother left me at the hospital, I have no idea who my ancestors are but I live in the state I was born in. Is it your position that a person born thousands of miles from here has the same or greater right to be here than I because I have white skin and theirs is brown?

The Spaniards’ conquest of Mexico was equally brutal if not even more so than America’s history, and wasn’t much earlier. At the time your ancestors came here they didn’t have to break any laws to do so.

What worries me is all the people who are waiting patiently and abiding civilized law and order for legal immigration are being held back because their slots are being taken by those who quickly resort out of desperation for their most primal needs without regard for the desires of those who built a great nation ruled by democratic law. In a few generations what will be the result, a nation of the offspring of criminals, while those who behaved in an orderly fashion were locked out?

Condoning this because they just want a better future for their children is not logical, who doesn’t want a better future for their children? What if you worked hard to build that future for yours and someone saw it from a distance and decided to come steal it for theirs? We can take this to all kinds of levels, should I go to La Jolla and squat in a mansion because I want my kids to have what someone else has?

I know alot of this seems inflammatory but I’m just trying to get people thinking here, about their compassion or feelings of racism that may be misguided. Further the notion of philanthropy in the face of an unruly mob. If you operated a soup kitchen but didn’t provide security for it and mobs of desperate people showed up and gave in to primal urges and destroyed and looted it rather than wait in line for their share, how has losing your soup kitchen been toward the greatest benefit of all?

We are a nation of laws, if you think more immigrants should be allowed in then change the laws, encouraging people to break them is kind of silly.


radicaluterus September 30, 2011 at 11:09 am

How many of us are native to this continent? I’m freckled face white, my ancestors were dutch, german and english. Illegals crossing the border have a rich history on this continent. A history devasted by corruption, persecution and greed. They are called criminals because they seek to migrate like people have done throughout human history. Governments create illegals out of the need to control what cannot be controlled. It’s time we look at the really, really big picture and put basic human rights first.


radicaluterus September 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm

At least I haven’t been called cunt yet. Thanks for yout restraint.


john September 30, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Not a word in my vocabulary.
I have been known to give women the shivers by using the word “queef” though.


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