Texas

Group Reports Abuses By Law Enforcement That Allegedly Happened At The Border

The Border Network for Human Rights prepared the report based on interviews conducted in more than 33 locations

The volunteers who conduct the interviews on which the report by the Border Network for Human Rights is based are trained by the organization, which says the interviews typically run 30 minutes or longer.

The Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) released this week a report that presents 38 incidents of abusive or problematic behavior by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies which have happened in El Paso, as well as in southern New Mexico.

The report is based on the BNHR’s “Abuse documentation campaign” and the organization has been conducting the interviews that are presented in the reports since the beginning of the 2000 decade. According to the language used in the report, the abuses include intimidation, physical abuse, psychological abuse and verbal abuse, as well as family separation, harassment, prolonged detention and excessive use of force

The first section of the report explains that volunteer “documenters” are trained to ask: “Who did What to Whom, When, and Where?” and that documentations are conducted through “live, in-person interviews that typically run 30 minutes or longer.”

Specifically, the BNHR used more than 120 documenters that conducted interviews in more than 33 locations during the month of February.

Incidents dating back to 2012

That first section of the report also clarifies it presents incidents that occurred “as recent as April (of 2018) and as old as 2012.”

Fernando Garcia, the BNHR’s founder and executive director, said all the incidents included in the report are based on “first person testimonials” and noted that, because of the “standards” the “documenters” use, some incidents were not included in the report because they were not “verifiable.”

The way the report is structured, “documenters” have tried to reconstruct each incident based on the information provided by the person they interviewed. There is extensive information on some of the incidents reported –including, for example, the names of supervisors of the law enforcement agency in question— while the information about other incidents is as scarce as three lines of text.

The report doesn’t include any official documents related to the interactions the interviewees spoke about.

In the report released this week, the U.S. Border Patrol accounts for the highest number of incidents, with 11, and most of them –specifically nine— happened in New Mexico, not in Texas. The report notes that the Border Patrol, which is part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), had zero incidents in the report that the BNHR released in 2013.

Some of the incidents reported indicate that Border Patrol agents got inside homes and patios, apparently without having search warrants.

Ramiro Cordero, a supervisor with CBP, indicated in an email sent to Houston Public Media that the United States Code grants Border Patrol agents “authority to investigate any instance where it is believed an illegal entry has been made.”

“The U.S. Border Patrol has the legal authority to enter either private residential or commercial property within 25 miles from the border for the purpose of investigating potential violations of immigration law,” Cordero noted in his statement and added that “if an illegal entry has been determined to have been made, agents can enter a property while continuing to pursue the violators and continue their investigation without the need for a search warrant.”

According to the report by Border Network for Human Rights, most of the incidents that involved Customs and Border Protection personnel happened in the Zaragoza and Santa Fe border bridges. This file photo shows the Santa Fe bridge.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection accounted for 10 incidents, all of them in Texas, at ports of entry. The most common incidents had to do with, according to language used in the report, “verbal abuse” and “degrading behavior,” but also “unfounded accusations,” “physical abuse” and “prolonged detention in secondary inspection.”

Most of the incidents happened in the Zaragoza and Santa Fe border bridges.

“Anecdotal allegations”

Ruben Jauregui, a Chief CBP Officer who works in the El Paso office, said in an email that “anecdotal allegations that do not provide any specifics prevents CBP from commencing reasonable steps to examine assertions and address concerns” and added that “allegations are not facts.”

Nonetheless, Jauregui indicated the CBP meets regularly with non-governmental agencies such as the BNHR to discuss “matters of mutual concern” and that “when presented with specific factual information we make every effort to investigate the matter and provide a response and/or explanation.”

Garcia said he disagrees with Jauregui’s comment about “anecdotal allegations” and detailed that his group is in the process of assessing whether to file formal complaints. The report specifies that such complaints could be presented to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, the Organization of American States and even to the United Nations.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) accounted for seven incidents. Three of them happened in Texas and, according to the report, “cases of family separation dominated the abuses.” Additionally, also according to the report, some ICE agents attempted to intimidate people they encountered and, in other incidents, they taunted the families of persons who were being detained.

An ICE spokesperson said in an email that the agency “focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”

The statement from ICE also noted that the agency “no longer exempts classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement” and added that “all of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and – if found removable by final order – removal from the United States.”

Recommendations

The report has a section with recommendations for all the law enforcement agencies it analyzes at the federal, state and local level, and emphasizes that Congress should enact legislation to make them more accountable.

In that sense, the BNHR supports bills such as the “Border Enforcement Accountability, Oversight, and Community Engagement Act of 2017”, which U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) introduced last year, and the “Department of Homeland Security Accountability and Transparency Act”, which Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D- New York) introduced in May.

Speaking about the law enforcement agencies working at the border Garcia said “they need to be accountable to the communities.”

The BNHR also recommends that the Texas Legislature repeals SB4, the state law that allows local law enforcement agencies to ask about immigration status in certain situations. Critics of the law have long argued it can cause racial profiling.

You can read the BNHR’s report here:

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Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz

Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz

General Assignment Reporter

Alvaro 'Al' Ortiz is originally from Spain. He worked for several years in his home country and gained experience in all varieties of journalism, from wire services to print, as well as broadcast news and digital reporting. In 2001, Al came to the United States to pursue a Master's degree...

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