As immigration attorneys, we often hear of the abuses that occur along the U.S. border and ports of entry by Customs and Border Patrol Agents. That is not to say that every agent blatantly abuses his or her power. However, the instances of abuse, physical harm, and even death are often ignored by the agency and in rare cases where they are not ignored, they are merely followed by a gentle slap on the wrist to the offending agent. This creates a culture of impunity within the agency and a general lack of respect for travelers entering the United States.
Though there is a complaint system in place, the value of this system is questionable. This is especially true when improper conduct on the part of border patrol agents is rarely properly addressed by the agency at all. These issues are hardly novel. In the last several years, instances of extreme harm and even death have cast a brighter light on U.S. Customs and Border Patrol as an agency.
On May 5, 2014, the New York Times published an article regarding abuse complaints against border patrol agents, and the lack of action on the part of the agency to adequately address these complaints. Many cases involve egregious instances of harm. Examples of real harm include a pregnant woman who suffered a miscarriage of her unborn child after being kicked by a Border Patrol Agent, a teenager was punched in the face by a border patrol agent during an arrest, strip searches and six hour body cavity searches of individuals who were later found to be innocent of any wrongdoing. These are just a few of hundreds of complaints of abuse by border patrol agents. This is not to mention the number of fatalities that have occurred along the U.S. Mexico Border in the name of “securing the border.”
Between 2009 and 2012 there were 809 complaints filed against the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Physical abuse was the reason for the complaints in 40% of the cases. Excessive use of force occurred in 38% of the cases. 97% of these cases involved border patrol agents, only 3% of the cases involved supervisors. Despite this significant data, few cases resulted in discipline of the offending officers, and the few cases that did generally received only counseling. Only two of these cases led to court proceedings and only three received either an oral reprimand or a written report with no additional consequences.
Anyone who has lived in a border town such as San Diego has long known about or experienced the unpleasantries that can occur when traveling into the United States from Mexico. Most of the travelers entering through the port of entry, have valid legal documents to enter the country and have legitimate reasons for entering the United States. Despite this, many border town residence have themselves experienced or at least heard of the horror stories many travelers experience at the border.
United States Representatives Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Steve Pearce of New Mexico have introduced legislation to increase accountability from Border Enforcement agencies. The bill can be found online at http://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/4303/. The reason for these actions is the number of constituents that have complained to the representatives about the abuses suffered while crossing the U.S./Mexico border. U.S. citizens are especially valuable in making their voices heard and these complaints should not only be filed with Customs and Border Patrol if they occur, but they should also be brought to the attention of the locally elected representative. Other action can be taken as well to protect the rights and dignity of travelers. In many cases it is prudent to contact the ACLU and informing them of these instances of abuse.
- Cave, Damien, Complaints of Abuse by Border Agents Often Ignored, Records Show. New York Times, May 5, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/06/us/complaints-of-abuse-by-border-agents-often-ignored-records-show.html?_r=0
- Amid Complaints, Lawmakers Seek More Oversight For Border Agents. NPR. May 16, 2014. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/16/312827137/amid-complaints-lawmakers-seek-more-oversight-for-border-agents.
- Burnett, John. U.S. Border Patrol’s Response to Violence in Question. NPR, May 15, 2014. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/15/312573512/u-s-border-patrols-response-to-violence-in-question?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20140515&utm_campaign=dailydigest&utm_term=nprnews
- No Action Taken: Lack of CBP Accountability in Responding to Complaints of Abuse, Immigration Policy Center. May 4, 2014.http://immigrationpolicy.org/special-reports/no-action-taken-lack-cbp-accountability-responding-complaints-abuse
- Our Borders Aren’t Constitution-Free Zones, Online Petition. ACLU. https://www.aclu.org/secure/hold_border_patrol_accountable?ms=web_acluaction_140407_borderpatrol