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Three Years, 30,000 Incidents of Human Rights Abuse: Are Border Patrol Agents the Real Criminals? October 4, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Immigration, Racism.
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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.

September 29, 2011  |
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.
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