Are families of cross-border shooting victims a step closer to justice?

September 17, 2014

09/16/14 Aljazeera

border3It’s been almost two years since 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodriguez was killed in the Mexican town of Nogales as he walked down a street close to his home near the U.S.-Mexico border. According to reports, on the night of Oct. 10, 2012, an unidentified Border Patrol agent opened fire on José through the steel-beamed border fence that stands on a cliff above the street where he was walking. José was shot at least 10 times as he stood on Mexican soil — by an agent standing on U.S. soil. Until recently, José’s family believed it was likely no one would be held responsible for his death.

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Border Patrol sued in fatal shooting of man in Mexico

August 28, 2014

08/27/14 Los Angeles Times

border patrolThe family of a Mexican man who was shot and killed by U.S. Border Patrol agents two years ago has filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the agency sanctioned an unbridled use of deadly force in response to rock throwing.

The suit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Laredo, Texas, is the latest to argue that constitutional civil rights protections against excessive force should apply to noncitizens who are in Mexico.

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Border agency ousts head of internal affairs, will investigate unit

June 10, 2014

Los Angeles Times, 06/09/14

Customs_and_Border_Protection_officersThe head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection was removed from his post Monday amid criticism that he failed to investigate hundreds of allegations of abuse and use of force by armed border agents, officials said.

James F. Tomscheck, who has held the post since 2006, is a 30-year veteran of federal law-enforcement agencies. He was given a temporary assignment in another job in Customs and Border Protection, which is the parent agency of the Border Patrol.

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Border Patrol uses flight to ease backlog in Texas

May 12, 2014

immigrantsAzCentral, 5/7/14

Overwhelmed by the number of immigrants crossing illegally into in South Texas, the U.S. Border Patrol was scheduled to send a planeload of recent arrivals across the state to El Paso for processing for the first time on Wednesday. Immigrants who cross the Rio Grande and enter the state illegally increasingly find themselves covering great distances to provide their basic information to an agent at a computer.

The flight of more than 100 detainees from Brownsville is the most recent way that the agency is trying to expedite processing under a surge of arrests that has recently averaged 1,000 per day in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, the busiest along the U.S.-Mexico border. The effort began with busing immigrants to less-busy stations within the sector, then expanded to hours-long bus rides to the Laredo and Del Rio Sectors for processing.

“We’re utilizing all of the resources that we have available,” said Border Patrol spokesman Daniel Tirado. “We’re going to take advantage of that and farm out some of those detainees.”

He said it was unclear if the flight would become regular.

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Impunity and the Border Patrol

May 12, 2014

CBP_Border_Patrol_agent_reads_the_Miranda_rights_NY Times, 5/11/14

If a Border Patrol agent beats, kicks, threatens or otherwise abuses you, you can file a complaint. What you can’t count on, evidently, is anything being done about it. That is the sorry conclusion of a study released last week by the American Immigration Council, an advocacy organization in Washington. The council sought to collect data about abuse complaints against the Border Patrol — a difficult task, given the lack of transparency at Customs and Border Protection, the agency within the Department of Homeland Security to which the Border Patrol belongs.

The council had to sue under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain records of 809 complaints between January 2009 and January 2012. The accusations varied widely — of migrants kicked and stomped after being detained, struck in the face and head with flashlights and other objects, sexually groped, improperly strip-searched, verbally abused.

But in nearly every case, the outcome was the same: inaction or a lack of a resolution. For 472 complaints, or 58 percent, the case was closed under the heading “No Action Taken.” An additional 324 cases, or 40 percent, were still being investigated. Only 13 cases led to disciplinary action, most often counseling. There was just one suspension.

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The Creeping Expansion of Border Patrol

May 7, 2014

United_States_Border_Patrol_MexicoAl Jazeera, 5/7/14

A couple of years ago, a chatty Border Patrol Agent in Texas told me about a recent experience he had near El Paso, a West Texas city near the U.S.-Mexico border. While he was visiting a particular stretch of the border fence that was normally outside his area of operation, he said, a potential threat to homeland security was detected by colleagues on surveillance duty. Attack helicopters were summoned.

The cause for alarm turned out to be a goatherd on the Mexican side of the fence wielding a stick that had been mistaken for a weapon. The helicopters were sent back. As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Created in 1924 to secure the borders of the United States, the Border Patrol is now part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. It currently boasts more than 21,000 agents, up from 8,500 in 2001. (If certain members of Congress have their way, that number will continue to multiply.)

Its “priority mission,” according to the department’s website, is “preventing terrorists and terrorists [sic] weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, from entering the United States.” But its “primary mission” is “to detect and prevent the illegal entry of aliens” into the country. In fiscal year 2012, 364,000 such aliens were reported to have been arrested (though not a single international terrorist). How have these missions come to be viewed as overlapping? Do migrants — economic refugees displaced from their livelihoods by U.S.-sponsored free trade agreements — require the same serious level of attention as terrorists?

As the border security industry has ratcheted up its efforts — with massive expenditures on weaponry, frontier fortifications, personnel and surveillance equipment — a much bigger chunk of the country has come under its supervision. The notion of the border, in other words, has expanded in accordance with the industry’s needs.

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Report: Border Patrol ignores complaints against agents

May 7, 2014

U.S. Border PatrolmenUSA Today, 5/7/14

The Border Patrol agent assaulted her after she crossed into Texas’ Rio Grande Valley from Mexico, the woman said, and she insisted on filing a complaint. She did so on May 20, 2009. Nearly three years later, the investigation of that complaint by Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Internal Affairs was “still pending,” according to CBP documents. Her case was anything but unique.

Out of 809 complaints of abuse filed against Border Patrol agents from January 2009 to January 2012, only 13 resulted in any kind of action by the CBP. Two complaints led to court action and one more to an agent’s suspension. Six resulted in “counseling,” according to documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Immigration Council, a Washington, D.C.-based immigrant-advocacy group.

Forty percent of the complaints were still pending investigation when the CBP turned over the documents.

Researchers said they couldn’t determine which complaints had merit, but their analysis showed that CBP officials rarely take actions against agents alleged to have engaged in abusive behavior. The complaints to Internal Affairs are an unknown fraction of overall complaints, researchers said, because the CBP doesn’t tie together the various ways people can file complaints into a single, unified system, and it doesn’t track all complaints.

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