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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Hoping for Asylum, Migrants Strain U.S. Border

April 14, 2014

Photo by Flickr user °Florian

NY Times, 4/10/14

After six years of steep declines across the Southwest, illegal crossings have soared in South Texas while remaining low elsewhere. The Border Patrol made more than 90,700 apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley in the past six months, a 69 percent increase over last year.

The migrants are no longer primarily Mexican laborers. Instead they are Central Americans, including many families with small children and youngsters without their parents, who risk a danger-filled journey across Mexico. Driven out by deepening poverty but also by rampant gang violence, increasing numbers of migrants caught here seek asylum, setting off lengthy legal procedures to determine whether they qualify.

The new migrant flow, largely from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, is straining resources and confounding Obama administration security strategies that work effectively in other regions. It is further complicating President Obama’s uphill push on immigration, fueling Republican arguments for more border security before any overhaul.

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Report: Border patrol medics thought man was ‘faking’ seizure before death

March 18, 2014

Border - MexicoAljazeera, 3/16/14

An American citizen who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody had been left alone in a cell after on-site paramedics reportedly believed he was “faking” a seizure, a medical examiner’s independent report said. The San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office over the weekend released to Al Jazeera the details of its investigation into the death of Steven Keith, 58, at a Southern California checkpoint facility 20 miles from the Mexican border on Dec. 25. U.S. Border Patrol officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.

The report called Keith’s death an “accident” resulting from methamphetamine toxicity. Toxicology reports show that when he was arrested, Keith may have swallowed a packet of drugs that ruptured in his digestive system, the report added.

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US Agent Hit by Rock Kills Man at Mexican Border

February 19, 2014

shutterstock_24590917Abc News, 2/18/14

Investigators say a man who was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent near San Diego threw several large rocks at the agent, including one the size of a basketball. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday that the attacker began throwing fist-sized rocks at the agent from a hillside perch. The rocks got larger, and one of the bigger pieces hit the agent in the head.

The sheriff’s department says the agent fired his gun twice Tuesday, fearing that he might be killed or incapacitated if he was hit again. The agent was treated for minor injuries at a hospital and released. The episode has fueled debate about how the Border Patrol should respond to rock attacks.

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Border Patrol Under Fire For Target Practice Pics

February 4, 2014

barbed wire fenceNBC San Diego, 2/3/14

Are Border Patrol agents using migrants as target practice? That is what one group claims happened at a local Border Patrol event. The controversy centers around a series of photos taken last June at the annual San Diego Fallen Agents Memorial 5K Run. The photos show Border Patrol agents supervising as young children hold paintball guns and shoot at human-like targets along the San Ysidro/Tijuana border fence. Immigrant rights activist Pedro Rios calls the activity disturbing.

A U.S. Border Patrol Spokesman with the San Diego sector released the following statement: “The U.S. Border Patrol takes pride in participating in community events to help build awareness about our activities and operations. Displays at the exposition included information about the U.S. Border Patrol’s horse patrol, fire and emergency rescue services, vehicles and other equipment used by Border Patrol agents, and other topics.

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Mexico condemns killing of Mexican migrant by US Border Patrol agent

January 24, 2014

Border patrol agent by Flickr user °FlorianThe Edmonton Journal, 01/24/2014

Mexico’s government says it’s “profoundly worried” by the killing of a Mexican migrant who was shot last week by a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

The Foreign Relations Department said in a statement Thursday that it has asked for a thorough investigation into the slaying of Gabriel Sanchez Velazquez.

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