On Feb. 16, 2010, a Mexican teenager caught trying to cross into the United States near Douglas, Ariz., filed a formal complaint accusing a Border Patrol agent of punching him in the face during his arrest.
Three months later, a pregnant woman in or around El Paso reported that a Border Patrol agent had kicked her during an apprehension, causing her to miscarry.
In both cases, records show, no disciplinary action was taken. And it was no different for the vast majority of cases that reached United States Customs and Border Protection’s internal affairs office, according to new data obtained through a public records request by the American Immigration Council, a Washington-based immigrant advocacy group. Of 809 abuse complaints against agents within 100 miles of the Southwest border from January 2009 to January 2012, only 13 led to disciplinary action, and typically that meant counseling, internal affairs records showed.
“These stark findings exemplify the culture of impunity that prevails at C.B.P.,” said Melissa Crow, director of the council’s Legal Action Center. “Given the tremendous resources appropriated to C.B.P., the agency must do a better job of holding its officers accountable.”
The internal affairs complaints are only a fraction of the total complaints reported. A September 2013 overview from the Office for the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security found that CBP keeps such poor records that it is impossible to even identify the total number of excessive force allegations lodged against the agency. CPB has made headlines more than once for beating up immigrants and tasering a man to death. It was only in March of this year that CPB was ordered to stop stepping in front of cars as an excuse to shoot at them, and cease using deadly force on people who throw rocks.
The New York Times article lifts up a number of damning complaints — the vast majority of which, remember, were ignored:
At a time when the agency has come under increasing scrutiny from Congress for its use of force and lack of transparency, the 44-page list of complaints is now among the most comprehensive — and damning — publicly available portraits of alleged border misconduct.
It shows that in 40 percent of the cases with internal affairs, no decision had been made or reported, in some cases for more than three years after complaints were filed. And in the other 60 percent where a conclusion had been reached, “no action” was the end result 97 percent of the time.
Most of the listed complaints were summarized only in general terms such as “allegation of abuse,” making them hard to evaluate. A few may have been complaints about the same incident. But trends emerged from the details. For example, there were at least 60 complaints in which detainees or witnesses accused agents or supervisors of kicking or stomping on detainees, often after they were handcuffed or on the ground, including one who said an agent had broken his nose.
At least 45 complainants alleged that agents had hit them with objects, often in the head or face. A child who crossed the border near Tucson in 2011 said an agent “hit him on the head with a metal flashlight 20 times, kicked him five times, pushed him down a hill.”
There were six accusations of sexual abuse and 14 of improper searches or touching. One woman said a Border Patrol agent had fondled her, breathed heavily and called her “baby.” (The records showed no action was taken.)
Lawyers with the American Immigration Council argue that these examples showed that Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security have failed to adequately train or discipline agents as their ranks have grown significantly to more than 21,000.