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Former Border Patrol Agent Blows the Whistle on Culture of Violence, Cruelty and Impunity

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Ur Jaddou: “CBP’s accountability structures are woefully lacking and way behind other large law enforcement agencies”

In a new article for The Intercept, John Washington interviews a former Border Patrol agent. Using a pseudonym, “Mario” reveals instances of violence and cruelty towards immigrants, a culture of impunity and corruption, and a “green line” of protecting officers whose work is mostly shielded from public view.

Below are some of Mario’s recollections retold by John Washington:  

“They were pretty banged up,” Mario told The Intercept. “They were in distress.” He alerted his superior officer to his location. Just as the officer was arriving on the scene, Mario handed the 4-year-old boy a jug of water. Before the boy could take a sip, however, the officer kicked the jug out of the child’s hands and barked, “There’s no amnesty here.” He then reprimanded Mario for offering him water, warning him, “Don’t go south on me.” In other words, don’t show an ounce of sympathy for those from below the border.

Mario said he was shocked and offended by the officer’s actions. But it was just one of many incidents of brutality that he would witness during his two years with the Border Patrol, about which he is speaking out for the first time.

… In wide-ranging conversations, Mario discussed assaults and other abuses against migrants, a lack of effective oversight, and a disturbing culture of dehumanization in the agency. He says that he has decided to step forward to tell the American public about conduct he found embarrassing, cruel, and unregulated.

… Mario claimed that the same officer who’d kicked the water bottle out of the child’s hands also ordered others to slash water bottles left out by humanitarian aid groups for thirsty migrants. Around late 2009, Mario was with a group of agents, including trainees and two senior officers, when they spotted aid workers leaving gallons of water along a migrant trail. The agents waited for the aid workers to leave, and then, referring to the water as “tonk water” — “tonk” is common Border Patrol slang, and comes from the noise a flashlight supposedly makes when thudding against a migrant’s head — the senior officer told the trainees who were with him, “If I were you, I’d take care of it.” Three agents then walked to where the jugs were, “took their Leathermans out, and just sliced them open.” The officer both gave the order and saw that the agents slashed the bottles.

… Mario said that an agent once boasted about handcuffing two migrants together around a saguaro cactus as the agent searched for drugs. (Cantú told me he’d heard similar stories.) In another incident he witnessed, a burly senior officer, without provocation, repeatedly kicked three male migrants, trying to force a confession about drug trafficking. The agent, according to Mario, “laid [the migrants] on the floor,” and then began “kicking the guys asking them where the dope was. Kept kicking them, kept kicking them.” No confession came, and no drugs were found.

In response to Mario’s allegations, the Border Patrol acknowledged that “like any organization … periodically there will be elements in the workforce that succumb to corruption. When that occurs CBP acts decisively and appropriately.”

Not so much, it turns out. Earlier this week Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch for America’s Voice, made the case for substantially increased and enhanced accountability in CBP. Her deep dive post is entitled, “Glaring Need for Robust Structures of Accountability and Hiring at CBP” and can be found here.

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch: “It seems that new stories come out every day of Border Patrol agents committing horrible acts of abuse and violence against immigrants. Law enforcement agents are sworn to protect and serve the public, and they must be held to the highest standards both in hiring and accountability. But multiple reports have shown that CBP’s accountability structures are woefully lacking and way behind other large law enforcement agencies. Efforts to lower hiring standards must be resisted to avoid a return to a time when the number of agents was prioritized over the hiring and retention of qualified and professional agents. Without making accountability a priority, we should expect to continue seeing accounts like Mario’s to emerge.”