A database of events at the U.S.-Mexico border that should alarm us
The Washington Office on Latin America, a U.S.-based research and advocacy organization, has operated a Migration and Border Security Program since 2011. We uncover information about the U.S.-Mexico border, visit often, and publish numerous analyses and weekly updates. Learn about our “Beyond the Wall” campaign here.
While doing this work, we’re barraged with firsthand testimonies, reports from partner organizations, media coverage, and government documents reporting or alleging abusive or improper behavior by members of the U.S. government’s border law enforcement agencies: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and its Border Patrol component.
The resource hosted here is an effort to gather and systematize credible allegations and documented cases. We are maintaining a database of troubling events that have occurred at the border since 2020. Each entry records the type of abuse allegedly committed, the geographic area in which the event occurred, the agency reputedly involved, characteristics of the victims, and the last known step taken to achieve accountability. (Those are in the boxes on this page’s right column, or at the bottom of this page on a mobile device.)
The database’s contents are difficult and disturbing to read. Some events included here are very serious, like alleged use-of-force incidents or misuse of intelligence capabilities. Others, like denials of medical care, lying to asylum seekers, abusive language, or failing to return belongings, are less serious but more frequent, pointing to deeper organizational culture issues. Accountability usually lags, and agencies are opaque about investigations and their outcomes.
Our purpose here is not to attack or malign CBP officers and Border Patrol agents as individuals. Nearly all whom we’ve come to know are decent, honorable people. Undeniably, some of what appears on this site is the result of a “green wall of silence” that protects a minority of abusive personnel. But much of it is the result of work in an agency that was born in 2003 without an internal affairs capacity, that grew quickly in the post-September 11 period, that has often been run by acting officials, that has been courted by anti-immigrant politicians, and that has lacked the tools to deal with the rapidly changing profile of migrants who are coming to the border. Good individuals are thrown into a toxic, dehumanizing organizational culture, and the results are in this database.
This resource would not exist without the diligent work of citizens, organizations, and journalists in the border region who are recording what they hear, filing complaints and reports. Their work is crucial to upholding the dignity of people who have fled their homes—in many cases fearing for their lives—and who deserve fair treatment when they arrive at the U.S. border. Perusing the database will show more abuse events in some parts of the border than others: that reflects the presence of citizen monitors more than it reflects U.S. border agencies’ behavior across geographic sectors.
As we launch this resource in April 2022, WOLA expects it to form the core of broader work on law enforcement conduct, culture, and accountability at the U.S.-Mexico border. We are exploring the origins and causes of the behaviors narrated here, from management to recruitment to messaging to incentives. We are also learning about policy changes needed to improve accountability. Our goal is to make border management more effective, more professional, less politicized, and more humane.
- August 2023 report: “Abuses at the U.S.- Mexico Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights“: Drawing heavily on this site’s database and the accountability work of the Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative, this in-depth report looks at the chronic nature of human rights abuse at the U.S.-Mexico border, how DHS’s accountability system is meant to work, and where it often fails. It offers more than 40 policy recommendations.
- “CBP and Border Patrol Deadly Force Incidents Since 2020“: A March 8 overview of troubling incidents, taken from the database’s “use of force” category, involving loss of life and some possibility of misuse of deadly force.
- As of March 2023, this site’s collection of infographics about border security and migration trends contains 77 entries.
- A November 2022 feature on the CBS program 60 Minutes, about Venezuelan migrants bused to New York, found that 12 of 16 migrants interviewed had important documents taken from them by U.S. border law enforcement personnel, and not returned.
- “Taken Away: U.S. Border Agents’ Widespread Confiscation of Migrants’ Valuable Personal Items“: An August 25 commentary from WOLA draws from the database for a series of troubling examples of agents’ confiscation, non-return, and disposal of migrants’ valuables and documents.
- In January 2023 CBP updated its directive governing how personnel carry out vehicle pursuits. This comes after a steadily rising number of fatal incidents, many of which are documented here within the database’s “Vehicle Pursuit” category.
- This resource went public on April 28, 2022. We accompanied it with a commentary (español) and a video walking the reader through some of this project’s main findings and conclusions. “We keep hearing about indicators of a troubled culture at CBP and Border Patrol. It’s a scattered mass of troubling items, dispersed like puzzle pieces, and often forgotten. WOLA staff felt we needed to capture all that we’d been hearing. So for much of the past year we’ve been recording every credible allegation that has come our way. This database is the result.”
- In addition to the database, this site also hosts an archive of reports about U.S.-Mexico border security and migration from WOLA, from other non-governmental organizations, and from journalists, along with hosted copies of official government documents.
- Read about Border Patrol’s “Critical Incident Teams,” secretive units that have been found to interfere with investigations as they seek information that might exonerate agents accused of abuse.
- Cases of dangerous deportation are frequent. Migrants are often sent back across the border into dangerous Mexican border communities in the middle of the night, after shelters and services are closed, and at times while clothed in garments that identifies them to potential assailants as recent deportees.