26 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct involving “Border Patrol” where the event type is “Use of Force”

Mid-July, 2022

The Nogales, Arizona-based Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported on severe brutality that a Mexican man allegedly suffered at the hands of a Border Patrol agent:

Benjamín [Name changed to protect privacy] had been in the desert for 8 days when BP encountered him at 4 in the morning. He did not run, but the agent handcuffed him. When Benjamín asked for a drink of water, the BP agent threw him face down onto the ground, began kicking him and stood on the back of his head, which was pushed into a rock until his head was cut open and bleeding. The agent yelled, “If you want water, go get it in your own country! You only come here to f*ck around!” Benjamín eventually lost consciousness. When he came to, another agent sent his search dog to lick the blood from his face. BP took Benjamín to the hospital, only after he asked repeatedly for medical attention. BP then deported him to Mexico without any of his medical paperwork, which Benjamín reports an agent hid in his shirt. Upon arriving at Kino, he shared: “I’m trying to escape death in my country, only to nearly die here [in the US].”

— “July 21 update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, July 21, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

July 11, 2022

At least one Border Patrol agent was involved in a mid-day shooting in Calexico, California. According to the Calexico Chronicle, “at least one Border Patrol agent appeared to engage a silver-colored minivan in the westbound lanes of 98 apparently firing about six or more shots into the driver’s side front and side windows as the vehicle was wedged against a tractor-trailer rig. Among the myriad cellphone photos and video circulating social media of the scene, one of the most dramatic shows an agent with his gun drawn and the bullet hole-riddled vehicle.”

One person was injured and airlifted to a distant hospital.

A CBP spokesperson said that the vehicle had failed to yield, but then stopped at an intersection. “Shortly thereafter, the Border Patrol agent broadcasted ‘shots fired’ via his agency radio. All available agents responded to assist and remained on scene until it was determined safe and no threat to the community.”

As of mid-July, the details remain unclear. CBP stated that investigative personnel present at the scene came from the Calexico Police Department, the FBI, the DHS Inspector General, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility

— Richard Montenegro Brown and Julio Morales, “Border Patrol Mum on Details of Calexico Shooting” (Calexico: Calexico Chronicle, July 11, 2022) https://calexicochronicle.com/2022/07/11/border-patrol-shooting-at-highways-111-and-98/.

Sector(s): El Centro

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

May 24, 2022

In circumstances that remain to be clarified, an unnamed Border Patrol agent killed a Mexican migrant in Douglas, Arizona after midnight (original link). Abigail Roman Aguilar, 32, from Chiapas, Mexico, died of stab wounds to the upper chest (“sharp force injuries of the trunk”), according to the Pima County Medical Examiner, which ruled the death a homicide on June 17, 2022. The Medical Examiner’s report also noted blunt force injuries to Aguilar’s head, trunk, and extremities (original link).

The Arizona Daily Star reported on June 18:

On May 24, Aguilar was admitted to the Copper Queen Community Hospital in Douglas with face and lip injuries following a barb wire incident while running from the United States Border Patrol, the autopsy report said. After he was discharged from the hospital, he was reportedly involved in an altercation with a Border Patrol agent, who ultimately stabbed Aguilar with a knife.

The May 24 incident is under FBI investigation, and being reviewed by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, after which it is to go to CBP’s National Use of Force Review Board. In an e-mail to the Arizona Republic, a spokesperson for the FBI Phoenix office said only that its investigation into an “assault on a federal officer” was ongoing.

This is the second agent-involved killing near Douglas since February 19, when Agent Kendrek Bybee Staheli shot and killed Mexican migrant Carmelo Cruz-Marcos.

— “Statement-Use of Force Incident-Douglas, AZ” (Tucson: Customs and Border Protection, May 24, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/statement-use-force-incident-douglas-az.

— Clara Migoya, “1 dead in Douglas after ‘use of force’ confrontation with Border Patrol” (Arizona: Arizona Republic, May 25, 2022) https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/border-issues/2022/05/25/1-dead-douglas-after-confrontation-border-patrol-agent/9926410002/.

— Jamie Donnelly, “Report: Migrant stabbed to death by Border Patrol agent in Douglas” (Tucson: Arizona Daily Star, June 18, 2022) https://tucson.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/report-migrant-stabbed-to-death-by-border-patrol-agent-in-douglas/article_dcf55a68-ef32-11ec-b15a-17f8ed410de1.html.

— Mary Coleman, Tweet from Mary Coleman KOLD @Mary_reports (Twitter, June 17, 2022) https://twitter.com/Mary_reports/status/1537902526128721927.

— Gloria Rebecca Gomez, Angela Cordoba Perez, Clara Migoya, “Autopsy report determines migrant was stabbed to death by CBP agent in Douglas” (Phoenix: Arizona Republic, June 22, 2022) https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2022/06/22/autopsy-report-migrant-stabbed-death-cbp-agent-douglas/7684477001/.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Under FBI Investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

May 2, 2022

A brief May 9 statement from CBP noted the arrest of a Del Rio Sector Border Patrol agent “on a warrant stemming from an indictment on a charge of Official Oppression in connection with the alleged assault and mistreatment of a juvenile in custody.” (original link) No further details appeared.

— “CBP Statement on Arrest of Del Rio Sector Border Patrol Agent” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, May 6, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-arrest-del-rio-sector-border-patrol-agent.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Conditions in Custody, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Pending

Victim Classification:

February 19, 2022

News reporting datelined February 20 and 21 pointed to Border Patrol personnel shooting a migrant to death in an incident on the night of February 19, on a desert trail about 30 miles northeast of Douglas, Arizona. In a February 23 statement, CBP confirmed that as two Border Patrol agents were intercepting a group of migrants, one of the agents followed a migrant who attempted to escape and, “while taking him into custody discharged his firearm fatally wounding the migrant, tentatively identified as a citizen of Mexico” (original link). The agents were later identified as Kendrek Bybee Staheli, who fired the weapon, and Tristan Tang.

On the evening of February 24, the Cochise County, Arizona Sheriff’s Department posted a statement conveying the agent’s claims that 32-year-old Carmelo Cruz-Marcos, of Puebla, Mexico, resisted capture “then ran approximately six feet away before picking up a large rock and turning back towards the agent making a throwing motion with the hand that held the rock.” The agent then “fired his weapon an unknown number of times as he was in fear for his life and safety” (original link).

The agents requested medical assistance and Cruz-Marcos’s body was airlifted out the next day. As of February 24, 2022, the Cochise County Sheriff was investigating the shooting, as was the Pima County (Tucson area) Medical Examiner’s Office. The Medical Examiner determined that Cruz-Marcos died of multiple gunshot wounds. CBP notified the Mexican consulate, which confirmed that the decedent was a Mexican citizen. CBP reported that its Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was also reviewing the incident, as would CBP’s National Use of Force Review Board.

Investigators must determine whether the shooting was truly an act of self-defense or otherwise fell within CBP’s use of force guidelines, which prohibit using firearms “in response to thrown or launched projectiles unless the officer/agent has a reasonable belief, based on the totality of circumstances, that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death” (original link).

“There are multiple red flags in this investigation” so far, a February 23 statement from the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) contended. It noted that the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) disclosed on February 19 that Border Patrol had killed a migrant, then “removed that statement in subsequent press releases.” SBCC adds:

Instead of the CCSO processing the scene immediately, they waited a day. Even though the other migrants in the area were taken by agents to a Border Patrol station right away, CCSO did not recover the body of the deceased migrant until the following day. The CCSO does not appear to have collected any forensic evidence at all until the next day, including from the agent involved (clothing, fingerprints, ballistics or any other relevant evidence). Instead, they ceded the incident area to border agents who could have tampered with the scene.

SBCC has spearheaded an effort to shed light on Border Patrol’s Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs), secretive units that often arrive quickly at scenes of possible use-of-force violations like this one. The teams allegedly have a record of interfering with investigations and seeking to build narratives that might exonerate the Border Patrol agents involved.

In April 2022, the Los Angeles-based law firm Karns & Karns, LLP announced that it would be representing Carmelo Cruz-Marcos’s family in a federal tort claim—a precursor to a lawsuit—against Border Patrol. The claim appears to confirm that a Border Patrol Critical Incident Team took part in the investigation. The Tucson Sentinel reported that SBCC and the law firm “argued that the agents ‘prevented’ Cochise County officials from ‘immediately accessing the scene to conduct their own investigation.'”

The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office report on the incident, shared by the Intercept in May 2022, confirms that a Critical Incident Team was on the scene after the shooting. It also cites an English-speaking migrant who had accompanied Cruz-Marcos. That witness claims that he heard Agent Staheli shout “This is America motherf—” shortly before shots were fired. He also alleged that “Agent Tang had told Agent Staheli ‘it would all be ok and that he had his back.’ Carlos further said he heard Agent Tang tell Agent Staheli that he should say he was attacked with a rock.”

“Witnesses to the shooting say Carmelo was never a threat to any Border Patrol agent,” read a news release from the law firm. “The family is demanding an independent investigation of the incident by the FBI and an outside agency that can verify the evidence and facts.”

In a May 6 letter to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department, Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre found insufficient evidence to contradict Agent Staheli’s account of the shooting, declining to move forward with a prosecution.

Five members of the group that traveled with Cruz-Marcos later said they were held in detention for a month and a half as witnesses to the shooting. They reported that CBP did not return their money or identification documents.

— “CBP Statement on Agent-Involved Fatal Shooting near Douglas, Ariz.” (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, February 23, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-agent-involved-fatal-shooting-near-douglas-ariz.

— “Sheriffʼs Office Investigates Agent Involved Incident” (Cochise County: Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, February 24, 2022) https://www.facebook.com/CochiseSO/posts/323152363179815.

— “US border agent kills man on rugged trail in Arizona” (Douglas: Associated Press, February 21, 2022) https://apnews.com/article/shootings-arizona-border-patrols-de7f3334b7a06e422d1a4de77dda1354.

— “Migrant killed by Border Patrol agent in Arizona, sheriff’s office says” (Cochise County: Fox 10 Phoenix, February 20, 2022) https://www.fox10phoenix.com/news/undocumented-immigrant-killed-by-border-patrol-agent-in-arizona-sheriffs-office-says.

— Paul Ingram, “Migrant killed by Border Patrol agent died from ‘multiple gunshot wounds'” (Tucson: Tucson Sentinel, February 23, 2022) https://www.tucsonsentinel.com/local/report/022222_bp_shooting/migrant-killed-by-border-patrol-agent-died-from-multiple-gunshot-wounds/.

CBP Use of Force Policy (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, January 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2021-Jul/cbp-use-of-force-policy_4500-002A.pdf.

— “Recent Killing By Border Patrol Another Example of Compromised Investigations and Possible Cover-Up” (Southern Border Communities Coalition, February 23, 2022) https://www.southernborder.org/recent_killing_by_border_patrol_another_example_of_compromised_investigations_and_possible_cover-up.

— Paul Ingram, “Family of man killed by BP agent near Douglas demands probe, may pursue lawsuit” (Tucson: The Tucson Sentinel, April 12, 2022) https://www.tucsonsentinel.com/local/report/041222_bp_shooting_probe/family-man-killed-by-bp-agent-near-douglas-demands-probe-may-pursue-lawsuit/.

— Paul Ingram, “Border Patrol’s forensic teams being eliminated after ‘cover up’ allegations” (Tucson: Tucson Sentinel, May 6, 2022) https://www.tucsonsentinel.com/local/report/050622_critical_incident_teams/border-patrols-forensic-teams-being-eliminated-after-cover-up-allegations/.

— Danyelle Khmara, “No charges in fatal shooting by Border Patrol agent in Arizona” (Tucson: Arizona Daily Star, May 10, 2022) https://tucson.com/news/local/border/no-charges-in-fatal-shooting-by-border-patrol-agent-in-arizona/article_00e44308-cfbc-11ec-8249-fb2c6862d456.html.

— “Office Report for Incident 22-03910” (Cochise County: Cochise County Sheriff, March 2022) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22005859-cochise-county-sheriff-investigation-into-border-patrol-killing-of-cruz-marcos.

— Ryan Devereaux, “‘This Is America Motherfucker’: Witnesses Describe Border Patrol Killing of Mexican Migrant” (United States, The Intercept, May 12, 2022) https://theintercept.com/2022/05/12/border-patrol-migrant-killing-coverup/.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Critical Incident Teams

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Lawsuit or Claim Filed, Under Local Police investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

February 14, 2022

The August 16, 2022 San Diego Union-Tribune recounted the story of “Lucy” (real name withheld), a Salvadoran mother who crossed the eastern California border with her children. According to her attorney, Lucy was fleeing death threats.

She claimed that a Border Patrol agent beat her during her apprehension, that she was denied medical attention, and that agents separate her from her 10-year-old daughter.

They were with a group of other migrants resting along a train line in Calipatria — a city about 35 miles north of Calexico — on Feb. 14 when Border Patrol agents found them.

Lucy said she went to wake up her 18-year-old son Anner as the other migrants fled. A Border Patrol agent caught her and began beating her, she said.

“The truth is I thought he was going to kill me because he had hit me so much,” she told the Union-Tribune.

Her children watched in horror and begged another agent to get him to stop, she said, but the other agent said that he couldn’t because of who the agent attacking her was.

Lucy, who is less than 5 feet tall, attempted to free herself from the agent to save herself, she said. Anner threw a couple of rocks near the agent to try to get him to stop.

The agent did stop, and Lucy escaped to where the other agent was standing with her children, she said.

They were taken to a Border Patrol station, and though Lucy was bleeding from the head and lip and already quite bruised, she did not receive medical attention, she said.

She recalled the agents bullying her and laughing at her.

She was placed in a holding area with her daughter, but soon agents came to take Lucy away. It would be more than a month before she even had an idea of where her daughter ended up.

“They didn’t even give me a chance to say goodbye,” Lucy said. “They took me out and handcuffed me.”

She was taken to a federal facility in Arizona to wait because she was being charged with assaulting and intimidating the agent that she says attacked her, a felony. Anner was charged with a misdemeanor and held in another facility.

The FBI agent who investigated the incident noted in a court filing that Anner told him that the Border Patrol agent was punching his mother.

In May, the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked the judge to dismiss the charges, and the case was dropped.

— Kate Morrissey, “Family Separations at the Border Continue Under Biden” (San Diego: The San Diego Union-Tribune, August 17, 2022) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2022-08-16/family-separations-at-the-border-continue-under-biden.

Sector(s): El Centro

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Medical Care, Family Separation, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Family Unit

September 25, 2021

A report from the Border Network for Human Rights included the testimony of “J.N.L.,” a Mexican migrant who claimed that he and his minor son suffered physical abuse and abusive language while attempting to turn themselves in to a Border Patrol agent in El Paso.

On Sept. 25, at around 6:30 p.m., my son and I crossed the Rio Grande River to the United States at the height of Oro Street, where the train ended. When we crossed there, we stayed because we saw that the border patrol truck was coming. When it arrived, an officer got out quickly and screamed at us. It seemed like he was under the influence of some drug because out of nowhere, he grabbed my son by his shirt and pressed him down against the gravel. I told him, “buddy, you cannot treat my son like that; he is a minor. He is only 13 years old, and I will report it.”

He threw me face first and then grabbed me by my neck. I felt he was suffocating me. He yelled at me and told me to go ahead and report him and called me “trash.” He said, “I am not your buddy; I am an immigration officer.”

We never tried to run. He seemed to have a Dominican accent. He called on the radio for backup, and soon other officers arrived in a gray-colored uniform. I realized they were sheriff officers.

I told the sheriff officers about the mistreatment my son received from the Border Patrol officer. I asked them if I could report it. They responded that they were county officials and they were there to transfer us to get fingerprinted. I was nervous and scared and did not notice the patrol number or names. They took our fingerprints and then took us over the bridge to Juárez.

My right arm hurts, and my neck hurts even from drinking water. My son is also sore and in pain. This was not fair treatment.

The Border Network for Human Rights stated that it shared this and other testimonies in its February 2022 abuse monitoring report “with the agencies involved.”

The State of Human Rights at the U.S. – Mexico Border: Abuse Documentation 2022 Campaign Report (El Paso, Border Network for Human Rights, February 22, 2022) https://bnhr.org/abuse-documentation-2022-campaign-report/.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language, Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Mexico

Mid-September, 2021

Starting in mid-September 2021, and peaking around September 18-21, a large number of mostly Haitian migrants crossed the Rio Grande at Del Rio, Texas, a remote sector of the border across from Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico. By September 18, Del Rio’s mayor, citing information from Border Patrol, said that 14,534 migrants were encamped on the riverbank, under and around the border crossing bridge. There, while awaiting their turn to be processed by Border Patrol, they washed in the river and slept in tents, under shelters built out of vegetation, or in the open air.

In response to the Haitians’ rapid arrival, CBP surged 600 Border Patrol agents, CBP officers, and DHS volunteers to Del Rio, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during a September 20 visit to the sector.

By September 21, CBP had constructed a field hospital and was more systematically providing food. But for the first several days, food and clean water were scarce at the Del Rio site. This forced migrants to wade into Ciudad Acuña, Mexico to buy food at local stores and restaurants, then wade back into the United States with their provisions.

On their return to U.S. soil, some of the migrants, often laden with bags of food, encountered hostile Border Patrol agents on horseback. Photos and videos showed agents appearing to charge at migrants, including some children, at the water’s edge, apparently trying to force them to return to Mexico. One can be heard using a profane slur against Haiti. Some are shown waving or making slapping motions with lariats or long reins, which bore a resemblance to whips.

“Video footage of Border Patrol’s actions in this incident clearly demonstrate that the migrants being encountered by mounted agents did not present an imminent threat,” an ACLU letter describes the scene. “In one video an agent stops a family with small children, makes derogatory and xenophobic comments to the family, and then maneuvers his horse in a way that comes dangerously close to trampling a child.”

A March 2022 report from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Haitian Bridge Alliance included testimonies from the migrants.

A Haitian woman, traveling with her husband, aunt, and infant son, went to Acuña to find food for her family.[181] When she returned and attempted to cross the river, she was surrounded by several CBP officers on horseback. When she tried to explain that she had to get back to the encampment to reunite with her child, the CBP officers screamed at her to “get back” and “go back to Mexico.” She witnessed two men fall into the river and disappear below the current. She also witnessed one man tear his leg open after being chased and trampled by a CBP officer on horseback. One Haitian man brought his eight-year-old son to the riverbank to bathe when mounted officers appeared and began chasing down a group of migrants gathered by the Rio Grande.[182] As his son attempted to run away from the CBP officers on horseback, he fell—was nearly trampled by the horse—and suffered cuts and bruises to his legs. He injured his eye, which then became painfully inflamed. The man described the “moment of terror” when he saw his young son fall to the ground. “I thought my son would be killed, right there in front of me.”[183] Terrified and traumatized, they fled the Del Rio encampment that night. Another Haitian man and his pregnant girlfriend were both shoved and pushed by CBP officers in Del Rio when they attempted to cross the Rio Grande with food they purchased in Acuña:

“When we were crossing the river by the bridge, we were met by the CBP agents. Some of them were on horses, some were on foot. As I was trying to cross with my pregnant girlfriend they shoved us. She [my girlfriend] was also shoved and fell to the ground. I don’t speak English well, but I tried to tell the agents that my girlfriend was pregnant. I tried to say it in Spanish. But they continued to abuse us and they kept shoving us across the river.”[184]

In summarizing his experience under the bridge, the man explained, “I wasn’t treated with dignity at the border [in Del Rio]. I was treated worse than animals. I experienced racism and abuse in Brazil, but what I experienced at the border was much worse.”[185]

Border Patrol Chief Raúl Ortiz, a former Del Rio sector chief, claimed the agents were attempting to control the horses with the reins. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote that “this was an apparently isolated encounter, one that soon resolved with those seeking to enter the country and return to or arrive at the camp able to do so.”

Nonetheless, images of uniformed White men on horseback menacing Black people with what looked like whips blanketed U.S. social media on September 19 and 20, inspiring horrified reactions.

Immigrant rights and civil rights groups joined in condemnation. In Miami, 200 Haitian-Americans protesting outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field office forced road closures. The NAACP tweeted side-by-side “then” and “now” images: a drawing of a slaveholder whipping a Black man next to one of the Del Rio photos. A letter from civil rights groups said Biden’s promises for a more humane immigration policy “are being shredded before our eyes.” Human Rights Watch called it “the latest example of racially discriminatory, abusive, and illegal U.S. border policies that are returning people to harm and humanitarian disaster.”

Reactions in Congress were strong. The images were “horrific and disturbing,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “We had not seen the horses and the whips with any other population of people, so that to us goes to racism,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. House Oversight Committee Democrats sent a letter demanding a briefing from Biden administration officials by September 24 (original link).

Strong words also came from the Biden administration. “As it relates to those photos and that horrific video, we’re not going to stand for that kind of inhumane treatment and obviously we want this investigation to be completed rapidly,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “What I saw depicted, those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they were, was horrible,” said Vice President Kamala Harris. “Human beings should never be treated that way, and I’m deeply troubled about it.”

On September 24, President Joe Biden addressed the images for the first time. “It’s horrible what you saw. To see people like they did, with horses, running them over, people being strapped, it’s outrageous,” he said. “I promise you, those people will pay. There is an investigation underway right now and there will be consequences.”

DHS promised an investigation and disciplinary actions, and suspended the use of horse patrols in Del Rio (original link). However, “There is little reason to have confidence in the department’s willingness to hold its agents accountable,” Chris Rickerd and Sarah Turberville contended at the Los Angeles Times, noting that “CBP’s own records found that it took no action in 96% of 1,255 cases of alleged Border Patrol misconduct between January 2012 and October 2015.”

The DHS Inspector-General declined to take the case, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility shared preliminary findings with the Justice Department in October, to determine whether criminal charges were warranted. As of January 2022, other than a list of next steps that DHS published in mid-November, there had been no further word (original link). It was not until nearly six months after the incident, on March 11, 2022, that the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas decided not to pursue criminal charges. During that period, CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was unable to interview the Border Patrol agents directly involved in the incident.

On July 8, 2022, CBP OPR released its report on the incident (original link). The 511-page document found “failures at multiple levels of the agency, a lack of appropriate policies and training, and unprofessional and dangerous behavior by several individual Agents.”

The report included the following findings about what happened over approximately a half hour on September 19, 2021.

  • There was no evidence that the agents “whipped” the migrants or that the riders’ reins struck any migrants. In future crowd control events, though, CBP will prohibit mounted agents from “twirling” their reins as “a distancing tactic.”
  • “Several mounted Border Patrol Agents used force or the threat of force to drive several migrants back into the Rio Grande River, despite the fact the migrants were well within the territorial boundary of the United States.”
  • In addition to swinging reins, aggressive tactics included charging horses at migrants to keep them from entering, in one case maneuvering a horse very close to a boy, and in another causing a man to fall back into the river; grabbing a man by his shirt and flipping him around; and yelling “unprofessional” comments, including “Hey! You use your women? This is why your country’s s***, you use your women for this.”
  • By pushing migrants back to the river and Mexico, the horse-patrol agents were following orders given not by Border Patrol, but a request from Texas’s state police (Department of Public Safety). Though blocking migrants was not CBP’s objective, the Border Patrol supervisor approved the state agency’s request without checking with higher-ups.
  • This owed much to faulty command and control within Border Patrol. The horse patrol agents’ supervisor “was unable to obtain additional guidance from higher in the USBP chain of command at the time of the request” from Texas DPS. The agents “repeatedly sought guidance from the USBP incident command post” by radio, and backed off after being “eventually told to allow all the migrants to enter.”
  • Though assigned to a crowd control mission—a difficult job with a high risk of escalation and human rights abuse—the horse patrol unit’s members’ responses indicated that they had not received crowd control training. CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said that from now on, horses would not be used for crowd control without the commissioner’s approval.

With the OPR report complete, a CBP Disciplinary Review Board, separate from OPR and made up of senior officials, was to consider punishments for the agents involved. As of July 2022, four agents may face administrative measures. CBS News reported that no firings are recommended, and that the Review Board proposed a seven-day suspension for the supervisor who approved the Texas state DPS request.

The agents’ defenders—including the National Border Patrol Council union, House Homeland Security Committee ranking Republican Rep. John Katko (R-New York), and several former Border Patrol leaders in a mid-June letter—argue that they are not receiving due process because President Biden had demanded in September 2021 that they “pay” for their actions (original link, original link). Border Patrol union President Brandon Judd said that the union would appeal any punishments.

Critics of the OPR report note that it only covered what happened in the approximate half-hour on September 19 when the horse patrol was caught on camera, and that investigators did not speak to a single Haitian migrant. Nora Phillips, legal director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, told National Public Radio:

the official report contains some important inaccuracies. For example, she says, Border patrol agents did strike migrants with their horses’ reins. She’s also disappointed that investigators focused only on the incident with the horse patrols, while basically ignoring the squalid conditions in the camp.

“There was no investigation into that,” she said. “The lack of food, the lack of water, the lack of medical care. And that’s what’s also really disappointing.”

— Shaw Drake, “U.S. Border Patrol’s use of horses and verbal abuse against migrants in Del Rio, TX” (El Paso: ACLU Texas, September 21, 2021) https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/aclu_tx_cbp_oig_letter_re_border_patrol_in_del_rio.pdf.

— Sarah Turberville, Chris Rickerd, “Abusing migrants while on horseback? That fits with the Border Patrol’s long history of brutality” (Los Angeles: The Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2021) https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-09-22/haitian-migrants-del-rio-border-patrol-horseback.

— Philip Bump, “What one photo from the border tells us about the evolving migrant crisis” (Washington: The Washington Post, September 20, 2021) https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/09/20/what-one-photo-border-tells-us-about-evolving-migrant-crisis/.

— Tweet from NAACP @NAACP (Twitter: September 21, 2021) https://twitter.com/NAACP/status/1440433080477519872.

Beyond the Bridge: Documented Human Rights Abuses and Civil Rights Violations Against Haitian Migrants in the Del Rio, Texas Encampment (United States: Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Haitian Bridge Alliance, March 29, 2022) https://rfkhr.imgix.net/asset/Del-Rio-Report.pdf.

— “US: Treatment of Haitian Migrants Discriminatory” (Washington: Human Rights Watch, September 21, 2021) https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/21/us-treatment-haitian-migrants-discriminatory.

Letter to Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller from six members of Congress (Washington: U.S. House of Representatives, September 22, 2021) https://int.nyt.com/data/documenttools/read-the-letter-from-lawmakers-demanding-answers-on-treatment-of-haitian-migrants/9e164db6d5b98eed/full.pdf.

— Annika Kim Constantino, “Biden condemns Border Patrol agents’ treatment of Haitian migrants, vows they will face consequences” (United States: CNBC, September 24, 2021) https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/24/biden-condemns-border-patrol-treatment-of-haitian-migrants-in-del-rio.html.

Tweet from Homeland Security @DHSgov (Twitter: September 20, 2021) https://twitter.com/DHSgov/status/1440090164425019397.

Letter from former Border Patrol officials to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (Washington: Washington Examiner, June 21, 2022) https://www.scribd.com/document_downloads/direct/579239144?extension=pdf&ft=1657135495&lt=1657139105&user_id=352475425&uahk=pzqbundOpAFXYAdmeffgbzGwQPI.

— Anna Giaritelli, “Border Patrol chiefs under three presidents warn Biden on ‘whipping’ discipline” (Washington: Washington Examiner, June 21, 2022) https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/border-patrol-chiefs-warn-biden-on-whipping.

— Eileen Sullivan and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, “Review Finds Agents Used Unnecessary Force Against Black Migrants” (New York: The New York Times, July 8, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/08/us/politics/border-patrol-investigation-migrants.html.

— Rep. John Katko, “Katko on the Del Rio Horse Patrol Investigation Report” (Washington: House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Republicans, July 8, 2022) https://republicans-homeland.house.gov/katko-on-the-del-rio-horse-patrol-investigation-report/.

— Camilo Montoya-Galvez, Nicole Sganga, “Border Patrol agents on horseback used “unnecessary” force against Haitian migrants last year, investigators find” (United States: CBS News, July 8, 2022) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/border-patrol-agents-on-horseback-used-unnecessary-force-against-haitian-migrants-last-year-investigators-find/.

CBP Office of Professional Responsibility – Del Rio Horse Patrol Unit Investigation Report (Washington: CPB OPR, July 8, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/document/report/cbp-office-professional-responsibility-del-rio-horse-patrol-unit-investigation.

— Joel Rose, “After Del Rio, some Haitian migrants found safety in the U.S. But many have not” (United States: National Public Radio, September 7, 2022) <https://www.npr.org/2022/09/07/1120775143/after-del-rio-some-haitian-migrants-found-safety-in-the-u-s-but-many-have-not>.

Footnotes from above:

[181]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 25, 2021).

[182]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 25, 2021).

[183]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 25, 2021).

[184]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 25, 2021).

[185]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 25, 2021).

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Crowd Control, Racial Discrimination or Profiling, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, OPR Investigation Closed, Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Black, Family Unit, Haiti, Single Adult

August 2, 2021

A CBP statement related the death in Border Patrol custody of a Salvadoran man near Eagle Pass, Texas (original link). The man had become “unresponsive” after being restrained for having reportedly become “unruly.”

The following statement pertains to an in-custody death that occurred near Eagle Pass, TX, on Monday, August 2, 2021. This information is based on a preliminary review and may be corrected or updated in the future. Additional information may also be released by other agencies investigating this incident.

On August 2, 2021, Border Patrol Agents (BPAs) were alerted to the presence of a group of suspected undocumented migrants inside a ranch approximately 17 miles south of Eagle Pass, Texas near Highway 277. BPAs assigned to the Eagle Pass South (EGS) Border Patrol Station responded and began tracking the group of migrants. After approximately nine hours of tracking the group, BPAs located and apprehended seven migrants while several other individuals fled. BPAs continued to search for these individuals.

Shortly thereafter, BPAs apprehended five more migrants, to include a male citizen of El Salvador. The man was initially handcuffed together with two other migrants using two sets of handcuffs. The man reportedly became unruly and was causing discomfort to the other two individuals to whom he was attached. When BPAs removed the handcuffs to separate him from the others, he attempted to escape, running a short distance before being apprehended again by BPAs. BPAs restrained him with his hands behind his back and placed him on the hood of a nearby Border Patrol vehicle. BPAs placed two other migrants on the front bumper area of the vehicle and two in the rear of the vehicle and drove back to the location where the first group was apprehended to await a transport vehicle.

Upon arrival at that location, BPAs removed all the migrants from the Border Patrol vehicle to await the transport vehicle; the El Salvadoran man remained restrained. When the Border Patrol transport vehicle arrived approximately one hour later, BPAs discovered the man was unresponsive. The BPAs began chest compressions and requested emergency medical services. When the Eagle Pass Fire Department arrived on the scene, medical personnel determined the man was deceased.

Consistent with agency procedures for reviewing in-custody deaths, CBP OPR immediately responded to the scene, interviewed migrants involved in the incident, and subsequently notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the DHS Office of Inspector General, and the Dimmit County Sheriff’s Department. The Webb County Medical Examiner’s Office and CBP OPR are reviewing this incident which is under investigation by the Texas Rangers. CBP is fully cooperating with all agencies reviewing or investigating this incident.

All CBP personnel involved in the incident have been reassigned to non-field enforcement activities, pending the results of the investigation and subsequent actions that may be warranted. Additionally, U.S. Border Patrol has initiated a full review of their transport and detention procedures to assure they are fully compliant with the CBP Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS) policy.

CBP Statement: Death in Custody at Eagle Pass, TX” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, August 6, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-death-custody-eagle-pass-tx-0.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under FBI Investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Single Adult

August 1, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described Border Patrol agents’ violent apprehension of a group of six migrants in Arizona.

A Guatemalan man in a group of six entered the United States and encountered Border Patrol agents. One of the agents pushed one of the men down with a knee on his back. Another man from the group was running, and the dog the agents brought with them attacked him and knocked him face down into a cactus. One of the spines penetrated near his eye, causing his face to bleed. When the man with eye injury asked for help, the agents said no, and that this is what happens to people who come here.

An agent grabbed the Guatemalan man who filed this complaint by the back of the neck and shoved him. The agent lunged to try to shove him again; when he ducked down the agent kept going forward and hurt himself on the cactus spines. Angered by this, the agent grabbed the Guatemalan man by the neck. The man said he felt like he was being choked. The Guatemalan man was injured as he had cactus spines stuck in his legs. He was not allowed to take them out until the next day.

The Guatemalan man’s brother-in-law was also in the group. He was dehydrated and vomiting. As he lay on the ground, begging for water, an agent put his foot on the man’s back and then kneeled on him. It was not until they arrived at a temporary outpost nearly two hours later that they got water.

The group was expelled to Nogales, Sonora the next morning, where Kino then took them to the hospital.

KBI filed an August 4, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). As of August 17, 2021, KBI had not yet received a response.

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Food or Water, Denial of Medical Care, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Medical Condition, Single Adult

July 21, 2021

Gregson Martínez, a Border Patrol processing coordinator at the Processing Center in Donna, Texas, struck a 17-year-old Honduran citizen in the face while questioning him about his age and citizenship. Mr. Martínez was terminated on August 2, 2021, and pled guilty on May 13, 2022 to violating the teenager’s constitutional rights. (original link)

The DHS Office of Inspector-General and CBP Office of Professional Responsibility conducted the investigation of Martínez, and the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted the case. Martínez faces up to a year in prison and a possible maximum $100,000 fine; sentencing was scheduled for June 24, 2022.

— “Federal agent admits to violating civil rights of a Honduran teenager” (Texas: U.S. Department of Justice, May 13, 2022) https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdtx/pr/federal-agent-admits-violating-civil-rights-honduran-teenager.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Processing Coordinators

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Conviction, DHS OIG investigation Closed, Judicial Case Closed, OPR Investigation Closed

Victim Classification: Honduras, Unaccompanied Child

Early July, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

Several people who arrived at our Migrant Aid Center in Nogales reported brutal treatment by Border Patrol agents encountered in the desert. Two different people reported that agents slammed them to the ground after lifting them by the neck, one person was dragged through thorns, and one was handcuffed, tied to a horse, and forced to walk behind the horse for two hours.

— “July 8 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, July 8, 2021).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

June 16, 2021

A Border Patrol agent in Nogales, Arizona fired a 9 millimeter handgun round at a white Kia SUV, striking Marisol García Alcántara, a 37-year-old undocumented Mexican mother of three who was riding in the vehicle’s backseat. Ms. García Alcántara was struck in the head and wounded.

On December 9, 2021, Ms. García Alcántara filed a Federal Torts Claim Act claim with CBP seeking compensation for the injuries she suffered (original link). This is a required step before filing a lawsuit. It claims that Ms. García Alcántara was “unarmed and defenseless, and represented no risk of harm to anyone,” and that she “does not know the name of the agent who employed this deadly force.”

According to the police report, a Border Patrol agent told Nogales police that “all he could say was that they had a fail to yield with the Kia, and one shot was fired. Agent Serrano [Border Patrol Supervisor T. Serrano #N55] did not provide me with further information” (original link).

Ms. García Alcántara disputes whether the vehicle in which she was a passenger failed to yield. “The car was slowing down to comply when she felt a strike to her head,” she told the San Diego Union Tribune.

After the incident, she was taken to Tucson for brain surgery. She spent three days in the hospital, was taken to the Florence, Arizona ICE detention facility, and was deported to Mexico on July 15, 2021. She was not interviewed by any agency investigating her shooting. “No one investigated. I returned to Mexico without making a declaration,” she told the Associated Press.

As a result of her bullet wound, the claim states, Ms. García Alcántara has “bullet fragments… lodged in her brain, with permanent life-long consequences. The injuries included intra-cranial hemorrhage, skull fracture, orbital fracture, with bullet and broken bone fragments entering her left frontal lobe.” The Union Tribune reported that Ms. García Alcántara “said she has dizzy spells, excruciating headaches and memory loss. Doctors also told her she’s at risk of becoming epileptic or suffering from facial paralysis in the future.” The BBC reported that she has problems remembering names and words.

A Border Patrol Critical Incident Team (CIT) and FBI agents later arrived on scene. The agency’s secretive CITs have come under increasing scrutiny since October 27, 2021, when an investigation by the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) alleged that one of their main roles is to gather evidence that might exonerate agents after an abuse occurs. “Marisol’s ability to seek justice, beginning with the filing of the FTCA claim, may be adversely affected by the actions of the CIT,” the SBCC wrote in December 2021.

Ms. Gómez Alcántara was among victims who spoke at a May 2022 SBCC press conference calling for the CITs’ abolition; a May 3, 2022 memorandum from CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus terminated the controversial units.

As of mid-December 2021, no information about this investigation’s findings has been made public. “The U.S. government’s decision to release only limited information about her case highlights how federal law enforcement agencies – which have a large, highly visible presence in Nogales – often feel little obligation to explain their actions to the public following use-of-force incidents,” Nogales International stated in a detailed October 2021 recounting of Ms. Gómez Alcántara’s story. The Associated Press reported in December 2021 that CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was investigating the incident, as was CBP’s National Use of Force Review Board.

On December 23, 2021, a letter from CBP to an attorney representing Ms. García Alcántara requested information and documents about her medical treatments. If the agency does not report on its investigation by June 20, 2022, her attorney plans to file suit in federal court.

“I am asking for justice so they don’t keep doing this,” García Alcántara told the Union Tribune. “I am also asking for a public apology from the person who did this. I’d like to know why he did this to me since I didn’t do anything to him.”

— “Officer Report for Incident 210006105” (Nogales: Nogales Police Department, June 16, 2021) https://www.dropbox.com/sh/4r5dzamxq8fjzon/AABmConSjaFosUR6BRgh88Ula?dl=0&preview=Exhibit+E+-+Nogales+PD+report.pdf&emci=4a0bacf1-b15d-ec11-94f6-0050f2e65e9b&emdi=50f09884-b35d-ec11-94f6-0050f2e65e9b&ceid=6137030.

— Eugene Iredale, “Claim for Damage, Injury, or Death” (San Diego: Iredale & Yoo A.P.C., December 9, 2021) https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/alliancesandiego/pages/3292/attachments/original/1639508803/Claim_Form_95_Signed_and_Redacted.pdf?1639508803=&emci=4a0bacf1-b15d-ec11-94f6-0050f2e65e9b&emdi=50f09884-b35d-ec11-94f6-0050f2e65e9b&ceid=6137030.

— “Marisol García Alcantara was shot by Border Patrol then deported now filing a claim against CBP” (San Diego: Southern Border Communities Coalition, December 15, 2021) https://www.southernborder.org/marisol_garcia_alcantara_was_shot_by_border_patrol_then_deported_now_filing_a_claim_against_cbp.

— Nick Phillips, “Woman shot in head by Border Patrol seeks answers” (Nogales: Nogales International, October 8, 2021) https://www.nogalesinternational.com/news/woman-shot-in-head-by-border-patrol-seeks-answers/article_0aae589a-2843-11ec-8050-df7bb17fa8bc.html.

— Kate Morrissey, “Woman shot in head by Border Patrol agent files claim for damages” (San Diego, San Diego Union-Tribune, December 15, 2021) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2021-12-15/woman-shot-border-patrol-agent-claim.

— Anita Snow, “Mexican woman shot in head by US Border Patrol files claim” (Phoenix: Associated Press, December 15, 2021) https://apnews.com/article/shootings-arizona-22a67bc78bde39e2087a1d5a6c32097d.

— “Marisol García Alcántara, la mexicana que sobrevivió a un disparo de la Patrulla Fronteriza (y ahora va a demandar a EE.UU.)” (BBC News Mundo, La Prensa Libre, May 11, 2022) https://www.prensalibre.com/internacional/bbc-news-mundo-internacional/marisol-garcia-alcantara-la-mexicana-que-sobrevivio-a-un-disparo-de-la-patrulla-fronteriza-y-ahora-va-a-demandar-a-ee-uu/.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Critical Incident Teams

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Lawsuit or Claim Filed, Under FBI Investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Female, Mexico, Single Adult

June 16, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK included a Jamaican migrant’s account of violent treatment by Border Patrol agents at Nogales, Arizona’s DeConcini port of entry.

A Jamaican man entered the United States at a port of entry to ask for asylum and was immediately confronted by two Border Patrol agents who physically attacked him. They knocked him to the ground with a plastic barrier and began beating and punching him. One agent put his foot on his neck as he lay on the ground. The agents dragged him across concrete into an office at the port of entry. A third agent told the two that what they were doing was wrong. The other agents dismissed her objection. The Jamaican man was then handcuffed to a bench. Later, he was taken to another room where he was photographed and fingerprinted. When the agents asked why he was there, the Jamaican man said he was seeking asylum. The agents asked where he was from and when he said Jamaica. The agents said, “this is what a bunch of you have been doing (running into the port of entry), you are getting out of here.” They took him to the Mexican immigration office. His friends were in Mexico waiting to see if he got across successfully. The Mexican immigration officers took photos of all their passports and asked them to go to Kino Border Initiative.

KBI filed a June 24, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On August 6, CRCL emailed “saying they received the complaint and forwarded it to the OIG. No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.”

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson, Tucson Field Office

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Black, Jamaica, Single Adult

June 12, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK discussed rough treatment that a Guatemalan man said he received from Border Patrol agents who apprehended him in Arizona.

A Guatemalan man entered the United States through the desert with a group of several others. He encountered Border Patrol agents who tripped him, causing him to fall and injure his knee. His face was injured with thorns. He was in a lot of pain, and he asked for medical attention. The agents said they could not help him. They then forced him to walk for an hour in handcuffs. Then the agents drove him to the border station. He didn’t receive medical attention at the station. He was expelled from that station to Nogales, Sonora. Only after he arrived in Mexico did Kino facilitate medical attention.

KBI filed a June 22, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On August 6, CRCL emailed “saying they received the complaint and forwarded it to the OIG. No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.”

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Medical Care, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Medical Condition, Single Adult

May 14, 2021

Three Border Patrol agents shot 26-year-old San Diego resident Silvestre Vargas Estrada through the windshield of his car in Campo, California. Vargas Estrada was killed. Two passengers, believed to be Mexican men who had entered the country illegally, were not injured.

A release from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department reported:

Just before 10:30 p.m. on May 14, 2021, agents with the U.S. Border Patrol were involved in a pursuit with a vehicle containing three adult males. The pursuit ended in a gas station parking lot at the intersection of State Route 94 and Buckman Springs Road in Campo. A confrontation ensued, resulting in three agents discharging their firearms. The driver of the vehicle was struck by gunfire. The man was transported by ambulance to a local area hospital. Unfortunately, he was pronounced deceased shortly after arriving at the hospital (original link).

The Sheriff’s Department homicide unit was leading the investigation, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on May 18, 2021. “The FBI, Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility also responded to the scene and will review the investigation.”

It was the second Border Patrol-involved fatal shooting in the agency’s San Diego sector in six months. An agent shot and killed David Angel Villalobos-Baldovinos following a reported altercation on October 23, 2020.

— Thomas Seiver, “U.S. Border Patrol Agents Involved Shooting – Update 1” (San Diego: San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, May 18, 2021) https://www.sdsheriff.gov/Home/Components/News/News/384/16.

— Alex Riggins, “Authorities ID San Diego man shot, killed by Border Patrol agents” (San Diego, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 18, 2021) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2021-05-18/authorities-id-san-diego-man-shot-killed-by-border-patrol-agents.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force, Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult, U.S. Citizen or Resident

April 17, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK discussed a Salvadoran asylum-seeking family’s violent Border Patrol apprehension and subsequent inability to seek asylum, before being expelled under Title 42.

A Salvadoran woman, her 10-year-old daughter, 1-year-old son, brother, cousin, and cousin’s daughter, entered the United States on April 17, 2021. They saw a Border Patrol truck arriving and waited for it to arrive so they could ask for asylum.

The Border Patrol agent who got out of the truck was enraged. He pulled a gun on the mother and family. He berated them, calling them “damned criminals,” “rats,” “terrorists,” and “criminals,” as they cried and asked for asylum. He spoke English and Spanish but spoke Spanish poorly, but the Salvadoran woman said she understood enough. He continued to pull his gun on them even though they were not posing any threat to his safety. They were unarmed and with children. She believed that he was going to kill them.

Then, another agent arrived and calmed the first agent down. Other agents and vehicles arrived to transport them. She told those agents that they were seeking asylum, but they said they didn’t speak Spanish.

Once they were transported to an open-air outpost, she asked the agents there for asylum and got the same answer. Then they were transported to a permanent building [the Nogales Border Patrol station] where they were inspected by a doctor. She told the doctor she wanted seek asylum and he just said good luck. At the facility, she told several more agents she wanted to seek asylum. Despite telling 7 or 8 different agents that they were hoping to seek asylum in the United States, they were repeatedly told that no one spoke Spanish and were never given a fear assessment. They were all expelled to Nogales, Sonora.

KBI filed a July 13, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). The organization reported, “As of 8/17/2021, five weeks after the initial complaint was filed, KBI has received no response to this complaint.”

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Threat of Violence, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Family Unit

April 3, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described the apprehension and expulsion of a Guatemalan man who, after fleeing extortion and threats in his country, was kidnapped and tortured for two weeks during his journey through Mexico.

He managed to flee his kidnappers to continue to the U.S. In the U.S., he and two friends encountered one Border Patrol agent. The agent first handcuffed the other two to each other with chains. The agent then kicked the Guatemalan man who made this complaint in the left ankle, which caused him to collapse. The agent picked the man up by his shoulder and put him in the back of the truck. The agent expelled the man to Nogales, Sonora despite the injuries the agent had inflicted and the fact that he was kidnapped in Mexico. He was never given an opportunity to speak to anyone else about his fear of return.

KBI filed an April 13, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On April 30, CRCL emailed “that they received the complaint, recorded it in their database, and no further actions would be taken. No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.”

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Dangerous Deportation, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, No Further Action

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Kidnap Victim, Single Adult

February 3, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described Border Patrol agents’ rough treatment of an asylum-seeking family at a Nogales, Arizona port of entry.

A Salvadoran woman, her husband and two children traveled from El Salvador to Mexico initially to escape threats at home. Soon after, they also received threats in Mexico and decided to flee to the US. They approached the DeConcini port of entry in Nogales.

There, an agent shoved the woman who was eight months pregnant in the chest. The woman pleaded with the agent to not turn them back as they were fleeing danger in Mexico. The agents, both male and female, simply laughed at them when they explained the danger and said the family must go back. When the family said they had nowhere to go, the agents said that was not the agents’ problem. They forcibly removed them and took them to the Mexican immigration office at around 10:30 PM. The family slept by the line of cars entering the United States out of fear of navigating Nogales at night.

On the same day KBI filed the complaint [February 9, 2021], CBP OPR responded with the case number for the Joint Intake Center. Two weeks later, on 2/25/2021, KBI received an email from CRCL stating that they received the complaint, recorded it in their database, and will take no further action. Four months after the complaint was filed, on 6/2/2021, KBI received an email from CRCL saying they received the complaint and forwarded it to the OIG. No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Family Unit, Pregnancy

January 29, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described rough treatment during Border Patrol apprehension of a Guatemalan man in southern Arizona.

A Guatemalan man entered the United States near Sasabe, Sonora and walked for four hours before being met by Border Patrol who were on motorcycles. At first the man started to run, but when the official got closer, he stopped and put his hands up. The agent then grabbed him and shoved him to the ground, causing pain to his shoulder. He was then moved to Tucson. He was not given any medical attention for his shoulder. He was instead expelled to Nogales, while he was still experiencing pain.

On the same day the complaint was filed [February 2, 2021], the local CBP OPR contact responded inquiring about photos or medical records associated with the abuse. On 2/8/2021, a week after the initial complaint was filed, KBI received an email from CRCL stating that they received the complaint, recorded it in their database, and no further actions would be taken. No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Medical Care, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, No Further Action

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Medical Condition, Single Adult

January 29, 2021

A Border Patrol agent shot and killed Diosmani Ramos, a 23-year-old Cuban migrant, as he emerged from the Rio Grande in Hidalgo, Texas.

Helen Diéguez, Ramos’s partner, told Univisión that when Ramos reached the river bank, the agent was pointing a gun at him. “Diosmani grabbed a stone, the officer told him to drop it, and when the young man did not do so, he shot him in the chest.” When Ramos fell to the ground after being shot, the agent “told him again to drop the stone, he did not drop it because he was on the ground doubled over in pain, and then the agent shot him five more times.”

“If what they wanted was to grab him, there were many ways to do it, not by shooting him six times in the chest. That’s why we believe it was murder,” Diéguez said.

“The incident occurred while the agent was attempting to apprehend a subject and the agent discharged his weapon,” a CBP release noted, adding, “The incident is currently under investigation by the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility, DHS Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (original link).”

— “UPDATE: CBP Statement on Agent Involved Fatal Shooting in Hidalgo, TX” (Hidalgo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, January 29, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/update-cbp-statement-agent-involved-fatal-shooting-hidalgo-tx.

— “‘Fue un asesinato’: pareja del joven cubano baleado en la frontera por un agente de la patrulla fronteriza de EEUU” (Miami: Univisión, February 2, 2021) https://www.univision.com/local/miami-wltv/fue-un-asesinato-pareja-del-cubano-baleado-en-la-frontera-por-un-agente-de-la-patrulla-fronteriza-de-eeuu.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under FBI Investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Cuba, Single Adult

January 27, 2021

Relatives of Anastasio Hernández Rojas filed a brief before the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, contending that Border Patrol covered up, and improperly interfered with the investigation of, agents’ role in Hernández’s 2010 death. Video showed numerous Border Patrol agents and CBP officers beating and tasing a hogtied and handcuffed Hernández to death.

The brief contended that the acting deputy chief patrol agent in Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector at the time, Rodney Scott, signed a potentially illegal subpoena to obtain Hernández’s autopsy. (Scott went on to be Border Patrol chief from 2020 to 2021.) It argued that David Aguilar, then the commissioner of CBP, also argued that the use of force against Hernández was justified. It cited John Edward Dupuy, DHS’s assistant inspector general for investigations from 2012 to 2015, who called the DHS Inspector-General’s role “an example of a pattern of dereliction of duty that I observed from the DHS OIG Office of Investigation San Diego field office in investigations involving allegations of use of force by federal agents.”

“The affidavits show that the Border Patrol’s ability to cover its tracks in use-of-force cases, including killings, was built into the agency’s structure,” read an overview published on February 4, 2021 by the Intercept.

— Roxanna Altholtz, Andrea Guerrero, “Additional Observations on Merits” (San Diego: International Human Rights Law Clinic, University of California, Berkeley School of Law and Alliance San Diego, January 27, 2021) https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/alliancesandiego/pages/3138/attachments/original/1612382784/210127_Additional_Observations_on_Merits_Case_14042.pdf?1612382784.

— “Death on the Border: Shocking Video Shows Mexican Immigrant Beaten and Tased by Border Patrol Agents” (United States: Democracy Now! April 24, 2012) https://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/24/death_on_the_border_shocking_video.

— Ryan Devereaux, “Border Patrol Beat an Immigrant to Death and Then Covered It Up” (United States: The Intercept, February 4, 2021) https://theintercept.com/2021/02/04/border-patrol-killing-impunity-iachr/.

Sector(s): San Diego, San Diego Field Office

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Before Inter-American Human Rights System, Cleared by DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

November 4, 2020

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK discussed the experience of a Guatemalan man who entered the United States, was detained by an Arizona state trooper, and ended up in Border Patrol custody.

The agents took him to a Border Patrol station. He expressed fear to the agents about returning to Mexico. The agents’ supervisor then said they will decide if they were going to send the Guatemalan man to Guatemala or Nogales. Later, he was taken to the border with a group of other immigrants by the Border Patrol. Everyone was asked to walk across the border to Mexico. He asked the agents why he was being sent to Mexico when he was Guatemalan. An agent hit him with a baton on the knee and threatened to hit him on the head. He was in a lot of pain and his knee became swollen. After that, some other agents came and told him to seek out the Guatemalan Consulate in Nogales and ask about his rights in Mexico. He walked to a park in Nogales, Sonora and slept in a park.

KBI spoke with the local CBP OPR representative on the same day they filed the complaint. OIG had already opened a complaint at this time. An OIG investigator followed up with KBI. Since that date, KBI has not received any updates as to consequences for the officer involved or whether the victim received any recourse.

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, Shared with DHS OIG, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Single Adult

October 23, 2020

The New York Times, citing Customs and Border Protection, reported that “Border Patrol agents shot and killed the driver of a car that had been carrying unauthorized immigrants in Laredo, Texas, on Friday, after the car reversed into an agent and pinned him against another vehicle.” Border Patrol acknowledged that an “agent-involved shooting” took place at approximately 10:00 PM (original link).

The agents were reportedly responding to a possible human smuggling incident, along with officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI) and the Webb County, Texas Constable’s Office.

The Times reported:

Border Patrol agents and officials from Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of ICE, identified themselves as they approached the car, officials said.

But the driver “suddenly accelerated in reverse,” pinning a Border Patrol agent and a person whom he had been interviewing against another vehicle, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

The driver did not respond to orders to stop and “agents deployed lethal force to stop the threat,” the statement said.

The driver, who was not identified by name, died at the scene. The Border Patrol agent, who sustained leg injuries, was taken to a hospital and later released.

Two other people in the car were injured. In a video posted to Facebook, Border Patrol Laredo Sector Chief Matthew Hudak said that “agents from both agencies deployed lethal force so stop that threat.” The Laredo Police Department and FBI, he added, were leading the investigation into the incident. “Agents did what they needed to do to protect their fellow agent and to protect the suspect that was being interviewed,” Hudak concluded.

— Michael Levenson, “Border Patrol Agents Fatally Shoot Driver in Texas” (New York: The New York Times, October 25, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/25/us/border-patrol-shooting-texas.html.

— Matthew Hudak, “Initial Statement on an Agent-Involved Shooting in Laredo” (Laredo: U.S. Border Patrol Laredo Sector, October 23, 2020) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/initial-statement-agent-involved-shooting-laredo.

— U.S. Border Patrol Laredo Sector, “Agent Involved Shooting Update-Chief Patrol Agent Matthew Hudak” (Laredo: Facebook, October 24, 2020) https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=262600961857758&ref=sharing.

Sector(s): Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, ICE

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Under FBI Investigation, Under Local Police investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult

October 23, 2020

Border Patrol agent Ryan Gonsalves shot and killed David Angel Villalobos-Baldovinos, a Mexican citizen and Tijuana resident who allegedly tried to enter the United States illegally. Gonsalves confronted Villalobos-Baldovinos near the Las Américas outlet mall next to the San Ysidro port of entry. “An alleged scuffle unfolded, and the agent shot Villalobos-Baldovinos once in his upper body,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. “The agent suffered minor injuries, though police did not elaborate on the extent of the injuries.”

San Diego police were investigating the shooting. “We’re still putting the pieces together on this,” police Lt. Andra Brown told the Union-Tribune on October 27.

Villalobos-Baldovinos reportedly had family on both sides of the border. He was briefly jailed in San Diego in 2019 for the misdemeanor charge of improper entry (original link).

This would be the first of two Border Patrol-involved fatal shootings in the agency’s San Diego sector within the space of six months. Agents would shoot and kill Silvestre Vargas Estrada on May 14, 2021.

— Brenda Gregorio-Nieto, “One Dead in Shooting Involving Border Patrol Near Las Americas Premium Outlets” (San Diego: NBC 7 San Diego, October 25, 2020) https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/us-border-patrol-involved-in-shooting-in-san-ysidro/2430349/.

19-2881 – USA v. Villalobos-Valdovinos (San Diego: U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, July 30, 2019) https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/USCOURTS-casd-3_19-cr-02881/context.

— David Hernandez, “Police release name of man fatally shot by Border Patrol agent” (San Diego, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 27, 2020) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/public-safety/story/2020-10-27/police-release-name-of-man-fatally-shot-by-border-patrol-agent.

— “Border Patrol Agent Who Fatally Shot Suspected Border-Jumper ID’d” (San Diego: City News Service, NBC 7 San Diego, November 3, 2020) https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/border-patrol-agent-who-fatally-shot-suspected-border-jumper-idd/2435819/.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult