13 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct involving “Border Patrol” where the victim classification is “U.S. Citizen or Resident”

Late March, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about a family expelled to Nogales despite pleading with a Border Patrol agent for asylum:

A Guatemalan father traveling with his wife and three children, 2 of whom are US citizens, shared with KBI staff that US officials refused to hear their asylum claim. The family crossed into the US through the desert and turned themselves into Border Patrol agents to ask for asylum. His wife tried to explain their case to one Border Patrol agent, and he responded, “Shut up lady, don’t ask!” When Border Patrol put the family on a bus to expel them, she pleaded with another agent to at least let her US citizen children stay so they could be safe, since they have a right to be in the country. The agent refused and said the whole family would be going to Mexico.

— “March 31 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 31, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable

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

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Guatemala, U.S. Citizen or Resident

December 11, 2021

A Yahoo News investigation told the story of Jeffrey Rambo, a Border Patrol agent assigned to the Counter Network Division of CBP’s National Targeting Center in 2017 and 2018. The investigation pointed to very troubling CBP intrusions into the private lives of U.S. citizens not suspected of committing any crimes, while all involved have avoided punishment.

Though assigned to a project with the ostensible goal of combatting forced labor, Rambo and his Division ended up digging through classified government databases to uncover information about the private lives of as many as 20 U.S. journalists. The resulting leak investigation ensnared reporter Ali Watkins, revealing her romantic relationship with a married Senate staffer. Rambo, Yahoo News’s Jana Winter reported,

ran Watkins through an assortment of databases. Those included, among others, CBP’s Automated Targeting System, a tool that compares travelers against law enforcement and intelligence data; TECS, which tracks people entering and exiting the country; the Treasury Department’s FinCEN, used for identifying financial crimes; and the State Department consular database, which included details of her passport application.

Dan White, Rambo’s supervisor at the Counter-Network Division, testified about Charlie Ratliff, a program analyst in the Division who “worked on DOMEX, a program that collects information from the contents of a person’s electronic device when they cross a U.S. border.”

According to White’s later testimony, Ratliff regularly investigated congressional staffers’ travel captured by CBP to run against the Terrorist Screening Database. “White stated that when Congressional ‘Staffers’ schedule flights, the numbers they use get captured and analyzed by CBP,” the inspector general report says. White told the investigators that Ratliff “does this all the time,” looking at “inappropriate contacts between people.”

Starting in 2018, the DHS Inspector-General and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility carried out a two-year investigation into Rambo’s activities, focused on whether Rambo improperly accessed government databases, and sought information outside the scope of his official duties.

The Inspector-General found grounds for potential criminal charges against Rambo, White, and Ratliff, and presented criminal referrals to the Justice Department in October 2020. In the end, Mark Lytle, the head of financial crimes at United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, declined to prosecute, in part because CBP lacked clear policies and procedures governing Rambo’s duties.

“We’re in a very dangerous place if having no rules means officers can’t break any rules,” Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties National Security Project, told Yahoo News.

That same month, Jeffrey Rambo was taken off administrative leave and returned to duty as a Border Patrol agent, where he remained as of the time of Yahoo News’s investigation, assigned to the San Diego Sector. Dan White, Rambo’s former supervisor, was back running the same team as before at the CBP National Targeting Sector’s Counter Network Division. “When the inspector general requested any new policies or procedures the division had for contacts with journalists and people outside government, it received no reply,” Yahoo News found.

Ali Watkins, the reporter whose personal life came most heavily under CBP scrutiny and was working at the New York Times as of December 2021, told Yahoo News, “I’m deeply troubled at the lengths CBP and DHS personnel apparently went to try and identify journalistic sources and dig into my personal life. It was chilling then, and it remains chilling now.”

— Jana Winter, “Operation Whistle Pig: Inside the secret CBP unit with no rules that investigates Americans” (Yahoo News, December 11, 2021) https://news.yahoo.com/operation-whistle-pig-inside-the-secret-cbp-unit-with-no-rules-that-investigates-americans-100000147.html.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, National Targeting Center

Event Type(s): Civil Liberties or Privacy Infringement, Misuse of Intelligence Capability

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Dropped, DHS OIG investigation Closed, OPR Investigation Closed

Victim Classification: Journalist, U.S. Citizen or Resident

Late November 2021

Rodney Scott, the Trump administration’s last Border Patrol chief who exited his position in August, faced a San Diego Superior Court judge for a September tweet in which he advised former Border Patrol agent turned activist Jenn Budd, who has recounted being raped at the Border Patrol academy, to “lean back, close your eyes, and just enjoy the show.” Budd also posted screenshots on Twitter showing Scott among those on private CBP and Border Patrol agents’ Facebook groups sharing images of Border Patrol shoulder patches reading “Let’s Go Brandon,” a right-wing euphemism for “F— Joe Biden.”

— Emily Green, “Did Trump’s Border Patrol Chief Make a Rape Threat? A Judge Says Yes.” (Vice, December 2, 2021) https://www.vice.com/en/article/epxx9n/trumps-border-patrol-chief-rape-threat-on-twitter.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Sexual Assault or Harassment

Last Known Accountability Status: Judicial Case Closed

Victim Classification: Female, Sexual Abuse Victim, U.S. Citizen or Resident

September 25, 2021

“Today, while asking me about who I was visiting on my trip, a Border Patrol agent said I was being ‘coy’ with my answers and suggested that it would be possible that I am friends with—I kid you not—Osama Bin Laden,” tweeted Abdallah Fayyad, a member of the Boston Globe’s editorial board. (He may have been referring to an officer of CBP’s Office of Field Operations.)

— Tweet by Abdallah Fayyad @abdallah_fayyad (Twitter: September 25, 2021) https://twitter.com/abdallah_fayyad/status/1441914525310074880.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Racial Discrimination or Profiling

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Middle Eastern, U.S. Citizen or Resident

August 3, 2021

An August 25 letter to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the ACLU of Texas described an August 3 Border Patrol vehicle pursuit that led to two fatalities in New Mexico.

Early in the morning of August 3, 2021, a Border Patrol agent assigned to the Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S. Border Patrol Station was reportedly patrolling New Mexico State Road 185 approximately six miles south of the Border Patrol checkpoint, which is located approximately 69 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. According to CBP, the agent witnessed a northbound vehicle pull to the side of the road and then proceed north. The Border Patrol agent reportedly followed the vehicle without activating his emergency equipment.

The vehicle reportedly evaded the Border Patrol checkpoint by driving onto the southbound lanes of New Mexico State Road 185 and then continued north, at which time the Border Patrol agent activated his emergency equipment and attempted to stop the vehicle. Another Border Patrol unit also reportedly pursued the vehicle.

Approximately three miles north of the Border Patrol checkpoint, the vehicle crashed. Several occupants were ejected from the vehicle. The agency’s statement simply claims “the driver lost control and crashed,” but does not indicate the location or conduct of Border Patrol agents’ vehicles immediately preceding the crash.

A CBP release, issued two weeks later, reported that one passenger aboard the vehicle, a male citizen of Ecuador, died (original link). The vehicle’s driver, a male U.S. citizen, died of his injuries 12 days after the crash. Eight other passengers were hospitalized.

“This incident is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the New Mexico State Police, and reviewed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility and the El Paso County Office of the Medical Examiner,” CBP’s release continued. “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General was also notified.”

It was the first of two Border Patrol pursuits ending in fatal crashes in four days. Three people died in a crash following an August 7, 2021 chase in Arizona.

This incident would be featured in a January 10, 2022 front-page New York Times story about Border Patrol vehicle pursuit tactics. The Times account included the role of Border Patrol’s secretive Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs), which advocates accuse of having helped to frustrate investigations into abuses committed by agents:

Body camera footage from a state police officer captured one of the Border Patrol agents saying: “Our critical incident team is coming out. They’ll do all the crime scene stuff—well, not crime scene, but critical incident scene.” The agent said that he and his colleague would give statements to the team, which it would share with the police.

On June 7, 2022, the ACLU of Texas and ACLU of New Mexico confirmed that Border Patrol Critical Incident Team personnel were at the scene of the crash within about an hour. Through state-level public records requests, the ACLU obtained the first-ever publicly available copy of a BPCIT incident report. The 162-page document “raises more questions than it answers,” the organization observed (original link). It pointed out several inconsistencies in the BPCIT report’s findings, including its descriptions of the distance at which the Border Patrol vehicle was following, when it activated its lights and sirens, whether “spike strips” were used to disable the pursued vehicle, and even the number of miles over which the chase took place.

The quality of the incident report, the ACLU offices concluded, raises concerns about CBP’s plan to terminate the BPCITs by absorbing their personnel into CBP’s Office of Public Responsibility (OPR) by the end of September 2022. “While OPR is tasked with conducting independent and impartial investigations, confidence in their results is wholly undermined by the involvement of Border Patrol’s CITs as investigators.”

Times reporter Eileen Sullivan identified the vehicle’s driver: 25-year-old Erik A. Molix, who was transporting nine undocumented migrants in a sport utility vehicle. Agents chased him at speeds reaching 73 miles per hour. A Border Patrol vehicle clipped Molix’s SUV, sending it tumbling off the road. Molix’s mother, a 5th-grade teacher in El Paso, found out about her son’s death from a CBP news release. While he may have been doing something illegal, she told the Times, “That doesn’t mean you have to die for it.”

The ACLU’s August 2021 letter called on CBP to carry out “robust and independent investigations” into the pursuit incident, and that the agency publicly release its written vehicle pursuit policy and review whether Border Patrol agents deviated from it during the August 3 chase.

CBP made its vehicle pursuit policy public, in redacted form, for the first time in November 2021 (original link). On May 24, 2022, the Associated Press reported that CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus “developing a new policy for vehicle pursuits with an eye toward increasing safety.”

— Rebecca Sheff, Shaw Drake, “CBP’s Vehicle Pursuit Policy and Border Patrol’s Deadly Pursuit of a Vehicle on August 3, 2021 near Las Cruces, New Mexico” (New Mexico and Texas: ACLU of New Mexico, ACLU of Texas, August 25, 2021) https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/aclu_letter_to_cbp_re_las_cruces_vehicle_pursuit.pdf.

— “Smuggler loses control of vehicle while evading checkpoint, causing a death and injuries to ejected passengers” (Las Cruces: CBP, August 17, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/smuggler-loses-control-vehicle-while-evading-checkpoint-causing.

— Eileen Sullivan, “A Rise in Deadly Border Patrol Chases Renews Concerns About Accountability” (New York: The New York Times, January 9, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/09/us/politics/border-patrol-migrant-deaths.html.

Emergency Driving Including Vehicular Pursuits by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Personnel (Washington: CBP, January 16, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2021-Nov/CBP-directive-emergency-driving-Including-vehicular-pursuits-us-cbp-personnel-redacted.pdf.

— Elliot Spagat, “Border agency plans vehicle pursuit policy to raise safety” (Donna: Associated Press, May 24, 2022) https://apnews.com/article/politics-us-customs-and-border-protection-texas-law-enforcement-agencies-694e39abaca42abbee4f1093484b9b76.

— Shaw Drake, Rebecca Sheff, “Border Patrol is Investigating Itself Following Deaths, Report Reveals” (Texas and New Mexico, ACLU of Texas and ACLU of New Mexico, June 7, 2022) https://www.aclu.org/news/immigrants-rights/border-patrol-is-investigating-itself-following-deaths-report-reveals.

Report as prepared by EPT CIT including all facts pertaining to the case listed above (El Paso: U.S. Border Patrol, 2021) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22016802-us_cbp_final_report_redacted.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Critical Incident Teams

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

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

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

July 30, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described the improper expulsion into Mexico of a Guatemalan man, resident in Arizona, with documented status in the United States.

A Guatemalan man who has been in the United States since 2005 was detained in the desert while trying to pick up his wife. He went to pick her up, but they got lost in the desert. Eventually they called 911 for help. The Pima County Sheriff’s officer then detained them. Border Patrol arrived at the scene, and they were then handed over to them.

Despite having a work permit, which he tried to present to agents, he was not allowed to leave the checkpoint. He was not crossing the border. CBP officers then forced him to sign a document and put him in a vehicle and they told him he was going to be expelled under Title 42. He was expelled in Nogales.

KBI filed an August 9, 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.

The same report described Border Patrol’s expulsion of the man’s wife who, though undocumented, had been in the United States since 2018 and thus should not have been subject to expulsion.

A Honduran woman who has been in the United States since 2018 was visiting a friend when they noticed a CBP checkpoint on the way. Fearing what may come, she got out of the car on the roadside to avoid the checkpoint because of her immigration status. She called her husband to pick her up, but he refused to come at first, fearing that he would be mistaken for a smuggler. Eventually, he came to get her, but they got lost in the desert and in the early hours of the morning called 911 to rescue them.

The Pima County Sheriff’s officer then detained her. CBP arrived at the scene, and she was handed over to them. She was not crossing the border. The CBP officers then forced her to sign a document and put her in a vehicle, telling her she was going to expelled under Title 42. She was expelled in Nogales.”

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): Inappropriate Deportation

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

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

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 24, 2021

Francisco Javier Vallejo, an off-duty Border Patrol agent, struck a bicyclist with his car and fled the scene. The cyclist, Humberto Torres Iracheta, 71, was found dead, face down in the roadway.

Vallejo eventually informed his CBP supervisors that he had hit a cyclist. The Rio Grande Valley Monitor reported, “It’s unclear, however, how long it took Vallejo to report the collision.” Vallejo was arrested, the Monitor continued, “and charged with accident involving death, a second-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Vallejo was released the following day on a $100,000 bond.”

— Valerie Gonzalez and Mark Reagan, “Border Patrol agent fled deadly collision with bicyclist; later reported the death” (Hidalgo: MyRGV News, April 26, 2021) https://myrgv.com/local-news/2021/04/26/border-patrol-agent-fled-deadly-collision-with-bicyclist-later-reported-the-death/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: Under Judicial Review, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: U.S. Citizen or Resident

October 5, 2020

Border Patrol agents, including members of the Border Patrol’s SWAT team-like Tactical Unit (BORTAC), carried out another raid on the Byrd Camp, a desert facility near Arivaca, Arizona operated by the faith-based humanitarian group No More Deaths (NMD). This follows a raid just over two months earlier, on July 31.

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild described the operation:

After staking out the Byrd Camp for nearly two days, Border Patrol agents stormed the Camp in a convoy of vehicles that included a Bearcat tank. A Border Patrol helicopter buzzed the camp, flying so low that its rotor wash destroyed a NMD tent and storage shed. Agents detained at least a dozen people, including at least six NMD volunteers.

BORTAC “came in, guns drawn, in full camouflage. The sun had just gone down, so it was totally pitch-black. They detained all of the volunteers,” No More Deaths volunteer Paige Corich-Kleim told the Nation. “All of the people [migrants] that were at camp receiving [humanitarian] aid were chased in the darkness. Border Patrol detained 12 people there.” Corich-Kleim noted an increase in aggressive behavior from the agency:

We’ve been documenting their abuses since 2008, but under the Trump administration, more explicitly racist and violent policies and tactics are more widely accepted and endorsed by the president and by the political institutions. They’ve been able to normalize and escalate all of these tactics over the years. I think what we’re seeing now is Border Patrol is able to operate with even more impunity and in even more violent ways, and still get away with it.

— Tory Johnson, “Border Patrol is Going After Humanitarian Aid in the Arizona Desert—Again” (United States: Immigration Impact, American Immigration Council, October 15, 2020) https://immigrationimpact.com/2020/10/15/border-patrol-raid-humanitarian-camp/.

— Sirine Shebaya, Joseph Meyers, Matthew S. Vogel, Khaled Alrabe, Letter to Customs and Border Protection (Washington: National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, October 5, 2021) https://nipnlg.org/PDFs/2021_05Oct_NMD-letter.pdf.

— Jessica Suriano, “The Border Patrol Is Cracking Down on Humanitarian Aid” (United States: The Nation, December 15, 2020) https://www.thenation.com/article/society/no-more-deaths-arizona/.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, BORTAC

Event Type(s): Intimidation of Humanitarian Workers, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Advocate or Humanitarian Worker, U.S. Citizen or Resident

July 31, 2020

Border Patrol agents, including members of the Border Patrol’s SWAT team-like Tactical Unit (BORTAC), some in armored vehicles, carried out a nighttime raid on a camp near Arivaca, Arizona run by No More Deaths, a faith-based humanitarian group. “Agents zip-tied volunteers’ hands behind their backs, shouted at them with rifles raised, and confiscated their cellphones, as well as the organization’s medical records,” the Intercept reported. They arrested 37 undocumented immigrants who were receiving medical treatment at the site. Once Border Patrol arrested the migrants, agents released the No More Deaths volunteers, who found their camp severely damaged and paperwork taken away.

The agents had obtained a search warrant from a Tucson judge, which alluded to the No More Deaths camp’s possible use to harbor both undocumented migrants and illegal contraband. Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief Roy Villareal tweeted a surveillance photo of a group of migrants who agents tracked through the desert into the No More Deaths camp, adding, “Not everyone we rescue or encounter is a good person. Notice the backpacks. We don’t know what’s in these backpacks. Agents often encounter narcotics smugglers with packs full of dangerous drugs, headed for our communities” (original link).

The incident recalled a June 2017 raid on the same camp. In January 2018, the group published a report accusing Border Patrol of destroying thousands of water jugs that it left in the desert to prevent migrants from succumbing to dehydration. “No More Deaths claims Friday’s raid is in retaliation to its publishing on July 29 two Border Patrol emails that the group obtained through a public records request,” the Arizona Republic reported. “The emails discuss union pressure and the participation of Border Patrol’s tactical unit in the raid on Byrd Camp on June 15, 2017.“

The Byrd Camp would be raided again on October 5, 2020.

— Ryan Devereaux, “Border Patrol Launches Militarized Raid of Borderlands Humanitarian Aid Camp” (United States, The Intercept, August 2, 2020) https://theintercept.com/2020/08/02/border-patrol-raid-arizona-no-more-deaths/.

— Rafael Carranza, “Border agents raid migrant aid camp in Arivaca for second time, group claims retaliation” (Tucson: Arizona Republic, July 31, 2020) https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2020/07/31/border-patrol-raids-migrant-aid-camp-arivaca-no-more-deaths/5558639002/.

— Rafael Carranza, “Border aid group assessing aftermath of Border Patrol raid on medical camp” (Tucson: Arizona Republic, August 3, 2020) https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2020/08/03/no-more-deaths-border-patrol-raid-aftermath/5578091002/.

Twitter thread by @USBPChiefTCA (Tucson: Twitter, July 31, 2020) https://twitter.com/USBPChiefTCA/status/1289349801922813952.

— BrieAnna J. Frank, “Border Patrol arrests 4 migrants at Arizona desert aid camp” (Tucson: Arizona Republic, June 15, 2017) https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/border-issues/2017/06/16/border-patrol-arrests-no-more-deaths-medical-aid-camp-arizona/402478001/.

Part II: Interference with Humanitarian Aid Death and Disappearance on the US–Mexico Border (Arizona: No More Deaths, 2018) http://www.thedisappearedreport.org/uploads/8/3/5/1/83515082/disappeared_report_part_2.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, BORTAC

Event Type(s): Intimidation of Humanitarian Workers

Last Known Accountability Status: No Steps Taken

Victim Classification: Advocate or Humanitarian Worker, U.S. Citizen or Resident

July 5, 2020

A report from the Border Network for Human Rights included the testimony of “P.G.L.,” a legal permanent U.S. resident whose partner was detained by Border Patrol in Sunland Park, New Mexico. He believes that agents racially profiled him and his partner, and used abusive language with them.

My name is P.G.L., and I am a resident of Sunland Park, New Mexico. My partner and I have been victims of harassment and discrimination by the Border Patrol. On Jul. 5, 2020, at around 9 a.m., we were followed by a truck and a border patrol SUV two blocks from my house. We were on our way to work and stopped at my son’s house, but he wasn’t there, so we headed to Mesa Verde St. when they stopped us.

They asked us where the bodies were of those we were going to pick up. I responded that we did not do that type of work. I told them my boss lived a street away, and I am a roofer. This was when an officer asked me to show him my legal documents. My partner was asked first, and she responded that she had a border crossing visa. Then they asked me, and I told them I did not have them with me but that I was a legal permanent resident (LPR). They did not believe me and thought I was lying.

One officer started investigating my partner. They told her they were going to arrest her and then gave her an option to either see an immigration judge or be sent back to Mexico since her visa was still valid and she could use it to come back. The officers became very rude and had my partner get into their truck. I was unable to speak to her. They took me back to my house to get the proof that I was an LPR. I asked them to allow me to speak to my partner because she was the one who knew where my documents were, but they refused and continued to be rude. I went inside the house to show them the proof, and I brought my partner a backpack and her purse.

I have been communicating with my partner over the phone. She tells me she is doing fine, but she is worried about her two daughters because they had to stay with their aunt. Her daughters are both U.S. citizens; they are 12 and 10 years old.

I am worried about my partner’s daughters’ safety; they fled because of domestic violence from their biological dad. I feel that I was discriminated against because of my appearance; for being Hispanic. Now I am scared to drive and be stopped again. I also want to add that a week before this incident, I had been followed and stopped by the same officer, questioned, and let go. Although at the time I had not paid attention to his name, I recognized him this time. I felt I had been harassed by the border patrol.

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): Abusive Language, Dangerous Deportation, Racial Discrimination or Profiling

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

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

June 25, 2020

A pickup truck crashed near downtown El Paso, following a high-speed chase involving Border Patrol. Of ten people aboard the truck, seven died. Four of them, including the truck’s 18-year-old driver, were El Paso residents.

“It is the second fatal crash involving a vehicle fleeing Border Patrol on the same stretch of roadway this year,” reported the El Paso Times. The first took place on January 29, 2020.

Border Patrol officials said that agents terminated the pursuit “after it reached dangerously high speeds heading into Downtown El Paso.” Other eyewitness accounts contradicted this. In a July 20, 2020 complaint about the incident, the ACLU noted:

Wilmer Gomez of Guatemala was one of three survivors in the vehicle and says he remembers being chased by approximately seven Border Patrol vehicles.[20] Other witnesses also recount that Border Patrol vehicles were speeding in pursuit when the crash occurred.[21]

Again, CBP denied engaging in a chase at the time of either two El Paso crashes, despite these witness accounts and internal Border Patrol records that suggest that Border Patrol vehicles were speeding in pursuit at the time of both crashes.[22]

…CBP OPR is also reviewing the incident; however, CBP OPR is limited to reviewing agent conduct and are unlikely to take on the systemic issue implicated here.[32]

An eyewitness who said he saw Border Patrol closely pursuing the vehicle when it crashed arrived at the scene with coworkers “within 20 seconds of the accident,” El Paso Matters reported. That account continued:

He observed a Border Patrol agent questioning one of the crash survivors about his immigration status while the survivor was badly injured and trapped in the vehicle. “He was screaming for help. He was telling the Border Patrol agent not to let him die and to give him help. All of the Border Patrol agents were trying to do as much as they (could). But one of them asked him, ‘Are you a U.S. citizen? Do you have papers?’”

The ACLU document made general observations about CBP’s opaque vehicle pursuit policy:

Border Patrol refuses to release their vehicle pursuit policy, thereby making it impossible to review its compliance with relevant guidelines, legal protections, or police best practices.[3] The high number of injuries and deaths resulting from Border Patrol’s actions suggest either that the policy fails to protect the safety and lives of pursuit subjects or that agents are consistently acting outside the bounds of agency policy. Either way, these issues warrant scrupulous review and investigation by the Inspector General.

Border Patrol agents often engage in high-speed vehicle chases. One study found that from 2015 to 2018 alone, at least 250 people were injured and 22 were killed in a vehicle crash due to such a pursuit.[4] The analysis also found that out of over 500 Border Patrol vehicle pursuits, one in three ended in a crash.[5] Notably, since President Donald Trump assumed office, the number of people injured in Border Patrol pursuit crashes has increased by 42 percent.[6]

…Border Patrol’s actions do not appear to adhere to DOJ guidelines, which suggest that law enforcement agents should balance the danger to the public of the chase itself against the danger to the public of the offender remaining at large when evaluating whether or not to pursue a vehicle.[35] DOJ guidelines state that, “[f]or anyone other than a violent felon, the balance weighs against the high-speed chase.”[36]

…CBP has refused to publicly share its written vehicle pursuit policy [38] despite the DOJ Pursuit Management Task Force’s guidance that, “law enforcement agencies compile and disseminate appropriate pursuit data for their own agencies.”[39] Further, CBP has declined requests for information about their policy from Senator Dianne Feinstein.[40] This lack of accountability is highly alarming, especially given the tragic number of injuries and lives lost.

Hours after the June 25 crash, an internal memo from Border Patrol’s El Paso station ordered an end to vehicle pursuits in this area of downtown El Paso, El Paso Matters reported.

— Daniel Borunda, “7 die, 3 hurt in car crash fleeing U.S. Border Patrol in Texas” (El Paso: El Paso Times / USA Today, June 25, 2020) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2020/06/25/seven-die-three-hurt-in-downtown-el-paso-crash-during-border-patrol-chase/3260583001/.

— René Kladzyk, “Witnesses say Border Patrol chased car moments before it crashed, killing 7” (El Paso: El Paso Matters, July 1, 2020) https://elpasomatters.org/2020/07/01/witnesses-say-border-patrol-chased-car-moments-before-it-crashed-killing-7/.

— Shaw Drake, “Re: U.S. Border Patrol’s Vehicle Pursuit Policy and the Deadly Pursuit and Crash on June 25, 2020 in El Paso, TX” (El Paso: ACLU Border Rights, July 20, 2020): 203 https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/2021_03_03_aclu_complaint_appendix.pdf.

Footnotes from above:

[20], [21]: René Kladzyk, “Witnesses say Border Patrol chased car moments before it crashed, killing 7,” El Paso Matters, July 1, 2020, available at https://elpasomatters.org/2020/07/01/witnesses-say-border-patrol-chased-car- moments-before-it-crashed-killing-7/.
[22]: Debbie Nathan, “Border Patrol Agent Speaks out about a High-Speed Chase That Ended in a Immigrant’s Death,” The Intercept, February 28, 2020, available at https://theintercept.com/2020/02/28/border-patrol-el-paso- texas-car-chase/.
[32]: Aaron Martinez, “El Paso police reveal details in fatal Downtown crash; group seeks Border Patrol inquiry,”
El Paso Times, June 26, 2020, available at https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/crime/2020/06/26/el-paso-fatal- car-crash-accident-border-patrol-investigation/3265472001/.
[4], [5]: Brittany Mejia, Kavitha Surana and James Queally, “Trapped in a Deadly Chase,” ProPublica, April 4, 2019, available at https://features.propublica.org/border-crashes/death-injuries-in-high-speed-border-patrol-chases/.
[35], [36]: See Kenneth L. Bayless, Robert Osborne and The Aerospace Corporation, “Pursuit Management Task Force Report,” National Institute of Justice, September 1998, available at https://www.justnet.org/pdf/Pursuit-Management-Task-Force-Report.pdf.
[39]: Bayless et al.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

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

February 4, 2020

Border Patrol agents apprehended 32-year-old James Paul Markowitz in his vehicle in Brackettville, Texas, “after he was identified as a suspect in an alien smuggling case,” a CBP statement read (original link). While it is unclear whether he was involved in the incident, Markowitz did have small amounts of methamphetamine and cocaine in his car, which he swallowed in an attempt to avoid detection.

During processing at the Brackettville Border Patrol station, Markowitz “began exhibiting signs of distress.” CBP’s notification to Congress stated that an ambulance was called at 6:00 PM. A CBS News records review revealed that “the ambulance wasn’t actually called for until 6:26 PM.” Markowitz died of a drug overdose.

Markowitz’s stepfather has been unable to get more information from CBP about the circumstances of his death.

In a March 3, 2020 letter to DHS, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) and CHC Immigration Task Force Chairwoman Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-California) accused DHS of having “failed to provide further clarity or transparency surrounding the death of a U.S. citizen in CBP custody.” (original link).

— Graham Kates, “Family of U.S. man who died after Border Patrol arrest says government has been tight lipped for a year” (CBS News, February 4, 2021) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/james-markowitz-border-patrol-arrest-government-silence/.

— Rep. Joaquín Castro and Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, “CHC Members Demand Answers Following Death of American Citizen James Paul Markowitz in CBP Custody” (Washington: Congressional Hispanic Caucus, March 3, 2020) https://chc.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/chc-members-demand-answers-following-death-of-american-citizen-james.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Medical Care, Fatal Encounter

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: U.S. Citizen or Resident