2 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct involving “BORTAC”

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