11 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in July 2020

Examples of abuses or other behaviors indicating need for reform at U.S. border and migration institutions

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 28, 2020

The libertarian publication Reason revealed a 2012 internal affairs report indicating that a CBP instructor had told “a room full of supervisors” that “if Border Patrol agents feel threatened by a migrant, they should ‘beat that tonk like a piñata until candy comes out.’” The word “tonk” or “tonc” is reportedly Border Patrol slang for an undocumented migrant. Former agents say that the word originates from the sound a human skull makes when clubbed with an agent’s heavy Maglite flashlight.

— C.J. Ciaramella, “CBP Official Allegedly Said Agents Should ‘Beat That Tonk Like a Piñata Until Candy Comes Out'” (Washington: Reason, July 28, 2020) https://reason.com/2020/07/28/cbp-official-allegedly-said-agents-should-beat-that-tonk-like-a-pinata-until-candy-comes-out/.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation, Unknown

Victim Classification:

July 26, 2020

CBP reported that Border Patrol agents “observed a suspicious vehicle” near Brackettville, Texas and attempted a vehicle stop (original link). “The driver then attempted to elude agents by fleeing at a high rate of speed,” after which “agents ultimately lost sight of the vehicle,” locating it shortly afterward, rolled over. “The motor vehicle accident resulted in fatalities and serious injuries. The driver of the vehicle fled the scene, but was later apprehended.”

Two people aboard the vehicle died. The Kinney County, Texas Sheriff’s Office posted to Facebook that they “are believed to be illegal alien” (original link).

Texas’s Department of Public Security was investigating, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility had the incident “under review.”

—”CBP Statement On Accident With Fatalities” (Del Rio, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, July 26, 2020) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-accident-fatalities.

Facebook post (Kinney County, TX: Kinney County Sheriff’s Office, July 26, 2020) https://www.facebook.com/KinneyCountySheriffsOffice/posts/738457053578706.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult

Mid-July, 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

We filed a complaint on behalf of a Cuban couple, who was kidnapped for months in Mexico. A government official in southern Mexico put them in contact with the woman who ended up kidnapping them. After several months they managed to escape, but the woman has continued to send threatening messages and says that she knows they are in Nogales.

When they crossed into the US and were detained, they tried to express their fear of return to Border Patrol agents. However, the agent responsible for processing them only replied “you think I’m here to solve your problems? … All Cubans come here with the same story” and “you are going back no matter what and you will have to figure out what to do.”

Another agent told them there was nothing he could do besides give them a speedy court date. He scheduled them for a July hearing, which has since been rescheduled to October due to the court cancellations. Both were returned to Nogales, Sonora with no access to an interview with a USCIS officer to assess their fear of return.

— “July 23 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, July 23, 2020).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees

Victim Classification: Cuba, Family Unit, Kidnap Victim

July 14, 2020

A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that CBP misspent much money that Congress had appropriated, on an emergency basis, for consumables and medical care for children and other migrants in custody (original link).

For example, CBP obligated some of these funds for goods and services for its canine program; equipment for facility operations like printers and speakers; transportation items that did not have a primary purpose of medical care like motorcycles and dirt bikes; and facility upgrades and services like sewer system upgrades.

GAO also found that CBP and Border Patrol location were not consistently carrying out health interviews and medical assessments, despite a recent increase in deaths in custody, including deaths of children. CBP also decided not to implement a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation to offer flu shots to those in custody.

The report added, “CBP does not have reliable information on deaths, serious injuries, and suicide attempts and has not consistently reported deaths of individuals in custody to Congress.”

From fiscal year 2014 through fiscal year 2019, CBP was directed to report on deaths of individuals in its custody to Congress. GAO’s review of CBP documentation and reports to Congress showed that 31 individuals died in custody along the southwest border from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, but CBP documented only 20 deaths in its reports.

Southwest Border: CBP Needs to Increase Oversight of Funds, Medical Care, and Reporting of Deaths, GAO-20-536 (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 14, 2020) https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-20-536.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Disregard of Public Health, Evading Oversight, Misallocation of Funds

Last Known Accountability Status: GAO Investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

July 9, 2020

A CBP officer and a contract security guard shot and killed a man, who was apparently wielding a knife, just inside the U.S. border at the Calexico, California port of entry. The Palm Springs Desert Sun reported:

Pete Flores, director of field operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in San Diego, said an individual brandishing a knife approached the agent and the security guard just after 9 a.m. at the international border’s pedestrian crossing.

“As the man approached the CBP officer and the guard with the knife, both drew and fired their weapons, and the man was shot,” Flores said in a written statement.

…Mexican law enforcement officials in Mexicali were dispatched to the pedestrian crossing after receiving reports of an incident there, they said in a statement in Spanish.

Officers observed a man walking toward the gate, carrying a bag over his shoulder. The man was “supposedly” carrying narcotics, the statement said. It said he fled toward the U.S. side of the gate when he saw Mexican police officers.

The man dropped the bag before crossing the international line and, according to the statement, U.S. customs agents shot him after he crossed into the U.S.

CBP’s Flores said that the DHS Inspector-General, the FBI, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility were investigating the incident.

— Colin Atagi, Christopher Damien, Omar Ornelas, “US Border Agent, Security Guard shot man at Calexico Border Crossing” (Palm Springs: Desert Sun, July 9, 2020) https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/crime_courts/2020/07/09/gunfire-reported-near-calexico-united-states-mexico-border/5407043002/.

Sector(s): San Diego Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Use of Force

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

Victim Classification: Single Adult

July 7, 2020

A complaint to the DHS Inspector-General, submitted by the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and ACLU Border Rights Center, denounced “CBP officials’ egregious verbal abuse of detained individuals,” including “many instances in which Border Patrol agents verbally abused individuals, including children, in their custody,” including asylum seekers.

Agents berated migrants for traveling to the United States and attempting to exercise their legal right to seek asylum.[16] “Xenophobic nationalism is widespread,” and derogatory comments are often accompanied by threatened or actual physical violence.[17] Agents bully LGBTQ people, equate migrants to animals, and ridicule and humiliate parents trying to protect their children.[18]

The complaint cited numerous explicit examples, some of them reproduced below. All are from interviews with migrants completed between March and July of 2019 with people recently released from Border Patrol custody in San Diego and Tijuana.

This abuse may involve bullying, harassment, threats of violence or other harm, denigration, ridicule, racism, and misstatements about U.S. immigration law, including an individual’s right to seek asylum. Recently detained individuals related the following statements to our investigator: [28]

– “Olvídate del asilo, a la mejor te quitamos a tu hija.”
“Forget about asylum, we might just take away your daughter.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman while interrogating her about why she came to the United States.

– “No mantenemos hijos de nadie.”
“We don’t take care of anyone’s children.”
—Border Patrol agent to a mother when she asked for food for her 1-year old child who had not had any food to eat for an entire day.

– “Cabrona, échate para atrás.”
“You bastard, get back over there.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman as she was entering the country and injured from crossing the border wall.

– “¿Desgraciada, ¿porque tienes tantos niños si no los puedes cuidar? Puta, prostituta.”
“Disgraced woman, why do you have so many kids if you can’t take care of them? Slut, prostitute.”
—Border Patrol agent to a detained mother.

– “¿Cuáles de ustedes maricas sufren de asma?”
“Which of you faggots suffer from asthma?”
—Border Patrol agent to a holding cell of young boys aged 13 to 17.

– “If you keep complaining I will put you with the dogs.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman when she refused to undress for a search during apprehension.

– “Son indios de pata rajada, solo usan sus hijos para entrar.”
“You are all [derogatory expression referring to indigenous peoples], you only use your children to enter [the United States].”
—Border Patrol agent to detained father.

– “¡Aquí no se hace lo que voz dice, se hace lo que yo digo!”
“Here we don’t do what you say, you do what I say!
—Border Patrol agent to pregnant woman asking for water.

– “Are you f***ing retarded? Stop playing with that s***.”
—Border Patrol agent to children playing in holding cell.

– “Váyanse de aquí, ¿qué hacen aquí sí ni hablan inglés?, no valen nada.”
“Get out of here, what are you doing here if you don’t even speak English, you are worthless.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman and her family upon apprehension.

– “No estás en tu casa, ¿tienes mierda en la cabeza?”
“You’re not at home, do you have s*** for brains?”
—Border Patrol agent to woman who asked for a plastic cup to drink water.

– “Joder con ustedes, por eso no mejoran en su país.”
“I’ve f***ing had it with you, this is why you guys don’t advance in your country.”
—Border Patrol agent to detained woman who did not understand his Spanish.

– “I don’t have to tell you, you broke the law, you have no rights.”
—Border Patrol agent to woman when she asked what was on the form she was being instructed to sign.

– “¡Levántense, puercas!”
“Get up, pigs!”
—Border Patrol agent to a cell of detained women.

– “You are an idiot but you sure are good at popping out kids.”
—Border Patrol agent to detained mother.

— “Re: U.S. Border Patrol’s Verbal Abuse of Detained Individuals” (San Diego and El Paso: ACLU Foundation San Diego and Imperial Counties, ACLU Border Rights Center, July 7, 2020) https://cbpabusestest2.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/2020-07-07-dhs-oig-cmplt-4-final.pdf.

Footnotes from above:

[16]: Josiah Heyman, Jeremy Slack & Daniel E. Martínez, Why Border Patrol Agents and Cbp Officers Should Not Serve as Asylum Officers, Ctr. For Migration Studies (June 21, 2019), https://cmsny.org/publications/heyman-slack-martinez-062119/.

[17]: Id.

[18]: See, e.g., id.; Grace Panetta, Border Patrol officials reportedly forced a Honduran migrant to walk around a detention center holding a sign reading ‘I like men’ in Spanish, BUS. INSIDER, July 5, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/detained-migrant-forced-hold-sign-reading-i-like-men-report-2019-7?op=1; Nick Valencia, et al., Border Patrol agents allegedly tried to shame a migrant by making him hold a sign reading ‘I like men,’ emails show, CNN, July 4, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/04/us/honduran-migrant-shamed-border-patrol/index.html; Andrew Gumbel, ‘They Were Laughing at Us’: Immigrants Tell of Cruelty, Illness and Filth in US Detention, GUARDIAN, Sept. 12, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/12/us-immigration-detention-facilities; Cristina Novoa, 5 Revelations From Children in Border Patrol Facilities, CENTER AM. PROGRESS, July 3, 2019, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/news/2019/07/03/471808/5-revelations-children-border-patrol-facilities/ (“Beyond demonstrating a shocking lack of compassion toward frightened children, testimonies also show that some guards appear to deliberately scare children in their custody”).

[28]: Most of ACLU’s interviews were conducted in Spanish, with contemporaneous notes taken in Spanish by our investigator. Where our notes contain the original Spanish quotes, we have provided that original (as relayed by the interviewee to our investigator) as well as our English translation. At times, our investigator memorialized a statement in English only during her interview (via simultaneous translation). In such cases, we have reproduced her English translation here.
Many of these quotes use degrading and offensive language that we hesitated to reprint. In the end, we decided to reproduce the language reported to remain as faithful as possible to the accounts of those we interviewed.

Sector(s): San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Food or Water, Denial of Medical Care, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, LGBT Discrimination or Harassment, Lying or Deliberate Misleading, Racial Discrimination or Profiling

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Female, Pregnancy, Single Adult

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

July 4, 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A Guatemalan mother and her four children who had fled persecution in their home country entered the US on July 4th with a packet of evidence related to their asylum case, including police reports that document their attempts to seek protection. When apprehended by Border Patrol, she tried to show agents that evidence.

Instead, two ASID (Alien Smuggler Identification and Deterrence) agents interrogated her for around half an hour about who she had paid and how she had crossed. They refused to listen to her or look at any documents related to her asylum claim and threatened that if she didn’t give them the information they wanted on the smuggler she would face serious consequences. They asked her for her husband’s number. Since he is in the US and is in the asylum process, she thought that they would call him as part of processing her for asylum. Instead, they only called her husband to ask whether he paid the cartel and, if so, how much money

Before expelling the mother and her four children, a Border Patrol agent said to her that she should pass on the message of: “Don’t come here. You aren’t going to get anything. If you bring kids, you won’t accomplish anything.”

— “July 9 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, July 9, 2020).

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

July 4, 2020

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A Salvadoran mother who was detained and expelled on July 4th with her 14-year-old daughter, who is asthmatic, reported that in the few hours in custody Border Patrol agents at the Nogales Station yelled at them repeatedly. One agent gathered the group and told everyone “send the message back to everyone that even if you have asylum cases and even if you have kids there would be no options in the US for you.” He told them “tell others that you would never triumph in the US.” She and her daughter were quickly returned to Mexico despite their fear of return and were never given a chance to share additional information on the persecution that they had fled in El Salvador.

— “July 9 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, July 9, 2020).

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: El Salvador, Family Unit

July 1, 2020

A Border Patrol agent “inadvertently” ran over a 29-year-old Mexican man while pursuing him and two other migrants in a vehicle near El Paso’s Ysleta Port of Entry, El Paso Matters reported. “The man sustained non-life-threatening injuries to his leg and torso. He was treated and medically cleared July 3 and returned to Mexico,” Border Patrol spokesman George Gomez said.

“We are disturbed about how Border Patrol is handling this situation,” Astrid Dominguez of the ACLU’s Border Rights Center told El Paso Matters. “The agency claims there is an ongoing investigation but the victim has already been deported. Anytime that a law enforcement agency hurts an individual, they must report it to the public—not wait until someone inquires about it.”

— René Kladzyk, “El Paso Border Patrol agent runs over migrant with vehicle” (El Paso: El Paso Matters, July 9, 2020) https://elpasomatters.org/2020/07/09/el-paso-border-patrol-agent-runs-over-migrant-with-vehicle/.

Sector(s): El Paso

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Pedestrian Strike, Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult