7 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in February 2022

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

February, 2022

Human Rights Watch reported on CBP’s Title 42 expulsion of Adolfo H. and Gerardo C. (pseudonyms), a gay couple fleeing Cuba and El Salvador who had already “experienced extortion several times by Mexican immigration agents.”

US officials told the couple that Adolfo could stay and seek asylum in the United States because he is from Cuba but that his partner would be expelled, even though border officials had the authority to allow both men in. Instead, they gave them the option of being separated or of being expelled together. They said that while they were in custody, US officials told them to stop holding hands or touching one another.

CBP officers expelled both men back to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

US: LGBT Asylum Seekers in Danger at the Border (New York: Human Rights Watch, May 31, 2022) https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/05/31/us-lgbt-asylum-seekers-danger-border.

Sector(s): El Paso Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, LGBT Discrimination or Harassment

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Cuba, El Salvador, LGBTQ

Late February, 2022

A report from Human Rights First discussed the separation of an 18-year-old Colombian from the rest of her family at the border.

In late February 2022, DHS separated an 18-year-old Colombian child from her parents and younger sibling when they sought protection together at the border and detained her in the Berks County Residential Center. After nearly a month in detention, an immigration judge set a $4,500 bond for her release, according to her attorney at Aldea PJC.

“I’m a Prisoner Here”: Biden Administration Policies Lock Up Asylum Seekers (New York: Human Rights First, April 21, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/i-m-prisoner-here-biden-administration-policies-lock-asylum-seekers.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, ICE

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Colombia, Family Unit

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

Mid-February 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about an unaccompanied minor’s expulsion, and separation from his brother, by Border Patrol agents in Arizona:

One week ago, two unaccompanied minor brothers were apprehended in the desert by Border Patrol. They were taken in for processing and questioned separately. The agents questioning the older brother, who is 17, told him he was lying. They said his birth certificate was fake and threatened him with a 10-year prison sentence if he didn’t say his real age. They eventually expelled him to Nogales and he did not know the whereabouts of his little brother.

“The expulsion of unaccompanied minors has been a recurring issue that we’ve reported throughout 2020 and 2021,” KBI notes. “In almost all of the cases, CBP officers accuse the minors of lying or refuse to accept their documentation proving their age.”

— “February 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, February 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language, Expulsion of Unaccompanied Minor, Family Separation

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

Mid-February 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about an unaccompanied minor’s expulsion by Border Patrol agents in Arizona:

An unaccompanied minor was apprehended by Border Patrol while crossing the desert west of Nogales. When being processed for expulsion, the agent taking his fingerprints asked his age. When he responded that he was 17, the agent repeatedly told him to shut up and say his real age. Eventually, the agent threatened him with detention, at which point the minor, scared by the threat, lied and said he was 19. He was expelled to Nogales.

“The expulsion of unaccompanied minors has been a recurring issue that we’ve reported throughout 2020 and 2021,” KBI notes. “In almost all of the cases, CBP officers accuse the minors of lying or refuse to accept their documentation proving their age.”

— “February 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, February 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language, Expulsion of Unaccompanied Minor

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

Mid-February 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about a family separation in Arizona:

A Honduran father of two fled the country to the United States after being shot in Honduras. He later asked his father to bring his children so the family could be reunited. When the grandfather was crossing the desert with the kids, Border Patrol found the group and apprehended the three. They expelled the grandfather and kept the children in their custody. When the grandfather arrived at KBI, neither he nor the father knew what had happened with the children.

— “February 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, February 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Family Separation

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

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Honduras, 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