17 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the event type is “Evading Oversight”

July 2023

In 2022, President Joe Biden signed an executive order commanding federal law enforcement agencies to update their policies on use of force. In February, DHS updated its use-of-force policy to comply with the order. This updated policy limited the use of no-knock entries, required more frequent training for officers and staff, and banned the use of chokeholds unless deadly force was absolutely necessary. 

During April 2022 to July 2023, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) audited four DHS agencies, Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Protective Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service, in order to survey their compliance with the policy.

In a report, GAO found that  DHS consistently under-reported use of force incidents. For example, in a situation where use of force is used multiple times, DHS only reports it as one count of force, rather than counting each individual incident. In one case involving the Federal Protective Service, the FPS “counted 27 separate use of forces across 15 reports as a single incident”.

After the report’s finding, GAO made two recommendations to  DHS. First, it called on the agency to create a guide on how its agencies should submit data for incidents where force is used multiple times. Secondly, it recommended that the secretary of DHS create and execute a plan in order to analyze the data submitted by the agency.  

In July, DHS agreed to follow the office’s recommendations, stating it would create a plan to analyze data by the end of 2023, issue guidance on its reporting by the beginning of 2024, and fully complete the data analysis on the use-of-force by 2025.

“Law Enforcement: DHS Should Strengthen Use of Force Data Collection and Analysis.” Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 24, 2023. https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-23-105927.
Lacy, Akela. “Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Routinely Undercount Use-of-Force Incidents.” The Intercept, July 27, 2023. https://theintercept.com/2023/07/27/dhs-use-of-force/.

Sector(s): CBP

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight

Last Known Accountability Status: Under GAO Investigation

Victim Classification:

September 23, 2022

Staff at DHS’s troubled Inspector-General’s Office, which oversees DHS’s border law enforcement agencies, sent an anonymous letter to President Biden asking him to remove their boss, embattled Trump appointee Joseph Cuffari. “We need help,” the letter reads. “We can no longer be silent when faced with continuous mismanagement of DHS OIG at its highest levels.”

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), which has revealed concerning examples of weak DHS oversight under Cuffari, shared the letter, which cites “decisions that have demoralized his staff and damaged the organization.” The letter’s authors describer themselves as “concerned DHS OIG employees representing every program office at every grade level.”

In 2016 Cuffari, then an advisor in the Arizona governor’s office, “was so enthusiastic about what he called Donald Trump’s ‘huge win’ in the 2016 presidential election that he applied for a job with the incoming administration within days,” the Washington Post reported in September.

“On the campaign trail in 2020, in reaction to a spate of highly criticized watchdog removals by then-President Donald Trump, Biden made a promise that he would not remove inspectors general,” POGO observed.

— Nick Schwellenbach. “DHS Watchdog Staff Call on Biden to Fire Inspector General Cuffari.” Washington: Project on Government Oversight, September 23, 2022. <https://www.pogo.org/investigation/2022/09/dhs-watchdog-staff-call-on-biden-to-fire-inspector-general-cuffari.>

— Sanchez, Yvonne Wingett, Maria Sacchetti, and Lisa Rein. “How DHS Watchdog under Fire in Jan. 6 Investigation Pushed to Get His Post.” Washington Post, October 2, 2022. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/09/15/homeland-cuffari/>.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

July 7, 2022

On July 14, the Intercept reported on a July 7 CBP briefing memo prepared ahead of a leadership meeting with the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG). It advises non-cooperation with the oversight agency, instructing

on how to push back against what it calls the inspector general’s ‘persistent’ request for ‘direct, unfettered access to CBP systems,’ as part of its ‘high number of OIG audits covering a variety of CBP program areas.’ In a section titled ‘Watch Out For/ If Asked,’ the memo describes a number of exemptions Customs and Border Protection can rely on to evade records requests from the inspector general’s office—including national security exemptions.

Ken Klippenstein, “Secret Service Deleted Jan. 6 Text Messages After Oversight Officials Requested Them” (United States: The Intercept, July 14, 2022) https://theintercept.com/2022/07/14/jan-6-texts-deleted-secret-service/.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

April, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) in Nogales, which issues frequent reports of misconduct to the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), noted that the agency has begun closing complaints that, in fact, remain open.

In the last month, we have received notifications from the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties that 8 separate complaints we had filed regarding abuses under Title 42 were being closed because of ongoing litigation and instructed us to file new complaints after the resolution of the litigation if there were pending issues. We have never before received such correspondence from CRCL. Not only does it indicate an avoidance of the office’s responsibilities, but it will also artificially inflate the statistics they report to Congress on the number and percentage of complaints that were “closed” when in fact they remain unresolved. Such efforts to avoid exercising oversight are widespread and were also reflected in recent reports that DHS OIG had deleted or delayed reports for years on DHS law enforcement misconduct.

— “April 28 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, April 28, 2022).

Sector(s): Border-Wide, Tucson

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight

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

Victim Classification:

April 20, 2022

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that Border Patrol has been undercounting the actual number of migrant deaths in the U.S.-Mexico border region. (original link) For instance, Border Patrol in Arizona routinely reports finding roughly half as many remains as the Arizona OpenGIS Initiative for Deceased Migrants.

Southwest Border: CBP Should Improve Data Collection, Reporting, and Evaluation for the Missing Migrant Program, GAO-22-105053 (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, April 20, 2022) https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-22-105053.

— Ryan Devereaux, “The Border Patrol Is Systemically Failing to Count Migrant Deaths” (United States: May 9, 2022) https://theintercept.com/2022/05/09/border-patrol-migrant-deaths-gao/.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Fatal Encounter

Last Known Accountability Status: GAO Investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

April 14, 2022

CBP took 1,919 formal disciplinary actions against members of its 60,000-person workforce in fiscal year 2021, down from 2,021 actions in 2020 and up from 1,629 in 2019, according to a new Report on Internal Investigations and Employee Accountability. (original link).

Just over half of those disciplinary actions (996) were reprimands. In 100 cases were employees removed. Another 2,076 cases ended up with required counselings. These were all roughly similar to 2020 figures.

The report notes 246 CBP employees being arrested a total of 253 times in 2021, a 23 percent increase in arrests over 2020, a year of relatively few arrests. “On average, the employee arrested was 40 years of age and had served just over

10 years with CBP at the time of arrest.” The vast majority of arrests were for “Drug / Alcohol Related Misconduct” or “Domestic / Family Misconduct.” Nine cases were labeled “Corruption,” up from four in 2020.

The agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opened 684 investigations into use of force incidents in 2021, up from 516 in 2020. Twenty-one were for use of deadly force, up from seventeen in 2020. The vast majority of cases were closed because the agents were found not to be violating policy. Of use-of-force cases closed with a disciplinary outcome, 11 resulted in counselings.

OPR opened 1,044 investigations in 2021, down from 1,947 new investigations in 2020. It closed 1,162 investigations, down from 1,994 in 2020.

Report on Internal Investigations and Employee Accountability FY2021 (Washington: CBP, April 14, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/document/report/report-internal-investigations-and-employee-accountability-fy2021.

Sector(s): Border-Wide


Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Pending, DHS OIG investigation Closed, OPR Investigation Closed, Personnel Terminated, Suspension, Reprimand, or Counseling

Victim Classification:

April 7, 2022

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) obtained documents from the DHS Office of Inspector-General (OIG) indicating that the agency’s independent watchdog has been suppressing, delaying, and watering down information about serious patterns of sexual harassment and domestic abuse within the Department’s law enforcement agencies.

The POGO report, “Protecting the Predators at DHS,” offers some shocking findings, as does the New York Times’s April 7 coverage of the report. They include:

  • A 2018 OIG survey found that more than 10,000 CBP, ICE, Secret Service, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees had experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct at work. That is more than a third of the 28,000 survey respondents. Of these, 78 percent said they did not report the incident, often out of a belief that doing so would derail their careers. Examples included “surreptitious videotaping in bathrooms, unwelcome sexual advances and inappropriate sexual comments.” The survey was part of an OIG report for which fieldwork ended two and a half years ago, in October 2019—but the report had still not seen the light of day.
  • Of 1,800 sexual harassment cases within the Department, 445 were at ICE and 382 were at CBP.
  • The unpublished OIG report found that DHS agencies paid 21 employees nearly $1 million in settlements from sexual harassment-related complaints over six years, but there are few records of any investigations or disciplinary actions against the aggressors. One victim received a $255,000 payout. Senior officials at the OIG objected to mentioning these settlements in the as-yet unpublished report.
  • The unpublished OIG report notes that “women made up only 5 percent of CBP’s Border Patrol workforce,” well below the federal law enforcement average of 15 percent.
  • Another OIG report, published in 2020, covered DHS law-enforcement personnel found to have committed domestic violence when off duty. Inspector-General Joseph Cuffari and his staff pushed to withhold many key findings that had appeared in this report’s earlier drafts. Initially, the report found that agents who committed domestic abuse received “little to no discipline.” In an internal memo, Cuffari ordered that removed, calling it “second-guessing D.H.S. disciplinary decisions without full facts.” This language is troubling, as second-guessing disciplinary decisions is something that inspectors-general are often compelled to do.
  • Employing law enforcement personnel with a demonstrated propensity for abusing domestic partners and family members “raises questions about someone’s fitness for the job if they abuse someone they have committed their life to,” James Wong, a former CBP deputy assistant commissioner for internal affairs, told POGO. “How are they going to treat a total stranger they have no relationship with [like a migrant]? Who’s going to stop them?” The OIG report’s draft had raised concerns that allowing these agents to keep their weapons “put[s] victims and the public at risk of further violence,” but Cuffari ordered that language removed for risk of “appearing biased.”

POGO, a non-governmental watchdog group, has published past reports and allegations critical of Cuffari, whom Donald Trump named to the DHS Inspector-General post in 2019. “The suppressed DHS watchdog reports on sexual misconduct and domestic violence are part of a pattern where Cuffari has appeared unwilling to oversee his department as an independent watchdog,” POGO’s report contends. “Sadly, Cuffari himself has an undeniable pattern of removing significant facts and evidence from major reports. As a result of this pattern, his independence and impartiality are in question.”

“Only hours after the story appeared,” POGO notes, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “announced he had become ‘aware of draft unpublished reports from the Office of the Inspector General that underscore the need for immediate action.’ Mayorkas announced the creation of a ‘working group’ to ‘conduct a 45-day review of employee misconduct discipline processes currently in effect throughout DHS.'”

On April 26, 2022, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Inspector-General Cuffari voicing concern about POGO’s findings (original link). “Sexual harassment and misconduct in agency ranks always demand immediate action,” reads the letter, which includes a list of questions to be answered by May 17, 2022. “Any efforts by an OIG to obscure or downplay the seriousness or pervasiveness of the issue, or to improperly delay releasing evidence of misconduct, are inappropriate.”

Cuffari responded to the senators with a May 13 letter blaming “senior DHS OIG officials who preceded me,” “the intransigence of some inspectors,” and OIG staff withholding information from him. (original link). The Inspector-General insisted that the withheld reports were not up to established standards, but the letter did not clearly explain why quality improvements would be delayed for years for reports with such striking and significant findings.

“This is not the response of someone committed to meeting the statutory mandate for inspectors general,” read a Twitter thread from POGO’s director of public policy, Liz Hempowicz. “I would never have written this,” Gordon Heddell, a former Defense Department inspector-general, said of the letter in a June 16 New York Times article. “To me, what he’s saying is, ‘I’m leading a very dysfunctional office.’”

On June 16, DHS announced an effort to reform employee misconduct discipline processes. “When Secretary Mayorkas was made aware of the [unpublished draft OIG sexual harassment] report, he immediately launched a 45-day review into Department-wide employee misconduct discipline processes,” the Department’s statement reads (original link). It continues, “Centralizing disciplinary processes will ensure that allegations of serious misconduct are handled by a dedicated group of well-trained individuals, who are not the employees’ immediate supervisors, at each DHS component agency.”

“The announced reforms underscore a deepening rift between the Homeland Security Department and its inspector general,” the New York Times reported on June 16. “While Mr. Mayorkas has taken steps to address the allegations in the reports, Mr. Cuffari and other senior officials in the inspector general’s office have instead either downplayed the significance of the findings or fiercely defended their removal.”

— Adam Zagorin, Nick Schwellenbach, Protecting the Predators at DHS (Washington: Project on Government Oversight, April 7, 2022) https://www.pogo.org/investigation/2022/04/protecting-the-predators-at-dhs/.

— Chris Cameron, “Homeland Security Watchdog Omitted Damaging Findings From Reports” (New York, The New York Times, April 7, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/07/us/politics/homeland-security-inspector-general.html.

— Sen. Richard Durbin, Sen. Charles Grassley, Letter to DHS Inspector-General Joseph V. Cuffari (Washington: U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, April 26, 2022) https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2022-04-26%20RJD%20CEG%20Letter%20to%20IG%20Cuffari.pdf.

Letter from DHS Office of Inspector General to Senators Durbin and Grassley (Washington: DHS OIG, May 13, 2022) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/IG-Cuffari-response-to-Chair-Durbin-and-RM-Grassley-20220513-Redacted.pdf.

— “Tweet from Liz Hempowicz @lizhempowicz” (United States: Twitter, May 18, 2022) https://twitter.com/lizhempowicz/status/1527004986613301251.

— “Secretary Mayorkas Directs DHS To Reform Employee Misconduct Discipline Processes” (Washington: Department of Homeland Security, June 16, 2022) https://www.dhs.gov/news/2022/06/16/secretary-mayorkas-directs-dhs-reform-employee-misconduct-discipline-processes.

— Chris Cameron, “Homeland Security Department Will Make Changes to Its Disciplinary Process” (New York: The New York Times, June 16, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/16/us/politics/homeland-security-department.html.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS, ICE

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct, Sexual Assault or Harassment, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed, Under DHS Review

Victim Classification: DHS Employee

November 18, 2021

CBP took 2,021 formal disciplinary actions against members of its 60,000-person workforce in fiscal year 2020, up from 1,629 actions in 2019, according to a new Report on Internal Investigations and Employee Accountability. (original link)

Half of those disciplinary actions were reprimands. In 86 cases was the employee removed. Another 2,112 cases ended up with required counselings.

The report notes 196 CBP employees being arrested a total of 201 times in 2020. “On average, the employee arrested was 41 years of age and had served just over ten years with CBP at the time of arrest.” The vast majority of arrests were for “Drug / Alcohol Related Misconduct” or “Domestic / Family Misconduct.” Four cases were labeled “Corruption.”

The agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opened 516 investigations into use of force incidents in 2020, 17 of them for use of deadly force. The vast majority of cases were closed because the agents were found not to be violating policy. Of use-of-force cases closed with a disciplinary outcome, 1 resulted in a removal, 2 in reprimands, and 5 with counselings.

OPR opened 1,947 new investigations in 2020, and closed 1,994 existing investigations.

Report on Internal Investigations and Employee Accountability FY2020 (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, November 18, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/document/report/report-internal-investigations-and-employee-accountability-fy2020.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Pending, DHS OIG investigation Closed, OPR Investigation Closed, Personnel Terminated, Suspension, Reprimand, or Counseling

Victim Classification:

October 27, 2021

The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) surfaced the issue of Border Patrol’s “Critical Incident Teams,” which often arrive at the scene when agents may have committed wrongdoing. The SBCC submitted a letter to congressional leaders requesting that they hold hearings into these units’ activities. While Critical Incident Teams may have other roles, coming up with exculpatory evidence to protect agents strongly appears to be one of them. No other law enforcement agency, the SBCC contends, has a similar capability, and the Teams’ existence is not specifically authorized by law.

SBCC was alerted to the teams’ role while carrying out advocacy around the case of Anastasio Hernández, a Mexican citizen whom border agents beat and tasered to death in a 2010 case caught on cellphone video. The Coalition found that a Critical Incident Team failed to notify San Diego police, controlled police investigators’ witness lists, tampered with evidence, sought to obtain Hernández’s medical records, failed to preserve video evidence, and “contacted the FBI and asked them to charge Anastasio with assault while he lay brain dead in the hospital. The FBI declined.”

Critical Incident Teams have existed in some form at least since 1987. (Their “challenge coin,” depicted in SBCC’s document, says “Est. May 21, 2001” and includes images of a chalk outline and a rolled-over vehicle.) They are almost never mentioned in Border Patrol or CBP statements. “Their existence poses a threat to public safety,” SBCC argued, “by concealing agent misconduct, enabling abuse, and exacerbating impunity within the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Immediate investigations into BPCITs are imperative.”

A January 10, 2022 front-page New York Times story about Border Patrol vehicle pursuit tactics included an account of Critical Incident Teams’ presence after an August 3 crash in New Mexico:

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.

This article also noted Critical Incident Teams’ role in the Border Patrol shooting of Mexican migrant Marisol Gómez Alcántara while she sat in the backseat of a vehicle in Nogales, Arizona.

CBP briefed House members about the Critical Incident Teams in late 2021, but this “did not fully address our questions,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the New York Times. As subsequent information requests got no replies from the agency, Congress issued two letters on January 24, 2022. Ten chairpeople of House and Senate Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Oversight committees and subcommittees wrote to Comptroller-General Gene Dodaro, who heads the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO, the Congress’s auditing and investigative arm), asking GAO to produce ar report about the teams (original link). The chairs of the House Homeland Security and Oversight Committees, Rep. Thompson and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) wrote to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus, informing him in a more strongly worded message that they are launching their own joint investigation into the Critical Incident Teams (original link). The Thompson-Maloney letter required that CBP turn over a list of documents by February 7.

Bloomberg Government asked CBP Commissioner Magnus, a former Tucson, Arizona police chief who has been in his position since early December, about the Critical Incident Teams. A statement responded that “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s specialized teams are ‘vitally important’ in the collection and processing of evidence related to enforcement activities,” Bloomberg reported. Magnus said that CBP would work with the committees and with GAO.

A May 3, 2022 memorandum from CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus terminated the Critical Incident Teams, transferring their duties to CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (original link). “By the end of FY [Fiscal Year] 22,” it reads, “USBP will eliminate all Critical Incident Teams and personnel assigned to USBP will no longer respond to critical incidents for scene processing or evidence collection.”

An August 11, 2022 letter from the SBCC warned that “the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is hiring” members of the to-be-dissolved Critical Incident Teams. OPR is CBP’s internal affairs body that investigates and sanctions agents for misconduct, including improper use of force.

— Vicki B. Gaubeca, Andrea Guerrero, “Request for congressional investigations and oversight hearings on the unlawful operation of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs)” (San Diego: Southern Border Communities Coalition, October 27, 2021) https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/alliancesandiego/pages/3292/attachments/original/1635367319/SBCC_letter_to_Congress_Final_10.27.21.pdf?1635367319.

— Eileen Sullivan, “Democrats in Congress Seek Review of Teams Within the Border Patrol” (New York: The New York Times, January 24, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/us/politics/border-patrol-critical-incident-teams.html.

— “Oversight and Homeland Security Chairs Request Information from Customs and Border Protection on Potential Misconduct of Specialized Teams” (Washington: U.S. House of Representatives, January 24, 2022) https://homeland.house.gov/news/correspondence/oversight-and-homeland-security-chairs-request-information-from-customs-and-border-protection-on-potential-misconduct-of-specialized-teams.

— “House & Senate Committee Leaders Request GAO Audit of CBP ‘Critical Incident Teams’” (Washington: U.S. House of Representatives, January 24, 2022) https://homeland.house.gov/news/correspondence/house-and-senate-committee-leaders-request-gao-audit-of-cbp-critical-incident-teams.

— “CBP Eliminates Border Patrol Cover-Up Units” (Southern Border: Southern Border Communities Coalition, May 6, 2022) https://www.southernborder.org/for_immediate_release_cbp_eliminates_border_patrol_cover-up_units.

— Chris Magnus, “Critical Incident Response Transition and Support” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, May 3, 2022. https://assets.nationbuilder.com/alliancesandiego/pages/409/attachments/original/1651850948/Critical_Incident_Response_Signed_Distribution_Memo_%28508%29.pdf?1651850948

— Vicki Gaubeca, Andrea Guerrero, “New information that raises the stakes on the investigation of Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs) and implicates other parts of CBP” (San Diego: Southern Border Communities Coalition, August 11, 2022) https://assets.nationbuilder.com/alliancesandiego/pages/409/attachments/original/1660253686/Letter_to_Congress_re_BPCIT_Aug_2022_r1.pdf?1660253686.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Critical Incident Teams

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight

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

Victim Classification: Female, Mexico, Single Adult

October 26, 2021

A letter to CBP’s Chief Information Officer from the National Archives’ Chief Records Officer voices concern about CBP personnel’s use of the messaging applications WhatsApp and Wickr. (original link) Laurence Brewer’s letter seeks “to ensure that CBP is communicating to all employees that they cannot use these applications to circumvent their records management responsibilities.”

The letter, which requests a report from CBP about these apps’ use, cites findings from an October 2021 DHS Inspector-General report about improper CBP targeting of U.S. citizens during 2018-19 “migrant caravans.”

With respect to WhatsApp, the OIG report notes that their ability to determine whether proper processes and procedures were followed was hampered by a failure to retain communication records, including records in WhatsApp (page 4). Further, the OIG report states that there are “instances of CBP officers not documenting information they obtained during caravan-related inspections” (page 12); that CBP officials did not retain communication records (page 17); and that “the CBP officials failure to retain WhatsApp messages likely violated DHS and CBP records retention policies because the messages were information that CBP created or received in carrying out its mission and contained substantive information that was necessary to adequately and properly document the activities and functions of the CBP officials” (page 28).

Additionally, the OIG report found that during this operation, it is not even clear if CBP policies permit the use of WhatsApp.

With respect to Wickr, NARA is concerned about the use of this messaging application as it has the capability to auto-delete messages after a specified period of time has passed. In light of the information in the OIG report, NARA is concerned about agency-wide deployment of a messaging application that has this functionality without appropriate policies and procedures governing its use.

NBC News reported that CBP had spent more than $1.6 million on Wickr, which is owned by Amazon, since 2020. The nonprofit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit against CBP in March 2022 after CBP failed to respond to a records request about its use of Wickr.

— Laurence Brewer, Letter to Eric Hysen, Chief Information Officer, Customs and Border Protection (Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, October 26, 2021) https://www.archives.gov/files/records-mgmt/resources/ud-2022-0001-dhs-cbp-open-letter.pdf.

Ben Goggin, Louise Matsakis, “Border Patrol’s use of Amazon’s Wickr messaging app draws scrutiny” (United States: NBC News, April 3, 2022) https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/border-patrols-use-amazons-wickr-messaging-app-draws-scrutiny-rcna21448.

— “CREW sues for records on CBP contract with Wickr, ‘auto-burn’ encrypted messaging app” (Washington: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, March 2, 2022) https://www.citizensforethics.org/legal-action/lawsuits/crew-sues-for-records-on-cbp-contract-with-wickr-auto-burn-encrypted-messaging-app/.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight

Last Known Accountability Status: Lawsuit or Claim Filed

Victim Classification:

October 25, 2021

A strongly (and explicitly) worded report from the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued on October 25, detailed the disciplinary process following 2019 revelations of a secret Facebook page at which CBP personnel posted racist, violent, and lewd content (original link). The Committee discovered that for most involved, consequences were light: they “had their discipline significantly reduced and continued to work with migrants” (original link).

In July 2019, ProPublica revealed the existence of “I’m 10-15,” a Facebook group with about 9,500 members, many or most of them CBP and Border Patrol personnel. (“I’m 10-15” means “I have migrants in custody.”) ProPublica, and later the Intercept, posted screenshots of content replete with sexual imagery, threats of violence, racist sentiments toward migrants, and disparagement (or worse) of left-of-center political figures.

“CBP knew about Border Patrol agents’ inappropriate posts on ‘I’m 10-15’ since 2016, three years before it was reported publicly,” the House Committee found. Among the Facebook group’s members were Border Patrol’s last two chiefs, Carla Provost (2018-2020) and Rodney Scott (2020-August 2021). Both indicated that they followed the group in order to monitor agents’ attitudes and complaints. After ProPublica revealed the page’s existence, Provost had said “these posts are completely inappropriate” and that agents “will be held accountable.”

Investigators had a hard time finding out whether anyone was indeed being held accountable. Facebook refused to provide content from the page to investigators from CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), forcing them to rely on screenshots obtained by media outlets. During the Trump administration, CBP refused to hand over disciplinary records to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, even after the committee issued a November 2020 subpoena. The records were turned over in February, after Donald Trump left office.

The Committee found “significant shortcomings in CBP’s approach to disciplining and training employees on social media misconduct.” CBP OPR opened 135 investigations into allegations related to “I’m 10-15” and other unnamed secret Facebook groups. A chief patrol agent, in the role of “deciding official,” made all disciplinary decisions.

This individual decided that 60 of the 135 CBP employees committed misconduct. In the end, the Committee found, “Almost all received significantly lighter final penalties than proposed by CBP’s Discipline Review Board.”

In the end:

  • 2 were fired; CBP’s Discipline Review Board had recommended 24 removals. Both had published sexualized and in some cases violent images of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), among other disturbing content.
  • 43 were suspended without pay, most for five days or fewer; the Discipline Review Board had recommended 60 suspensions. Those suspended were “then permitted to return to work in positions of power over migrants,” the Committee’s report notes.
  • 12 received letters of reprimand, 3 received “alternate disciplinary actions” like suspension with pay, 11 received “corrective or non-disciplinary actions,” and 10 took retirement before disciplinary action was taken. Twelve appealed their punishments.

“The CBP discipline system is broken,” a report from an independent DHS panel had stated in 2016 (original link). “No one official and no single office of CBP is actually responsible for assuring timeliness for all phases of the discipline process,” it notes, while “responsibility for investigating an allegation of misconduct is fragmented.” Improving human rights oversight was not a priority during the Trump administration, so no notable accountability progress was made since that report’s publication.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee report described the byzantine accountability process:

OPR investigates the conduct, and CBP’s Discipline Review Board proposes discipline. A deciding official then makes a discipline determination. In some cases, when CBP substantiates allegations of misconduct, employees may be able to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB); file a grievance with a CBP employee union such as the National Border Patrol Council, which may invoke arbitration on behalf of the employee; or, if they believe the action was discriminatory, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

This description left out the DHS Office of Inspector General and Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which may play at least tangential roles.

“CBP’s failure to prevent these violent and offensive statements by its own agents or impose adequate discipline creates a serious risk that this behavior will continue,” read a press statement from the committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York). “As we saw with the mistreatment of migrants by Border Patrol agents in Del Rio, Texas last month, systemic behavior problems within CBP persist. CBP must take immediate steps to reform its disciplinary processes, strengthen social media policies and training, and address longstanding issues of poor morale within its ranks.”

Border Patrol Agents in Secret Facebook Group Faced Few Consequences for Misconduct (Washington: House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, October 25, 2021) https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/COR%20CBP%20Facebook%20Group%20Report%20-%20October%202021.pdf.

— “Committee Report Reveals CBP Reduced Discipline for Dozens of Agents and Allowed Them to Continue Working with Migrants Despite Violent and Offensive Facebook Posts” (Washington: House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, October 25, 2021) https://oversight.house.gov/news/press-releases/committee-report-reveals-cbp-reduced-discipline-for-dozens-of-agents-and-allowed

Final Report of the CBP Integrity Advisory Panel (Washington: Department of Homeland Security, March 15, 2016) https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/HSAC CBP IAP_Final Report_FINAL (accessible)_0.pdf.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Evading Oversight, Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct, LGBT Discrimination or Harassment, Racial Discrimination or Profiling, Threat of Violence, Unethical Off-Duty Behavior

Last Known Accountability Status: Congressional Investigation Closed, OPR Investigation Closed, Personnel Terminated, Suspension, Reprimand, or Counseling

Victim Classification:

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

October 13, 2020

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff issued a scathing report about the activities of CBP personnel in Guatemala in January 2020 (original link). The CBP agents were in Guatemala on a support mission funded by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

According to the report, the CBP personnel deployed near Guatemala’s border with Honduras and confronted a “caravan” of Honduran migrants directly, apprehending many of them—including families—and transporting them back into Honduras aboard unmarked, rented vehicles.

For months, the report alleges, the Department of Homeland Security failed to respond to Foreign Relations Committee staff inquiries, and lied to the State Deparment—which funded the agents’ presence—about the role that the CBP agents had played.

DHS Run Amok? A Reckless Overseas Operation, Violations, and Lies (Washington: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff, October 13, 2020) https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Final%20INL%20DHS%20Report.pdf.

Sector(s): Outside the United States

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Inappropriate Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Congressional Investigation Closed

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras

August 2020

A January 21, 2023 New York Times article discussed a case of a female Border Patrol agent who, after being sexually assaulted by a co-worker, was unable to use the agency’s procedures to hold that co-worker accountable.

Amanda Cali, a Border Patrol agent based in upstate New York, is suing the Department of Homeland Security for unlawful discrimination based on sex, citing a hostile work environment based on sex and retaliation. In August 2020, she said, she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker. She reported the episode to her supervisor, but the supervisor said the agent in question deserved support because he had been at the agency so long, according to the complaint filed in the United States District Court in Western New York.

The supervisor then continued to plan the agent’s retirement party. Ms. Cali filed an employment discrimination complaint, but the ensuing investigation took nearly two years to complete.

— Sullivan, Eileen. “Top Border Patrol Official Resigned Amid Allegations of Improper Conduct.” The New York Times, January 22, 2023, sec. U.S. <https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/21/us/politics/top-border-patrol-official-resigned.html>.

Sector(s): Northern Border

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight, Sexual Assault or Harassment

Last Known Accountability Status: Lawsuit or Claim Filed

Victim Classification: DHS Employee, Female

August 7, 2020

NBC News reports that career officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are being sidelined by Trump administration appointees, who are ignoring their input on human rights issues.

The sidelining by the Trump appointees [Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli] is felt acutely in the agency’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, or CRCL, where employees hired to field complaints about DHS and review new policies believe they are not being heard, said the two current [DHS] officials, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.

In recent months, CRCL has raised concerns about the development of a new use-of-force policy for Customs and Border Protection, the two current officials said, including concerns about the use of chemical deterrents against people trying to damage the wall on the southern U.S. border. But after raising those concerns, the office has yet to hear back on whether agents will be allowed to use chemicals to deter people trying to damage the wall.

According to recent reports, Cuccinelli removed CRCL from its usual role of reviewing the reports from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the office recently accused of collecting intelligence on journalists covering the protests in Portland, Oregon.

Sources inside DHS raise concerns to NBC about the Trump administration’s use of Border Patrol agents and other DHS personnel to confront protesters in Portland, Oregon. Nate Snyder, an Obama-era DHS counterterrorism official, tells NBC that Trump “wants his own state-run police force” that can commit “violence against protesters without coordinating with local law enforcement.”

— Julia Ainsley and Laura Strickler, “DHS staffers say Trump appointees Wolf, Cuccinelli ignoring input on protests, immigration policy” (Washington: NBC News, August 7, 2020) https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/dhs-staffers-say-trump-appointees-wolf-cuccinelli-ignoring-input-protests-n1236040.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS

Event Type(s): Crowd Control, Evading Oversight, Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: No Steps Taken

Victim Classification: DHS Employee

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:

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