4 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the event type is “Intimidation of Humanitarian Workers”

July, 2023

Among cases cited in a July 2023 Human Rights First report was that of a Haitian asylum-seeking man to whom CBP officers denied access to emergency medical care, while harassing the humanitarian worker accompanying him.

Even during the Title 42 period, it was customary to be granted access to the Reynosa port of entry for medical emergencies requiring an ambulance. The humanitarian worker, however, was told by CBP officers at the limit line, “This isn’t our problem. If you want, you can bring him to wait in line.” At this time, other vulnerable individuals waiting to access the port of entry without an appointment were being forced to wait for over 72 hours in extreme heat. “If I bring him to wait in this line without medical care, he will die,” the humanitarian worker told CBP officers.

After advocacy by another local humanitarian worker, the ambulance transporting the critical case was approved to cross. Yet upon arrival at the port with the ambulance, the humanitarian worker and the Haitian man were harassed by CBP: “It’s you again?” the CBP officer greeted the humanitarian worker who tried to explain the situation but was silenced. A CBP nurse said, “You call this an emergency?” and removed the Haitian man’s oxygen tubes and ordered him to stand up, lowering him from the bed and off the ambulance. A CBP supervisor refused to provide the Haitian man with a wheelchair and instead forced him to walk and to carry his luggage, prohibiting the humanitarian worker from carrying it for him. The CBP supervisor accepted the man for processing and ordered the local humanitarian worker to leave, threatening her and saying she was prohibited from return:

“You’re already in trouble, so if you don’t want to have more problems, leave. You are no longer allowed in this area.”

— Asencio, Christina, Eleanor Acer, and Rebecca Gendelman. “Refugee Protection Travesty.” New York: Human Rights First, July 12, 2023. https://humanrightsfirst.org/library/refugee-protection-travesty/.

Sector(s): Laredo Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Denial of Medical Care, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Intimidation of Humanitarian Workers

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Advocate or Humanitarian Worker, Haiti, Medical Condition, Single Adult

September 20, 2021

Politico revealed the existence of a DHS Inspector-General report, which would not be publicly released until October (original link). The report finds that CBP improperly targeted U.S. advocates and journalists whom the agency believed had some involvement with 2018-19 migrant caravans through Mexico. These individuals were subjected to more intrusive inspections when crossing the border into the United States, and “sensitive information” about them was shared with the Mexican government.

An October 11, 2021 article about the report at ProPublica focused on the Tactical Terrorism Response Teams, secretive CBP intelligence units that are “trained in counterterrorism, not immigration issues.” It found, “[A]t least 51 U.S. citizens were flagged for interrogation-often based on evidence as flimsy as once having ridden in a car across the border with someone suspected of aiding the caravan.” The Tactical Terrorism Response Teams were the subject of a September 4, 2021 investigation by The Intercept, which found that they had detained and interrogated 600,000 travelers at ports of entry between 2017 and 2019.

On January 8, 2022, the DHS Inspector-General published a heavily redacted report focusing on CBP’s revocations of “trusted traveler” status for those singled out as under suspicion (original link). Officers, the report concluded, “did not evaluate unsubstantiated information, and made unsupported conclusions” when they revoked the “trusted” status of two U.S. citizens whom they believed were aiding the 2018-19 migrant caravans.

On January 11, 2022, NBC’s San Diego affiliate spoke to a pastor who was suing because CBP officers, believing she was tied to a caravan, requested that the Mexican government deny her entry.

The intelligence episode was the subject of an August 11, 2022 investigation by Palabra, which cites John Sandweg, the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Obama administration:

“One of the things CBP needs to be careful about is … they have great discretion to conduct warrantless searches at the border,” Sandweg said. “Stories like this can undermine that authority. The courts start believing this isn’t a tool that’s reserved only for those who are high risk travelers or have a criminal history … you start seeing it’s lawyers and journalists who are only doing their jobs who are getting secondaried 12 times, that’s the kind of thing that gets courts to start eroding the authorities CBP relies on today to stop terrorist from entering the country.”

— Daniel Lippman, “Watchdog: CBP improperly targeted Americans as caravans approached border” (Washington: Politico, September 23, 2021) https://www.politico.com/news/2021/09/23/cbp-americans-caravans-border-513829.

CBP Targeted Americans Associated with the 2018–2019 Migrant Caravan, OIG-21-62 (Washington: DHS Office of the Inspector-General, September 20, 2021) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2021-09/OIG-21-62-Sep21.pdf.

— Dara Lind, “A Secretive Counterterrorism Team Interrogated Dozens of Citizens at the Border, Government Report Finds” (Washington: ProPublica, October 11, 2021) https://www.propublica.org/article/a-secretive-counterterrorism-team-interrogated-dozens-of-citizens-at-the-border-government-report-finds.

Trusted Traveler Revocations for Americans Associated with the 2018-2019 Migrant Caravan, OIG-22-13 (Washington: DHS Office of the Inspector-General, January 8, 2022) https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-01/OIG-22-13-Jan22-Redacted.pdf.

— Meredith Royster, Tom Jones, Mari Payton, Alexis Rivas, “CBP Officer Who Asked Mexico to Deny Entry to Some US Citizens Speaks Under Oath” (San Diego: NBC 7 San Diego, January 11, 2022) https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/investigations/cbp-officer-who-asked-mexico-to-deny-entry-to-some-us-citizens-speaks-under-oath/2835644/.

— Jason Buch, “Bad Intelligence” (Palabra, August 11, 2022) https://www.palabranahj.org/archive/bad-intelligence.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP, Tactical Terrorism Response Teams

Event Type(s): Intimidation of Humanitarian Workers, Misuse of Intelligence Capability

Last Known Accountability Status: Cleared by DHS OIG

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

October 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, BORTAC

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

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

July 31, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, BORTAC

Event Type(s): Intimidation of Humanitarian Workers

Last Known Accountability Status: No Steps Taken

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