8 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in “Laredo”

February 25, 2023

Three migrants and a U.S. citizen died in the pre-dawn hours of February 25 in a crash following a Border Patrol chase in Rio Bravo, near Laredo, Texas.

A Border Patrol agent sought to stop a sedan near the site where a remote camera had detected a suspected group of undocumented migrants. The agent “activated his vehicle’s emergency equipment to conduct a vehicle stop,” according to a CBP release. (Original link) “The sedan slowed but then accelerated, failing to yield to the agent’s emergency equipment.”

The agent gave chase, but “reportedly lost sight of the vehicle,” which then hit a speed bump, lost control, and crashed in front of a residence. The car “was airborne when six people were ejected and the car landed on its roof,” according to Rio Bravo Fire Chief Juan González. Video footage obtained by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility showed the Border Patrol agent arriving at the scene of the collision 24 seconds after it happened.

The driver, a 19-year-old male U.S. citizen, and an unidentified passenger were declared deceased at the scene. A male citizen of Guatemala was declared dead at the Laredo Medical Center. An unidentified passenger was declared dead at Laredo’s Doctors Hospital. Border Report reported that the sedan had a total of six migrants aboard.

CBP’s release noted that the incident was “under investigation by Webb County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.” The DHS Office of Inspector General was notified.

— U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Four Dead; Multiple Injured after Driver of Suspected Human Smuggling Vehicle Crashes near Rio Bravo, Texas,” March 10, 2023. <https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/four-dead-multiple-injured-after-driver-suspected-human-smuggling>.

— Sanchez, Sandra. “U.S. Citizen, 3 Migrants Die in Border Patrol Chase, Rio Bravo Fire Chief Says.” BorderReport, February 27, 2023. <https://www.borderreport.com/immigration/border-crime/u-s-citizen-3-migrants-die-in-border-patrol-chase-rio-bravo-fire-chief-says/>.

Sector(s): Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under Local Police investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Female, Guatemala, U.S. Citizen or Resident

December 2, 2022

An ACLU Texas complaint submitted to DHS leadership, shared and reported by the Texas Tribune, found that Border Patrol collaboration made possible 91 Texas state police “trespassing” arrests of migrants between late July and late August 2022. Border Patrol agents, the complaint reported, played a role in one quarter of the 368 migrant arrests that Texas’s Department of Public Security carried out during this period. The controversial arrests were part of “Operation Lone Star” (OLS), a state-government border crackdown ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), an outspoken critic of the Biden administration’s border and migration policies.

“Extrapolating from this data, Border Patrol collusion is likely responsible for hundreds of arrests in Texas’ unlawful, discriminatory, and anti-immigrant trespass arrest system,” the ACLU complaint read.

To date, Texas has arrested more than 5,000 primarily Latinx individuals on state misdemeanor criminal trespass charges under OLS. The state has funneled these individuals into a separate criminal prosecution and detention system riddled with civil rights violations, including failure to appoint counsel and failure to timely file charges.

In July 2022, the Texas Tribune and ProPublica revealed that the Department of Justice was “seeking to review whether Operation Lone Star violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by institutions receiving federal funding.”

Of the 91 Border Patrol-aided arrests in the ACLU complaint:

  • Border Patrol agents were the initial arresting or apprehending party in 35 cases. “Border Patrol effectuated the arrest when DPS [Texas state Department of Public Safety] was not even present and nevertheless turned the individual over to a DPS officer for state misdemeanor trespass rather than process the individual for immigration purposes.”
  • Border Patrol agents and Texas DPS officers were both present for the arrest in 41 arrests. “Instead of Border Patrol taking the individuals into CBP custody for immigration processing, Border Patrol prioritized arrests under Operation Lone Star for misdemeanor trespass—ensuring eligible individuals were instead channeled into the OLS trespass arrest system.”
  • In 15 cases, Border Patrol provided surveillance information to Texas DPS that enabled Texas police to arrest the migrants. “This includes information from Border Patrol helicopter surveillance, drone, and remote cameras.”

The complaint noted that it appears to violate CBP policy for Border Patrol agents, who are federal government personnel, to collude with a state program that has imprisoned thousands of migrants—including asylum seekers—for months in specially designated Texas jails. It recalled an October 2021 interview with Texas Monthly in which Border Patrol Chief Raúl Ortiz called the OLS trespass arrest system “a tremendous concern,” adding, “I really would prefer to see border security left to the border-security experts.”

Texas law does not give Border Patrol agents the authority to arrest people for state misdemeanor charges (and most felony charges). In November 15, 2022 testimony before the Texas State Senate Committee on Border Security, the chief of Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector, Carl Landrum, asked legislators to make a “slight adjustment” to the Texas Penal Code that would allow Border Patrol agents “to arrest and assist in the prosecution of all state felonies and, he said, ‘some misdemeanors,’” the Texas Observer reported in February 2023.

“It is not clear whether the Laredo sector leadership’s position on expanding Texas state law to authorize felony arrests by Border Patrol under state law is endorsed by Border Patrol leadership or consistent with Border Patrol policy,” the ACLU Texas complaint read.

Finding that “Border Patrol’s extensive collusion with DPS in OLS trespass arrests is deeply troubling,” the ACLU Texas complaint called for “investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).”

— Huddleston, Kathryn, Bernardo Cruz, Savannah Kumar, and Adriana Piñon. “Border Patrol Collusion in Texas Migrant Arrest Program under ‘Operation Lone Star’—Urgent Need for Immediate End to Collusion.” American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, December 2, 2022. <https://static.texastribune.org/media/files/c7b90d91cada0fd9268a2cb7e78b357a/ACLUTX_DHS_Complaint_OLS.pdf>.

— McCullough, Jolie. “Feds Often Hand Migrants over to State Police Rather than Process Immigration Claims, Complaint Says.” The Texas Tribune, December 2, 2022. <https://www.texastribune.org/2022/12/02/texas-migrant-arrests-border-patrol/>.

—Trevizo, Perla. “Justice Department Is Investigating Texas’ Operation Lone Star for Alleged Civil Rights Violations.” The Texas Tribune, July 6, 2022. <https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/06/operation-lone-star-doj-investigation-abbott/>.

— McCullough, Jolie. “Texas’ Border Operation Is Meant to Stop Cartels and Smugglers. More Often, It Arrests Migrants for Misdemeanor Trespassing.” The Texas Tribune, April 4, 2022. <https://www.texastribune.org/2022/04/04/texas-border-operation-imprisons-thousands-accused-only-of-trespassing/>.

— Nelsen, Aaron. “Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz on the Crisis in Texas and Why Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star Concerns Him.” Texas Monthly, October 21, 2021. <https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/raul-ortiz-border-patrol-texas/>.

— Griswold, Niki. “Border Patrol Requests Change to Texas Penal Code to Allow Agents to Enforce State Law.” Austin American-Statesman. November 16, 2022. <https://www.statesman.com/story/news/politics/state/2022/11/16/border-patrol-asks-texas-to-allow-agents-to-enforce-state-law/69639080007/>.

— Buch, Jason. “The Border Patrol’s Power Grab.” The Texas Observer, February 13, 2023. <https://www.texasobserver.org/the-border-patrols-gross-power-grab/>.

Sector(s): Del Rio, Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Texas State Police

Event Type(s): Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct, Racial Discrimination or Profiling

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

June 30, 2022

A Border Patrol-involved vehicle pursuit on Interstate Highway 35, reaching speeds of 90-100 miles per hour, ended in a crash that killed four of seven migrants aboard a Jeep Wrangler in Encinal, Texas (original link). The deceased were male citizens of Mexico and Guatemala.

“This incident is being investigated by the Texas Department of Public Safety and reviewed by CBP’s OPR [Office of Professional Responsibility],” CBP reported. “The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General was notified of the incident.”

— U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Failure to yield leads to fatal crash off Interstate Highway 35 in Encinal, Texas” (Washington: CBP, July 5, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/failure-yield-leads-fatal-crash-interstate-highway-35-encinal.

Sector(s): Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

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

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Mexico, Single Adult

May, 2022

A June 16, 2022 report from Human Rights First included examples of three asylum-seeking families separated by CBP personnel at the U.S.-Mexico border during May 2022.

DHS separated a five-year-old Honduran boy from his adult sister and the sister’s children, who were expelled to Mexico under Title 42 in May 2022. The boy’s sister told Human Rights First that he was processed as an unaccompanied minor and is now in an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in South Carolina, while the sister and her children are stranded in danger in Ciudad Acuña unable to seek asylum.

DHS separated a Honduran father from his partner and child, expelling the man to Mexico under Title 42 in May 2022. The man told Human Rights First researchers that his partner and their child were permitted to remain in the United States to continue the asylum process while he is stuck in Ciudad Acuña.

In late May 2022, DHS separated an elderly Colombian woman from her adult daughter and sister and their children after the family sought protection in Laredo, Texas. The woman’s daughter, granddaughter, sister, and niece were released into Laredo to seek asylum. The woman’s sister told Human Rights First that nobody had heard from the woman in the five days since DHS released the family, and she fears her sister was expelled alone to Mexico under Title 42 or enrolled in the Remain in Mexico program.

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, The Nightmare Continues: Title 42 Court Order Prolongs Human Rights Abuses, Extends Disorder at U.S. Borders (New York: Human Rights First, June 16, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/nightmare-continues-title-42-court-order-prolongs-human-rights-abuses-extends-disorder-us.

Sector(s): Del Rio, Laredo

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Colombia, Family Unit, Female, Honduras

January 26, 2022

A Border Patrol agent surreptitiously recorded audio of a discussion between DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and agents assembled in Yuma, Arizona. The agent leaked the audio to TownHall.com, a right-wing website. It recorded agents complaining about policies that allow asylum-seeking migrants to remain in the United States while their cases are adjudicated. One agent turned his back while the Secretary spoke to him.

On January 28, agents leaked video of a tense exchange between Border Patrol Chief Raúl Ortiz and agents during Mayorkas’s visit to Laredo, Texas. An agent says, “For evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing… You’re allowing illegal aliens to be dropped off in communities.” CNN reported that an agent in Laredo confronted Mayorkas for wearing a jacket with the Border Patrol badge.

Border Patrol management circulated a 2010 memo reminding agents that surreptitious recording of coworkers “falls below the standards of integrity.”

— Julio Rosas, “DHS Secretary Had a Disastrous Meeting with Border Patrol Agents” (TownHall.com, January 26, 2022) https://townhall.com/tipsheet/juliorosas/2022/01/26/audio-recording-of-dhs-sec-mayorkas-disastrous-tense-with-yuma-border-patrol-agen-n2602386.

— Ali Bradley, “Tense exchange between US Border Patrol agents and USBP Chief Ortiz today in Laredo” (Facebook, January 28, 2022) https://www.facebook.com/AliBradleyTV/videos/512111106860585/.

— Geneva Sands, “Leaked audio and video show Border Patrol agents confronting Homeland Security secretary at meetings” (CNN, February 1, 2022) https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/01/politics/border-patrol-agents-mayorkas/index.html.

Sector(s): Laredo, Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Insubordinate or Highly Politicized Conduct

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification:

July 15, 2021

Border Patrol agent Rodney Tolson pled guilty to conspiring to transport an undocumented alien within the United States. Tolson admitted taking $400-per-person payments in 2019 for allowing non-citizens to pass through the Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate Highway 35 north of Laredo, Texas.

According to the plea agreement, as cited in the Washington Post, Tolson helped a migrant smuggler by “waving him through the checkpoint.”

According to the co-conspirator, Tolson would call to report “which lane and time window to use for crossing through the checkpoint,” the plea agreement says.

At one point, the co-conspirator asked if Tolson was ready to make money.

“U know it,” Tolson said in a WhatsApp social media message the co-conspirator shared with federal agents.

Their transactions would usually take place in the parking lot of a Walmart near the border, where Tolson would receive $400 per person, the documents state.

The DHS Inspector General and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigated Tolson’s case, and referred it to the Department of Justice. On May 24, 2022, Tolson was sentenced in Laredo federal district court to 21 months in prison (original link).

— Julian Mark, “A Border Patrol agent was supposed to guard a U.S.-Mexico checkpoint. He took $400 bribes to smuggle migrants.” (Washington: The Washington Post, July 14, 2021) https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/07/14/border-patrol-agent-admits-bribes/.

— “Federal agent sent to prison for alien smuggling” (Laredo: U.S. Department of Justice Southern District of Texas, May 24, 2022) https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdtx/pr/federal-agent-sent-prison-alien-smuggling.

Sector(s): Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Corruption

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Conviction, DHS OIG investigation Closed, Judicial Case Closed, OPR Investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

June 23, 2021

A Border Patrol agent driving a marked vehicle gave chase to a pickup truck spotted loading people near the Rio Grande in Laredo, Texas. A Border Patrol statement notes that the agent had lost track of the truck, which later collided into another vehicle (original link):

The pickup immediately left the area at a high rate of speed, causing several people to fall from the vehicle. The BPA radioed to additional BPAs in the area as he attempted to catch up with the white pickup truck.  The BPA lost sight of the vehicle and radioed to other agents notifying them that he could not locate the vehicle.

The pickup collided into a SUV at the intersection of Main Avenue and Jefferson Street, approximately 16 blocks northwest of the BPA’s location. Border Patrol EMTs, Laredo Fire Department Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and Laredo Police Department (LPD) responded to the scene of the collision. No Border Patrol units were pursuing the white pickup truck at the time of the crash. The first Border Patrol unit arrived on the scene within a minute and came from the opposite direction without its lights and sirens activated.

The accident killed three people aboard the pickup truck and injured eight. Border Patrol noted, “This incident is being reviewed by the Webb County Medical Examiner’s Office and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility and is being investigated by the Laredo Police Department.”

— “Correction on June 23 Vehicle Accident in Laredo, Texas” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, June 26, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/correction-june-23-vehicle-accident-laredo-texas.

Sector(s): Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult

October 23, 2020

The New York Times, citing Customs and Border Protection, reported that “Border Patrol agents shot and killed the driver of a car that had been carrying unauthorized immigrants in Laredo, Texas, on Friday, after the car reversed into an agent and pinned him against another vehicle.” Border Patrol acknowledged that an “agent-involved shooting” took place at approximately 10:00 PM (original link).

The agents were reportedly responding to a possible human smuggling incident, along with officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI) and the Webb County, Texas Constable’s Office.

The Times reported:

Border Patrol agents and officials from Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of ICE, identified themselves as they approached the car, officials said.

But the driver “suddenly accelerated in reverse,” pinning a Border Patrol agent and a person whom he had been interviewing against another vehicle, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

The driver did not respond to orders to stop and “agents deployed lethal force to stop the threat,” the statement said.

The driver, who was not identified by name, died at the scene. The Border Patrol agent, who sustained leg injuries, was taken to a hospital and later released.

Two other people in the car were injured. In a video posted to Facebook, Border Patrol Laredo Sector Chief Matthew Hudak said that “agents from both agencies deployed lethal force so stop that threat.” The Laredo Police Department and FBI, he added, were leading the investigation into the incident. “Agents did what they needed to do to protect their fellow agent and to protect the suspect that was being interviewed,” Hudak concluded.

— Michael Levenson, “Border Patrol Agents Fatally Shoot Driver in Texas” (New York: The New York Times, October 25, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/25/us/border-patrol-shooting-texas.html.

— Matthew Hudak, “Initial Statement on an Agent-Involved Shooting in Laredo” (Laredo: U.S. Border Patrol Laredo Sector, October 23, 2020) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/initial-statement-agent-involved-shooting-laredo.

— U.S. Border Patrol Laredo Sector, “Agent Involved Shooting Update-Chief Patrol Agent Matthew Hudak” (Laredo: Facebook, October 24, 2020) https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=262600961857758&ref=sharing.

Sector(s): Laredo

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, ICE

Event Type(s): Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Under FBI Investigation, Under Local Police investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult