3 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the event type is “Conditions in Custody” where the victim classification is “Medical Condition”

September 14, 2021

The DHS Inspector General completed an unpublished report, obtained in part and revealed in February 2022 by ProPublica and El Paso Matters, sharing findings about the May 2019 in-custody death of Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez (original link). As the journalistic outlets put it, the victim, a 16-year-old unaccompanied Guatemalan migrant, “died of the flu after writing on the floor of his cell” in the Weslaco, Texas Border Patrol station.

Hernández had a 103-degree fever, tested positive for influenza, and a nurse practitioner had instructed agents in writing “that he should be checked again in two hours and taken to the emergency room if his condition worsened.” Only one medical staff person was on overnight duty at the Weslaco Station, which was being used as a makeshift sick ward and had “60-70” flu patients among 210 ill detainees at the time. Agents logged regular “welfare checks” on the boy, but video footage of his cell showed no evidence of checks during a period of nearly four and a half hours.

The log entries were false, the Inspector-General’s report determined. The lead agent told Inspector General investigators that he made hourly checks of the cell, but

added that at that time, it was impossible for him to conduct welfare checks on 300 to 350 detainees every hour. According to [redacted] common practice, Team Leads check the “select all” tab in the [redacted] system and press enter, reporting all detainees received an hourly welfare check.

“Falsifying federal records to impede administration of an agency’s function is a crime,” ProPublica and El Paso Matters point out. “But the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas declined to prosecute anyone in Hernandez’s death, the report said.” The report did not specify whether anyone involved in Hernández’s case had been disciplined. CBP “declined to comment on whether any agents have faced discipline stemming from Hernandez’s death or whether any changes had been made as a result of the inspector general report,” noting that it is continuing an internal investigation of the nearly three-year-old case.

On July 20, 2021, the DHS Inspector-General had reported that, in 98 cases examined of ill people in custody, “CBP could not always demonstrate staff conducted required medical screenings or consistent welfare checks” (original link).

Report of Investigation, Carlos Gregorio Hernandez-Vasquez, U.S. Border Patrol Weslaco Station, Weslaco, Texas (Washington: DHS Office of Inspector General, September 14, 2021) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21196072-dhs-oig-report-carlos-hernandez-vasquez.

— Robert Moore, “Internal Investigation Confirms Border Patrol Failures Leading Up to a 16-Year-Old’s Death on the Floor of His Cell” (ProPublica and El Paso Matters, February 8, 2022) https://elpasomatters.org/2022/02/08/internal-investigation-confirms-border-patrol-failures-leading-up-to-a-16-year-olds-death-on-his-cell-floor/.

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: DHS OIG investigation Closed, Under OPR Investigation, Unknown

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Medical Condition, Unaccompanied Child

July 5, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK described a Guatemalan asylum seeker’s experience with her children while in Border Patrol custody in Arizona.

A Guatemalan woman with her four children crossed into the United States with a big group and encountered a Border Patrol agent in a vehicle. That agent was very nice to them, gave them water and said they could have whatever they needed. He called for more vehicles to carry them all, and they were transferred to a Border Patrol facility that was very cold. Then they were put on buses to Tucson.

At the Tucson border facility, the woman approached an agent asking how they should apply for asylum and informing him that her son has a medical condition and needs medical care. She showed him the documents (a diagnosis, x-rays, etc.) to prove that her son was in need and that he needed surgery within the next two months. The agent took the documents and threw them in the trash. When she went to retrieve them from the trash, he took them again and told her “they belong in the trash.” When she protested, he became angry and told her to go away and gave her a sleeping mat. The mat was soaking wet so that she could not use it. She never got her documents back.

Hours later, she and the children were expelled to Nogales, Sonora.

KBI filed a July 15, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On August 6, CRCL emailed that “they received the complaint and forwarded it to the OIG. No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.”

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Confiscation of Documents, Denial of Medical Care, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Guatemala, Medical Condition

July 5, 2021

A report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK discussed a Guatemalan family’s conditions in Border Patrol custody while seeking, without success, to seek asylum in Arizona.

A Guatemalan woman and her two young daughters entered the United States through the desert and encountered a Border Patrol agent. They were detained and moved to a facility with cold rooms. Then they were transferred to Tucson.

There, she told an agent that she had injured her foot while walking in the desert and needed medical attention. The agent agreed, but then she walked away and never came back. She was never given any medical attention.

They were made to sit in the chairs at the Tucson facility; the children could not sleep. At the facility, they were forced to take off any extra clothing and allowed to wear only a t-shirt and pants. Her daughter was shivering. They asked for blankets but were given only one small one many hours later. She tried to tell agents she wanted to seek asylum, but no one listened to her.

The next morning the family was expelled to Nogales, Sonora.

KBI filed a July 23, 2021 complaint with the DHS Office on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). On August 5, CRCL emailed “that they received the complaint and forwarded it to the OIG. No details were provided about disciplinary actions for officers or recourse for victims of abuse.”

Due Process Denied (United States: Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, August 2021) https://networklobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/KINO-NETWORK-CBP-Abuses-consolidated.pdf.

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Complaint Filed with OPR, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Guatemala, Medical Condition