By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams
A report published Wednesday by a pair of advocacy groups details rampant human rights abuses against migrants and some American citizens allegedly perpetrated by Department of Homeland Security personnel at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years under both the Trump and Biden administrations.
The report—entitled Abuses at the U.S.- Mexico Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights—was published by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and reveals “frequent and severe alleged abuses” of migrants by members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including Border Patrol agents.
“We have documented a shocking pattern, including cases of misuse of lethal force, intimidation, sexual harassment, and falsifying documents,” WOLA director for defense oversight Adam Isacson said in a statement. “The lack of accountability is so widespread that it helps cement in place a culture that enables human rights violations. The abuses keep coming because impunity is so likely.”
Some of the alleged rights abuses in the report are severe, and resulted in serious injuries and even deaths. The publication details 13 deaths in which the authors say there is reason to believe that CBP officers or Border Patrol agents “may have used deadly force under circumstances in which it is unclear whether they faced an imminent threat of death or bodily injury, or failed to prevent the death of an individual in custody.”
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These include numerous cases of Border Patrol agents fatally shooting migrants and U.S. citizens including a member of the Tohono O’odham Native American tribe, as well as what critics call the medical neglect death of Anadith Tanay Reyes Álvarez, an 8-year-old Honduran girl, at a Harlingen, Texas Border Patrol facility in May.
The report states that “many other examples of cruelty and victimization take place on a daily basis, such as unprovoked violence during arrests, abusive language, denial of food or medical attention, family separations, non-return of documents and valuables, dangerous deportations, racial profiling, and falsifying migration paperwork.”
“Marco Antonio,” a migrant who filed a complaint after he was struck and run over by a Border Patrol all-terrain vehicle, said in the report that “Border Patrol has the right to apprehend someone, but in the proper way, not wrongfully. Many people are afraid of the Border Patrol.”
“People do not have to put up with Border Patrol’s abuses,” he added. “If the Border Patrol hits you, demand your rights, because we all have rights.”
The publication tracks the outcome of 78 complaints KBI filed on behalf of migrants between 2020 -22, 95% of which prompted no proper investigation or disciplinary action, according to the report.
“It is hard to tell someone who has just experienced an abuse by Border Patrol that they should file a complaint, only to explain to them that in the vast majority of cases, we never hear anything back and agencies take no accountability action,” said KBI advocacy coordinator Zoe Martens. “First, a migrant person experiences this abuse, and then the detailed testimony they gave explaining the mistreatment disappears into an opaque web of accountability offices and their databases.”
The report offers over 40 recommendations “on how to improve the accountability process within DHS, including reforms to the process for complaints, investigations, and discipline, more energetic congressional oversight, and reforms to the CBP and Border Patrol organizational culture.”
“We believe that it is possible to enact commonsense reforms that stop cruelty and align border governance with democratic values, even at a time when larger national debates on border and immigration policy are polarized,” the authors asserted.
During both the Trump and Biden administrations, migrants and asylum-seekers have been subjected to human rights violations including denial of due process under pretext of public health protection, brutal and often life-threatening repulsion at the border, beatings and other violence, sexual abuse of adults and children, forced sterilization, retaliatory deportations, and duplicitous flights to states and cities with sanctuary policies.
Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.