Report details 'persistent' human rights abuses at US border

AFP , Thursday 3 Aug 2023

US border police persistently commit human rights abuses without accountability in their handling of migrants at the frontier with Mexico, a new report from two Latin America-focused NGOs said Wednesday.

Migrants navigate around concertina wire along the banks of the Rio Grande after crossing from Mexico into the U.S., Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. AP


The report, from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), points to deaths in custody amid unclear circumstances as well as abusive language, the denial of food and the separation of families by border agents.

"Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the federal government's largest civilian law enforcement agency, has a persistent problem of human rights abuse without accountability," the report said.

CBP did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment.

Since 2020, WOLA and KBI have tallied 13 deaths where Border Patrol agents used force "under circumstances in which it is unclear whether they faced an imminent threat" or "failed to prevent the death of an individual in custody."

In a section detailing how formal complaints to CBP often fail to be resolved, KBI tallied 78 complaints that it filed between 2020 and 2022.

Just five percent "led to either policy recommendations or discipline recommended for the agent in question," the report said.

"We have documented a shocking pattern, including cases of misuse of lethal force, intimidation, sexual harassment, and falsifying documents," report co-author 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."

Many of the alleged abuses occur when migrants are in custody, after turning themselves in to authorities or being intercepted.

In one instance documented in the report, a Salvadoran woman and her family turned themselves into a Border Patrol truck, hoping to claim asylum.

"An agent exited the truck, pulling a gun on the mother, calling them 'terrorists,' 'rats' and 'criminals,' the report said.

"The woman repeated her asylum request to 7 or 8 more agents, was ignored, and told the agents didn't speak Spanish."

Migrants who arrive in the United States without the necessary documentation are supposed to be held in CBP facilities for up to 72 hours while their cases are processed, but in practice, according to the NGOs, some stay for a week or more, in what they describe as unsanitary conditions.

While family separation is less common now than it was under the administration of former president Donald Trump, it still occurs, the report said.

During the 2022 fiscal year, 145 migrant children were separated from their parents, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

There have also been separations between spouses and siblings.

In one instance, a 17-year-old told KBI he was expelled to Mexico without knowing the whereabouts of his younger brother, who had crossed with him.

"While many, if not most CBP officers and Border Patrol agents follow best practices, the study shows frequent and severe alleged abuses," a statement from WOLA and KBI said.

The authors of the report added: "We believe that it is possible to enact common-sense 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."

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