Border Patrol Out Of Control

Today, the ACLU’s Border Litigation Project released a damning report on the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection “interior operations” that should serve as a wake up call for Washington policy makers.

Titled “Record of Abuse: Lawlessness and Impunity in Border Patrol’s Interior Enforcement Operations”, the 31 page report is supplemented by hundreds of pages of documents obtained through an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU Arizona chapter’s summary of the report noted the following: 

Border Patrol’s records contain recurring examples of agents terrorizing motorists far into the interior of the country; detaining and searching innocent travelers after false alerts by service canines; threatening motorists with assault rifles and other weapons; destroying personal property; and interfering with attempts to video record agents. These abuse records substantially outnumber the annual complaint totals DHS oversight agencies disclosed to Congress.

Border Patrol does not record stops of motorists that do not result in arrest, or false canine alerts that lead to searches of innocent suspects.  Substantive investigations into civil rights violations are rare and almost never result in disciplinary consequences. Despite numerous reports of abuse and corruption, the records contain only one example of disciplinary action of any kind.

Border Patrol’s own data undermines the agency’s public claims that checkpoints are efficient and effective: in 2013, Tucson Sector checkpoint apprehensions accounted for only 0.67 percent of the sector’s total apprehensions. The same year, Yuma Sector checkpoint arrests of U.S. citizens exceeded those of non-citizens by a factor of nearly eight (and in 2011, by a factor of eleven).

The discrepency between the complaint totals found in this report and those actually reported to Congressional oversight committees raise fundamental questions about the integrity of the DHS oversight and compliance process, both inside DHS and on Capitol Hill.

Details on several incidents contained in the press release accompanying the report are chilling: 

A Border Patrol agent in Green Valley, Ariz., followed a store employee into a parking lot, approached the individual with a service revolver drawn, ordered him to his knees, and handcuffed him. When other employees approached, the agent yelled, “Stay away or I’ll shoot you.” After ten minutes, the agent removed the handcuffs, released the employee, and drove away.

One complaint described multiple stops of the Tohono O’odham Community College school bus at the Highway 86 checkpoint, including one in which passengers were forced to disembark and submit to interrogation and searches of their personal effects before being released. Other records show Border Patrol monitoring Tohono O’odham community meetings and Know Your Rights events.

A Border Patrol agent reported a supervisor at Border Patrol’s Naco Station instructed agents to “stop any vehicle on the US/Mexican border road that is open to the public.” The supervisor allegedly “didn’t care if it was the Chief of the Border Patrol and the agent conducted a high risk traffic stop … at gun point” because he “would then know they were doing their job.”

The Nogales City Attorney’s Office reported racial profiling and abuse of authority after agents at the I-19 interior checkpoint relied on a claimed canine alert to detain and search the attorney. The complaint references a Deputy City Attorney detained and searched on other occasions on the basis of claimed or false canine alerts.

Tensions between residents of Arivaca, Arizona and CBP personnel manning the area checkpoint have resulted in civil disobedience protests and calls for the checkpoint to be shut down. As I reported earlier this year, the checkpoints are just one of the forms of surveillance and harrassment currently employed by CBP against motorists. Whether the publication of this latest ACLU report will result in meaningful Congressional oversight action remains to be seen.