BREAKING NEWS: Report Says Abuse is Part of "Institutional Culture" of U.S. Border Patrol

By Cathleen Falsani 9-21-2011

Beatings. Dehydration. Medical treatment denied. Families separated. Meager belongings and money stolen.

All of these abuses and inhumanities are part of the "institutional culture" of the U.S. Border Patrol, according to a report released today by a humanitarian organization that conducted interviews with nearly 13,000 border patrol detainees between the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2011.

The report from No More Deaths, titled "A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody," documents more than 30,000 incidents of abuse and mistreatment, as well as new information about border patrol custody standards, and recommendations to stop the abuse of migrants by U.S. agents.

Read (or download the PDF) the full "Culture of Cruelty" report by clicking this link: Culture of Cruelty Full Report (English)

"Human rights abuses of individuals in short-term U.S. Border Patrol custody are systematic and widespread," the report says. "The custody standards that do exist are inadequate and are not subject to the oversight necessary to ensure their implementation. Without drastic changes to Border Patrol custody standards and independent accountability mechanisms, the senseless abuse of immigrants along the border and in Border Patrol custody is certain to continue.

"Indifference to the persistent institutional violence of the Border Patrol reflects a lack of ethical leadership and responsibility on the part of the federal government and is indefensible in light of the United States' longstanding commitment to human rights, justice, accountability, and the rule of law. While policy reforms addressing Border Patrol custody mistreatment are needed, so too are: a rejection of failed economic and enforcement strategies that compel, then criminalize, migration; the enactment of meaningful immigration reform; and the establishment of standards of conduct and independent oversight for the Department of Homeland Security," the report says.

Among the "Culture of Cruelty" reports findings are:

  • Border Patrol agents denied food to 2,981 people and gave insufficient food to 11,384 people. Only 20 percent of people in custody for more than two days received a meal.
  • Agents denied water to 863 people and gave insufficient access to water to 1,402 additional people. Children were more likely than adults to be denied water or given insufficient water. Many of those denied water by Border Patrol were already suffering from moderate to severe dehydration at the time they were apprehended.
  • Physical abuse was reported by 10 percent of interviewees, including teens and children. The longer people were held in custody, the more likely they were to experience physical abuse.
  • Of the 433 incidents in which emergency medical treatment or medications were needed, Border Patrol provided access to care in only 59 cases -- 86 percent were deported without necessary medical treatment.
  • The most commonly reported forms of inhumane processing center conditions were overcrowding (5,763 reports), followed by unsanitary conditions (3,107), extreme cold (2,922), and extreme heat (2,349).
  • 2,926 incidents of failure to return personal belongings were recorded: 398 cases of failure to return shoes or shoelaces, 211 cases of failure to return money, 201 cases of failure to return identification, 191 cases of failure to return important documents, and 125 cases where no personal belongings were returned at all. People deported without money or key personal belongings are at heightened risk of exploitation and physical harm.
  • Border Patrol deported 869 family members separately, including 17 children and 41 teens. Family separation frequently involved "lateral repatriation," or deportation through ports of entry that are distant from the location of apprehension. It is a costly practice that increases the risk of physical harm to those who are repatriated to unfamiliar or dangerous locations.
  • 1,051 women, 190 teens, and 94 children were repatriated after dark in violation of the memorandum of understanding between the Mexican consulate and U.S. Customs and Border Protection and, in the case of children, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008.
  • Increasing reports of psychological abuse included threatening detainees with death; depriving them of sleep; keeping vehicles and cells at extremely hot or cold temperatures; playing traumatizing songs about people dying in the desert (migracorridos) loudly and continuously; and forced holding of strenuous or painful positions for no apparent reason other than to humiliate.

Sojourners issued the following statement in reaction to the "Culture of Cruelty" report's findings:

"As a Christian organization, Sojourners believe that all people, regardless of national origin, are made in the 'image of God' and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We also believe that immigrants are our neighbors and that all life is a sacred gift from God. No More Deaths' report on abuse of immigrants in short-term custody is a chilling reminder that we have a long way to go to affirm a consistent ethic of life in our nation. The overcrowding, physical and psychological abuse, exposure to unsanitary conditions, and denial of food and water to immigrants held in custody of the U.S. Border Patrol must end. As Christians, we insist that all immigrants should be treated fairly and with respect, no matter what side of the border they live on. There are no excuses for such practices to continue, and we call on the Obama Administration to seek accountability for every documented case of abuse by the Border Patrol. The United States should lead by example in all measures of human rights. These numbers offer a stark contrast between the nation we claim to be, built and made better by immigrants, and the nation we are."

"Any agent within our ranks that does not adhere to the highest standards of conduct will be identified and investigated by an outside agency to ensure impartiality. We appreciate the efforts of individuals to report concerns as soon as they arise and we will continue to cooperate fully with investigations into allegations of agent misconduct or mistreatment of individuals," Colleen Agle, a public information officer with the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, told the Sierra Vista (Ariz.) Herald/Review newspaper on Tuesday. "On a daily basis, agents make every effort to ensure that people in our custody are given ample food, water, and medical attention. Nevertheless, migrants often suffer maltreatment and abuse at the hands of profit-driven smugglers who are exploiting the desperation of those they smuggle."

Read more news coverage of the No More Deaths report HERE

To view more videos related to the "Culture of Cruelty" report click HERE

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