Independent report cites chronic inaction by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Concludes that the agency lacks accountability and transparency

A recent report by the Immigration Policy Center concludes that the CBP lacks accountability when it comes to complaints of abuse. Data acquired by the American Immigration Council through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request revealed 661 reports of abuse in 2012 and 2013, and this is assumed to be only a very small portion of the real number, since the vast majority of abuses and cases of excessive force go unreported, especially when committed against people attempting to enter the country illegally. Studies have found that one of every ten migrants say they have been abused while in U.S. custody. In 97 percent of the cases of alleged abuse — which reached a verdict — committed from 2009 to 2012 no action was taken against the officers. It took the CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) on average over four months to reach a decision, in the cases where they did. Forty percent of case were still pending at the time documents were turned over, and had been "pending investigation for over a year on average.

Graph courtesy of

The study goes so far as to call the complaint system "an ornamental component of the CBP that carries no real weight in how the agency functions"-a stark contrast to the function of most complaint systems which are implemented so that agencies may learn what systemic problems exist and implement corrective measures and policies.

Some of the cases outlined in the report document alleged abuses ranging from verbal abuse, sexual groping, kicking handcuffed detainees, killing an undocumented immigrant by smashing his head against a rock, to kicking a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry. The report also details that the number one complaint is for physical abuse, followed by excessive use of force, which make up almost 80 percent of the filed complaints. The vast majority of complaints came from the Tucson region, but San Diego ranked third on the list of reported violations. Less than one percent of complaints result in counseling, formal court, oral reprimand, written reports, or suspensions respectively.

The abuse is not limited to illegal border crossers, but impacts legal border crossers and non border crossers as well. Various news articles report that Arizona residents are sick of the daily hassle of Border Patrol checkpoints which are part of many drivers' daily commute, even though they are not crossing the border. Drivers are subjected to delays, searches, and harassment simply for driving from one part of town to another. These checkpoints are permissible because they are located within the so-called 100 mile border zone, or "Constitution Free Zone" according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which essentially includes two thirds of the U.S. population.

It is unclear whether these checkpoints actually improve national security, or if they are just another branch of an ever-expanding federal agency. Just last month, the ACLU sued the Department of Homeland Security after multiple requests for public information about these interior checkpoints were ignored.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioned its own review by an independent law enforcement research organization that was so controversial that the agency attempted to prevent it from reaching the public. Even the House and Senate were only able to receive a summary of the 21 page report. The Los Angeles Times reported on the full report's findings in February of this year and highlighted the fact that the report "criticized the Border Patrol for 'lack of diligence' in investigating U.S. agents…it was unclear whether the agency 'consistently and thoroughly reviews' use-of deadly-force incidents." The report included recommendations to not shoot at vehicles unless its occupants are trying to kill them, and barring agents from shooting people who throw things that can't cause serious physical injury. Both recommendations were rejected by the CBP.

In addition to illegal border crossers, and check point commuters, legal border crossers are subjected to unreasonable delays, harassment, and other abuse at the ports of entry. Stories abound amongst border crossers about being handcuffed, detained for long periods of time, interrogated, or mistreated without reason. It is commonly said that many people fail to file complaints or speak out about these abuses for fear of losing their border crossing privileges, or for future retribution.

The report concludes that there needs to be more effectiveness and efficiency with the handling of complaints, and a stronger incentive system for agents and officers to "obey the law, respect legal rights, and refrain from abusive conduct." The report also calls for independent reviews of the complaints from an external organization, although as mentioned above, that has been done before and did not prove to be effective either as recommendations are not heeded.

*Related article : Deaths along U.S.-Mexico border on the rise



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