Border Patrol Abuse Cruel and Widespread

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After ten years of making a life for himself in the beach-front city of Santa Monica, California, Jorge Romero* was deported to Mexico, joining the ranks of nearly 400,000 other undocumented migrants removed from the United States this past fiscal year. Behind the record high number of deportations by the Obama Administration are stark, human stories of broken families and untold abuse suffered by those who attempt to return to their homes in the United States. Jorge, who left behind his cousin and father in Santa Monica, was one of those to brave the dangerous journey back. On the way, he was apprehended and grossly abused by the U.S. Border Patrol. This is his story, as recorded by humanitarian organization No More Deaths:

Six Border Patrol agents, including some on horses and motorcycles, surrounded his group of 10. He was thrown onto the ground face first and an agent hit him on the side with the butt of a gun while agents yelled insults. Jorge was held for three days in the Tucson processing center. When he repeatedly asked to see a doctor, he was denied. Agents threw out any food the detainees had and provided none even when it was requested; over the course of three days, they received only packets of crackers. Jorge now suffers chronic stomach pain as a result of going so long without eating. Border Patrol also took everyone’s clothes except a t-shirt and pants and then turned on the air conditioning. Jorge says his belongings, including his birth certificate and $100 U.S. currency, were confiscated and not returned.

Jorge’s experience is not unusual. In September, a shocking and well-documented report by No More Deaths revealed that such horrible abuses are, in fact, common and widespread, hardly the work of a few rogue agents. The report—titled “A Culture of Cruelty”—documents the systematic abuses perpetrated against migrants apprehended, detained, and deported by the U.S. Border Patrol. Based on interviews with close to 13,000 recently deported migrants, the report details a staggering 30,000 cases of mistreatment at the hands of Border Patrol agents over the last three years, pointing to an institutional culture of abuse within the agency.

Consistent abuses against migrants by Border Patrol agents include poor detention conditions, refusing medical attention, denying food and water, physical and psychological abuse, separation of family members, failure to return personal belongings, dangerous repatriation practices, and due process violations. These practices are not only concerning because of their clear disregard for basic human rights, but also because some are considered torture under international law.

The underlying causes of this abuse are two-fold. The short-term custody standards currently on the books are inadequate, and the standards that do exist lack the necessary oversight to ensure their implementation. To make matters worse, agents who abuse migrants enjoy near complete impunity. Of the 75 complaints filed with the civil rights division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), no justice has been achieved in a single case and the Border Patrol continues to deny any wrongdoing. Despite the obstacles, LAWG, No More Deaths, and others are working to improve custody standards and accountability within DHS, in order to improve the well-being and security of migrants along the border. All people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and migrants in U.S. Border Patrol custody are no exception.

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