Abuses by Border Patrol agents declared “systematic”

A report (Martínez, Slack & Heyman 2013) published by the Immigration Policy Center has concluded that the mistreatment of unauthorized border crossers while in US custody is a “systematic practice.” The authors base this conclusion upon a survey of “1,110 randomly selected, recently repatriated migrants surveyed in six Mexican cities between 2009 and 2012” in which 11% of respondents asserted that they were physically abused and 23% claimed some form of verbal abuse. The report also raises questions about the US Border Patrol’s use-of-force policies and their potential role in at least 20 killings of Mexicans nationals and Mexican-Americans by US law enforcement near the border from 2010 through 2013. Six of those killed were actually standing on Mexican soil.

Common forms of physical abuse reportedly received by the respondents include: pushing, pulling, punching, kicking, placement in painful “stress” positions and handcuffing in a painful manner, (Ibid, 4). The study also notes the racist nature of much of the verbal abuse, with respondents claiming to have heard statements such as “fucking wetback,” “dirty little Mexican woman, let’s see if you cross again after this!” and “Mexican pieces of shit” directed at them and other border crossers (Ibid, 6).

The findings are found to be consistent with previous studies done by academics and activist groups (Ibid, 2). A previous report from the activist and humanitarian group No More Deaths (2011) found similar rates of physical and verbal abuse. It also discovered widespread inhuman conditions of confinement, unsafe transportation processes and a lack of provision of medical treatment, potable water and sufficient food. Particularly sadistic methods of physical abuse uncovered by No More Deaths include “agents shoving people in custody into cacti,” “agents running people over with vehicles or horses” and “forcing people to remove shoes and walk in the desert” (Ibid, 25).

In an investigative report for the Washington Monthly (Frey 2013), the phenomenon of Border Patrol agents firing live ammunition onto Mexican soil and killing Mexican citizens is examined in great detail. It is noted that the US often diplomatically condemns other governments for using live ammunition against rock-throwers and unarmed crowds. This makes the Border Patrol’s utilization of lethal force against “threatening” targets on the sovereign territory even more perplexing.The Border Patrol refuses to disclose data on the use of firearms by their agents and any type of internal disciplinary actions taken. Additionally, Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher explicitly asserted that his agency would not revisit its use-of-force policies and adopt non-lethal weapons, such as bean bag guns and pepper launchers, against rock-throwers. As he put it in an interview with the Associated Press, “just to say that you shouldn’t shoot at rock-throwers or vehicles for us, in our environment, was very problematic and could potentially put Border Patrol agents in danger” (Martínez, Slack & Heyman 2013, 2).


Martínez, Daniel E., Jeremy Slack, and Josiah Heyman. 2013. Bordering on Criminal: The Routine Abuse of Migrants in the Removal System – Part I: Migrant Mistreatment While in U.S. Custody. Washington, DC: Immigration Policy Center, December. http://goo.gl/NiM189.

No More Deaths. 2011. A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody. Tucson, AZ. http://goo.gl/K1BCFw.

Frey, John Carlos. 2013. “Over the line: Why are U.S. Border Patrol agents shooting into Mexico and killing innocent civilians?” Washington Monthly, May/June. http://goo.gl/T5PCWx.


2 thoughts on “Abuses by Border Patrol agents declared “systematic”

  1. Hi Andrew- just wanted to let you know that the link you’ve provided for the Frey/WM report opens up a print dialogue. Nice article- keep up the good work! Really enjoy all of CEI’s posts/twitter recs.

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