Adam Isacson

Defense, security, borders, migration, and human rights in Latin America and the United States. May not reflect my employer’s consensus view.

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Organizational Culture

There’s Empathy at Border Patrol, but it Depends on “What Agent You Get”

For a few months now, but especially in the past few weeks, large numbers of migrants have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. A Border Patrol agent told the Los Angeles Times that about 90 percent of them are turning themselves in to ask for asylum.

It’s a humanitarian crisis, with hundreds forced to wait in the desert for long periods for overwhelmed Border Patrol agents to come and process them. Some of the crisis is self-inflicted, since there is only one port of entry in all of Arizona that allows asylum seekers to make “CBP One” appointments (Nogales), and it only takes 100 appointments per day, out of a border-wide 1,450. The scarcity of appointments pushes people into the desert.

Humanitarian volunteers from Arizona organizations like Tucson Samaritans and Humane Borders have been on scene providing food, water, and other help. These groups’ past relationships with the U.S. Border Patrol have been rocky. Some have denounced Border Patrol interference with humanitarian supplies, while agents have suspected volunteers of harboring migrants or incentivizing illegal crossings. During the Trump administration, agents twice raided a camp run by another group, No More Deaths.

But the crisis has brought a new level of cooperation, or at least friendliness, between Border Patrol and humanitarian groups. Emily Bregel of the Arizona Daily Star has commented on this side of Border Patrol a few times in her recent reporting from rural Arizona.

From December 6:

Aid workers and the Border Patrol have historically had a tense relationship, Abbott [Humane Borders volunteer Dan Abbott] said. But the recent surge has brought out some camaraderie between the two groups, who share the same goal, he said.

“For years, Border Patrol and aid organizations have been kind of on opposite sides,” he said. “What’s happening now is that, we’re both invested in keeping people alive.”

Relations have almost become amicable, he said.

“We’re not buddies, but we’re not getting in each others’ way,” he said. “Our basic understanding of immigration is different from theirs, but so be it. We can still work together and care for people in the meantime.”

From December 2:

Kocourek [Gail Kocourek of Salvavision and Tucson Samaritans] said agents seem to increasingly tolerate, and even welcome, aid workers’ presence and their reports of migrants with medical needs…

As he passed, one agent advised the Samaritans that 25 migrants were still left behind, at a nearby spot along the border wall.

…multiple Border Patrol trucks came roaring down the road, headed back to retrieve the waiting asylum seekers who would at least have shelter for the night.

An agent leaned out the window and grinned as the Samaritans waved happily, calling, “Thank you!”

From November 27:

Kocourek said she and other aid workers sat with the families near the wall until the Border Patrol picked them up. The agents were kind, she said.

“They had empathy. They understood these people were caught in the crossfire,” she said. “Most are in Tucson now. At least they’re alive and we’re helping them as much as we can.”

My WOLA colleagues Stephanie Brewer and Ana Lucía Verduzco were just in southern Arizona and published a brief memo today about what they saw. They heard similar news about positive interactions with Border Patrol agents, though with a key caveat.

Local aid groups alert Border Patrol to remote locations where asylum seekers are waiting. “Border Patrol is leaning on us,” a volunteer told us. But how quickly or humanely Border Patrol responds to migrants in distress or waiting asylum seekers often depends on “what agent you get”.

They say that individual agents continue to vary widely. Some are empathetic and helpful. Others are disdainful and indifferent to suffering. Who you get, it seems, depends on the shift.

It would be important to have a better idea of whether Border Patrol today offers any incentives for the empathetic, helpful agents. Are they more likely to get bonuses and promotions? Or does the Tucson Sector tend to reward “Old Patrol” types who treat even protection-seeking families as likely criminals?

UN Report Reveals the United States to be Just Another Country with Endemic Human Rights Problems

I read a lot of UN and other independent reports about the human rights situation in Latin American countries. It’s always interesting, though, to read UN reports about the human rights situation here in the United States.

On September 26, the UN Human Rights Council published the report of a group of experts who visited several U.S. cities in April and May 2023. (Among them was Juan Méndez, who is very well known to Latin America specialists for many past roles, including former president of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and former director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.)

The experts’ report is direct and hard-hitting. Though the United States prides itself as a bastion of liberty and democracy, much of the UN experts’ language could just as easily apply to a Latin American nation for which I’ve advocated limits on U.S. security assistance.

The report is available here as a PDF, and at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights website as a Word (.doc) file. Here are some highlights. Passages that I found especially jaw-dropping are emphasized with highlighting.

On law enforcement agencies’ use of force policies, or remarkable lack thereof:

During the visit, the Mechanism was informed that not all States in the US have regulations on the use of force and that there is no full nationwide regulation on the topic, with only a Supreme Court doctrine and Fourth Amendment rights applicable. The Mechanism is concerned that existing local and national standards on the use of force by law enforcement officials, including the Supreme Court rulings and the Department of Justice’s updated policy, do not meet international standards.

The Mechanism is profoundly concerned that this current regulatory situation is conducive to the early and unjustified use of force, including lethal force, by law enforcement. The Mechanism has received evidence suggesting that numerous law enforcement practices do not prioritize de-escalation and other less harmful methods of control of the situation, contrary to the principles of strict necessity and precaution of international use of force standards.

On lethal use of force:

The Mechanism is alarmed by the figures and circumstances in which people are killed by police in the United States. Every year, more than 1,000 individuals are reportedly killed by law enforcement throughout the country. Available data shows that Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, and reports suggest that 33% of all persons killed between 2015 and the first half of 2023 were running or driving away or otherwise trying to flee from law enforcement.

The Mechanism was concerned by reports suggesting that in 2022, the US had the higher number of police killings in a decade, with more than 1,200 people killed by law enforcement. Among these, 281 were Black people. The Mechanism is troubled by the fact that 59% (685) of all killings by police in 2022 were related to traffic stops, mental health crisis, or people not alleged to be threatening anyone with a gun.

On racial profiling:

According to a Department of Justice special report , Black persons were three times more likely to experience the threat of force or use of nonfatal force; three times more likely to be shouted at by police; and 11 times more likely to experience police misconduct (slur, bias or sexual misconduct), during their most recent police contact in 2020, than white persons.

In this sense, the Mechanism rejects the “bad apple” theory, suggesting that racial discrimination in policing is the result of isolated actions of a small number of rogue police officers. There is strong evidence that the abusive behaviour of some individual police officers is part of a broader and menacing pattern, connected into larger social, historical, cultural and structural contexts, within which policing is undertaken. Law enforcement officers in the United States share and reproduce values, attitudes and stereotypes of US society and institutions.

On disproportionate incarceration of Black people:

Black people are the most incarcerated and most criminally supervised persons in the United States. In 2021, 1,704,000 Black persons were under criminal administration: 591,000 incarcerated (391,000 in prison and 221,000 in a local jail) and 1,136,000 under probation (864,000) or parole (280,000). An estimated 1 in 19 (rate of 5,350 per 100,000) Black adult was under correctional supervision, compared to 1 in 62 (rate of 1,620 per 100,000) white adult.

…The Mechanism is deeply concerned by these numbers. These significantly disproportionate rates between Black and white persons are staggering.

On long-term incarceration of children:

[T]he Mechanism was shocked by information stating that at least 32,359 individuals are currently incarcerated in the US for offenses they committed when they were children, and that 80% of those are non-white and 58% are Black. 6,301 (19.47%) of these children were sentenced to life term and 3,162 are serving de facto life sentences (sentence over 39 years ).

On the population held in pre-trial detention:

About 451,400 people are detained pretrial on any given day in the United States. In 2002, 29% of people in jails were held pretrial; by 2023, that number increased to 71%. During the visit to the Los Angeles County Jails and the Cook County Jail, the Mechanism was shocked by allegations of inmates being held in pre-trial detention for long periods (i.e. more than 10 years) and for periods longer than the eligible sentence of the offence they may have committed, if convicted.

On the use of forced, unpaid, or poorly paid prison labor, permitted by the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, especially for Black inmates:

The Mechanism is astonished by evidence stating that this access to free or almost free Black work force, through free or poorly paid prison forced labour, exists to this day in the United States, constituting a contemporary form of slavery. Further, it received information stating that workers in prison are assigned hazardous work in unsafe conditions without the training or protective gear needed, and, if they refused to work, even for a medical condition or disability, they are punished accordingly.

The delegation received shocking information over “plantation-style” prisons in Southern States, in which contemporary forms of slavery are reported. Commonly known as “Angola”, the Louisiana State Penitentiary occupies an 18,000-acre former slave plantation, larger than the island of Manhattan. The plantation prison soil worked by incarcerated labour today is the same soil worked by slaves before the civil war. “Angola” currently houses nearly 5000 adult men, the majority of them Black men, forced to labour in the fields (even picking cotton) under the watch of white “freemen” on horseback, in conditions very similar to those of 150 years ago.

On the drug war, racism, and militarization of policing:

[I]n the US Black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, albeit comparable usage rates. But in some specific US states, disparities can be greater, as much as six, eight or almost 10 times more likely to be arrested.

The Mechanism joins other UN mandates stating that the ‘war on drugs’ “has been more effective as a system of racial control than as a tool to reduce drug markets. Policing interventions based on racial profiling remain widespread, whilst access to evidence-based treatment and harm reduction for people of African descent remains critically low.”

The Mechanism received information on the inseparable links between the federal drug policy, the federal programs funding and transferring military equipment to law enforcement agencies, and police killings of inhabitants in the US. Black people are more impacted by the use of this kind of equipment and tactics deployed in drug related raids, despite the fact that people of all races use and sell drugs at similar rates. Normalization of military equipment in law enforcement agencies can enable and encourage a type policing that prioritize use of force, including excessive use of force.

On abuse of Black migrants:

During the visit, the Mechanism received several detailed accounts of anti-Black and racially based arbitrary detention and ill-treatment against migrants and asylum seekers of African Descent, including Haitians, by US immigration authorities.

According to information received, Haitian migratory-detained persons were denied access to sufficient food, health care, interpreters, information and legal counsel; after which they were returned to Haiti by plane restrained in handcuffs and shackles causing severe additional psychological suffering due to the association of this practice not only to criminality, but to slavery.

On crowd control and the response to 2020 anti-racism protests:

[T]he Mechanism received accounts on the authorities’ response to anti-racism protests in 2020, that led to thousands of arbitrary arrests and hundreds of people injured, mostly by the misuse or excessive use of less lethal weapons against protestors, such as batons, chemical irritants and kinetic impact weapons (for example rubber bullets). For example, 115 people were shot in the head and neck with kinetic impact projectiles by police between May 26 and July 27, 2020.

Information received make clear that in the 2020 anti-racism protests law enforcement confronted peaceful manifestations with riot gear as a first level response, rather than only in response to specific incidents of violence. Evidence suggests that law enforcement use a variety of unjustified levels of force, including less lethal weapons, against large peaceful demonstrations and against journalists, legal observers and paramedical teams, in violation of human rights standards.

…The Mechanism is particularly concerned over reports that the 2020 anti-racism protests were followed by widespread legislative measures and initiatives in some states, which would unduly restrict the right to peaceful assembly.

On lack of accountability for abuse:

Only 1.9% of all killings by police in the past decade (2013-2022) resulted in police officers being charged with a crime. In 2022, available data indicates the proportion was only in 1% of the cases.

Border Patrol is Once Again Keeping Asylum Seekers Outdoors, Between the Border Wall Layers, South of San Diego

From the Tijuana daily El Imparcial.

Border Patrol is once again keeping hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants outdoors, without even bathroom facilities, for one to two days between the double layers of the border wall between San Diego and Tijuana.

The last time we saw this practice, in May, it generated an outcry, including a letter from Democratic members of Congress and a complaint filed by the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

Now it’s happening again. From California Public Radio:

The camp is in San Ysidro, between the primary and secondary border walls. Migrants there sleep outside with little protection from the elements. There are no bathrooms, leaving men, women and children to relieve themselves in nearby bushes.

…Customs and Border Patrol personnel give the migrants water bottles, cheese and crackers. Everything else comes from volunteers in San Diego and Tijuana, according to several migrants interviewed by KPBS.

Volunteers provided fruits, blankets, medicine, diapers, menstrual pads and generators to charge people’s phones.

…Migrants interviewed in the camp Tuesday told KPBS that they were not free to leave the camp whenever they wished. All of them had wristbands given to them by CBP personnel. Many of the people in the camp want to pursue asylum claims in the United States.

Volunteers told California Public Radio that the migrants are spending between 24 and 36 hours in the camp before agents pick them up for processing. In the meantime, they must relieve themselves in bushes between the fence lines.

Border Patrol claims that they are facing capacity challenges. These challenges are certain to increase as numbers of migrants, many of them asylum seekers, have been growing since July and may continue to grow into the fall. If that happens, and if Border Patrol is allowed to keep using the space between the walls as an open-air pen, then the wait times will get longer.

Many of the asylum seekers have given up on waiting for the “CBP One” smartphone app to cough up an appointment. Enrique Lucero, the director of Tijuana’s municipal migrant affairs office, told the local El Imparcial “there are between 5,500 and 6,000 migrants in city government-recognized shelters, who are waiting to obtain a CBP One appointment to begin their asylum process in a way that is safe and ordered by the United States.”

At the San Ysidro port of entry, CBP is taking 385 CBP One appointments per day—16 times smaller than the officially known portion of Tijuana’s migrant shelter population—plus maybe 10 more “walk-ups,” according to an August 31 report from the University of Texas’s Strauss Center.

Pattern of “impunity” increases migrants’ risk of abuse by U.S. agents, report says

Emily Bregel published a terrific story at the Arizona Daily Star about our August 2 report, with the Kino Border Initiative, about abuse and accountability at Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol.

Bregel got comment about our findings from CBP, former CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus, and the offices of Rep. Raúl Grijalva and Sen. Mark Kelly, among others.

And she had a great conversation with my co-author on the report, Zoe Martens of the Kino Border Initiative:

At Kino, Martens offered to help the man file a complaint about the violation of his right to request asylum. She explained he likely wouldn’t get justice in his case, but that documenting it could help improve the system for others. The man quickly agreed, saying, “Don’t worry — we’re used to lack of justice in our own country,” Martens recalled.

The comment stuck with her.

“These are our U.S. accountability systems. I think we’d assume they are more effective than in places where we know impunity is widespread,” as in Mexico, she said. “We must, and we can, do better.”

Highly recommended.

At the Border Chronicle – Impunity in the Borderlands: A Conversation with WOLA’s Adam Isacson

A real honor to be invited to do a Q&A with one of my top can’t-miss-an-article websites about what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Border Chronicle, and its co-founder Todd Miller, author of some essential books about border security and human rights.

We talk in depth about WOLA’s recent report, with the Kino Border Initiative, on CBP and Border Patrol abuse and accountability at the U.S.-Mexico border. Why we did the report, what it found, what we recommend, and what happens next. Read it at the Border Chronicle.

It’s not the agents, it’s the circumstances

Some people who don’t read our new report about CBP/Border Patrol human rights violations might view it as an attack on U.S. agents as people.

Wrong. The problem is the circumstances in which agents work, and the incentives that come with them. That’s where we have a lot of work to do.

New report: “Abuses at the U.S.- Mexico Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights”

I’m pleased and relieved to publish a report that I’ve been working on for months with colleagues at the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales. It’s a good one. It’s long—but that’s because we’ve packed it with vivid examples and a ton of policy recommendations.

My work in the past few years has documented a ton of human rights violations carried out by U.S. federal border law enforcement agencies. It’s a problem. But I’m reluctant to blame most Border Patrol agents and CBP officers themselves. They work in an environment in which complaints and allegations of bad behavior usually go nowhere. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) accountability system is so dysfunctional that there’s little probability of consequences for human rights abuse.

Today’s report, “Abuses at the U.S.- Mexico Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights,” documents the extent of the problem, explains how DHS’s accountability system is supposed to work, explains why and when it usually fails, and then offers more than 40 recommendations.

Please give it a look. The whole 20,000-word beast is out in web and PDF formats, plus briefer, heavily abridged versions as PDFs in English and Spanish.

Here’s the executive summary, from the report’s main page:

A U.S.-Mexico border that is well governed and that also treats migrants and asylum seekers humanely can go hand in hand and should not be seen as an unattainable aspiration. For this to happen, U.S. government personnel who abuse human rights or violate professional standards, must be held to account within a reasonable amount of time and victims must receive justice.

Right now, at the U.S.-Mexico border, this rarely happens.

  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the federal government’s largest civilian law enforcement agency, has a persistent problem of human rights abuse without accountability. Many, if not most, CBP officers, and agents in CBP’s Border Patrol agency are professionals who seek to follow best practices. However, the frequency and severity of abuse allegations indicate that a substantial number of officers and agents don’t meet that standard. Further, the record suggests that existing investigations are flawed and incomplete, while disciplinary procedures are not credible enough to change their behavior.
  • This report gives numerous examples of alleged abuse, as well as insubordinate or politicized behavior since 2020. Some of the cases are severe, involving misuse of force or even loss of life. Many other examples of cruelty and victimization take place on a daily basis, such as  unprovoked violence during arrests, abusive language, denial of food or medical attention, family separations, non-return of documents and valuables, dangerous deportations, racial profiling, and falsifying migration paperwork. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) keeps a regularly updated database documenting these abuses.
  • The investigations of many of these allegations would not take place without the work of outside actors like human rights defenders, journalists, whistleblowers and the victims themselves. Investigations can begin in two ways. Some—often, the most serious cases—start at U.S. government investigators’ own initiative, especially if the site of the abuse is a crime scene. Many others require outside actors to take the first step. Without their initiative, most such cases would never be investigated at all—and, as this report shows, many still don’t get investigated.
  • For a victim or advocate seeking to make a complaint and achieve redress, the accountability process is bewildering, opaque, and slow-moving. Right now, outside efforts to gain accountability for abuse must go through a convoluted system that has been cobbled together in the 20 years since the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) founding. Four agencies with overlapping responsibilities handle complaints and pass cases between each other. All suffer from personnel and other capacity shortfalls, and some have insufficient power to make their recommendations stick.
  • There are several frequent “failure points” where cases commonly lead nowhere, ” leaving victims without justice and harming the credibility of the DHS accountability process. In its accompaniment of migrant victims who come from CBP custody to its shelter in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) often sees complaints go nowhere. Cases get entered into a database without further action. They get closed because of ongoing litigation, even about general topics, or because “policy was not violated.” Cases get forwarded to other agencies, then nothing happens. Sometimes, there is no response at all. This report’s second section documents painful examples of abuses suffered and what this inability to get past “failure points” looks like, including to victims—some of whom are deported without ever speaking to an investigator.
  • The status quo is unsustainable. Strengthening accountability will require action from many quarters. The way ahead involves improving the complaints process, investigations, discipline, congressional oversight, and cultural change. WOLA and KBI researchers drew on our experience, on many conversations with advocates and officials, and on extensive reading of existing literature to pull together more than 40 recommendations. Among them:
    • The complaints process: it is urgent to improve personnel capacity to reduce caseloads, to ease intakes, to offer real-time feedback to complainants about the status of their cases, to inform about resulting recommendations, and to explain why investigations were terminated.
    • Investigations: it is crucial to relieve complainants of the burden of knowing which of four agencies to complain to, to stop the DHS Inspector General (OIG) from freezing investigations by holding on to cases without acting, to improve agencies’ ability to handle complaints with multiple allegations, to build up staffing, to deploy and use more body-worn cameras, to ensure that victims are interviewed, and to make top-level management changes at the OIG.
    • Discipline: it is vital to strengthen CBP’s use of force standard to “necessary and proportionate,” to make it more difficult to overrule investigators’ disciplinary recommendations in human rights cases, to get officials in the chain of command out of discipline decisions, and to empower the National Use of Force Review Board to issue quicker, tougher decisions.
    • Congressional oversight: legislators and their staff need to carry out more hearings, issue more written inquiries, and add more reporting requirements about accountability, while passing legislation to clarify oversight agencies’ jurisdictions and increase their funding.
    • Cultural change: key steps include getting the Border Patrol Union out of human rights and other misconduct cases involving members of the public, taking stronger measures on sexual harassment and bolstering the recruitment of women, protecting whistleblowers, closing the current loophole allowing racial profiling, and taking Border Patrol agents out of asylum processing.

This agenda of recommended reforms is ambitious, and many sectors have roles to play: DHS officials, legislators, NGOs, journalists, philanthropists, and—first and foremost—agents and officers themselves. But as the many examples of injustice documented here make clear, there is no choice: this is a matter of democratic rule of law, both at the border and beyond it.

This report was made possible, and tremendously improved, by editing, design, research, communications, and content contributions from Kathy Gille, Joanna Williams, Ana Lucía Verduzco, Zaida Márquez, Sergio Ortiz Borbolla, Milli Legrain, and Felipe Puerta Cuartas. We could not do this work without the generosity of our supporters; please become one of them.

Event and Report Launch Wednesday… been working on this one for a while

Next Wednesday, WOLA is publishing a report that I’ve been working on for months, with colleagues at the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales.

It’s an in-depth look at

  • CBP’s and Border Patrol’s serious, pervasive human rights problem
  • Why DHS’s accountability efforts constantly fail
  • What we can do about it

Our launch webinar is at 2PM Eastern next Wednesday, August 2.

There’s a lot of ground to cover! Join us if you can – here’s the RSVP link.

Here’s the text of the event announcement from WOLA’s website.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Kino Border Initiative (KBI) cordially invite you to the following webinar:

Abuses at the U.S.- Mexican Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights

A U.S.-Mexico border that is well governed can go hand in hand with a border where migrants and asylum seekers receive humane treatment. For this to happen, U.S. government personnel who abuse human rights or violate professional standards must be held to account and victims must receive justice.

Right now, at the U.S.-Mexico border, this rarely happens. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the federal government’s largest civilian law enforcement agency, has a persistent problem of human rights abuse without accountability. 

Many, if not most, CBP officers, and agents in CBP’s Border Patrol agency, are professionals who seek to follow best practices. However, the frequency and severity of abuse allegations suggests that agents who do, have little reason to be concerned about consequences from an accountability system that yields few results.

Join us to discuss the launch of our new report, Abuses at the U.S.-Mexican Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights. While documenting the problem at the border and showing “failure points” to accountability, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) offer more than 40 recommendations for more effective complaints, investigations, discipline, oversight, and cultural change. 

The report is a product of years of work documenting human rights violations committed by U.S. federal law enforcement forces at the U.S.-Mexico border. WOLA, based in Washington D.C, maintains a database of over 400 cases—many of them severe—compiled since 2020. KBI has documented thousands of cases of abuse narrated by migrants who have sheltered at its facilities in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. KBI has generated hundreds of formal complaints since 2015 in an effort to improve accountability. 

Of complaints since 2020, 95 percent resulted in no accountability outcome at all. Changing an abusive culture, and increasing the probability of accountability, can take many years and will face political headwinds. But as the many, often shocking, abuses documented by both organizations make strikingly clear, there is no other choice: this is a matter of democratic rule of law, both at the border and beyond it. The United States must bring its border law enforcement agencies’ day-to-day behavior back into alignment with its professed values, especially at a time of historic migration.

With:

Adam Isacson

  • Director for Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA

Zoe Martens

  • Advocacy Coordinator, Kino Border Initiative, KBI

Joanna Williams

  • Executive Director, Kino Border Initiative, KBI

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

14:00 – 15:00 ET / 11:00 – 12:00 MST

Register to join the webinar here.

At MSNBC: Texas’ plan to make crossing the Rio Grande more dangerous is inhumane

A big thank-you to the great (and fast-moving) editors at msnbc.com for inviting me to write about the recent allegations of harm inflicted on asylum-seeking migrants by Texas state police at the border.

In this opinion piece, I contend that cruelty has long been a part of efforts, at all levels of government, to deter people from migrating. The incidents in Eagle Pass are egregious, and we owe a debt to the whistleblower who revealed them. But they’re nothing new.

Read it here.

“When we think about dealing with Border Patrol, it’s also psychological, mental trauma of living in a militarized community”

It’s a reminder of what’s possible, and the danger that anyone can be in, you know, whether they live on the border or not. If there’s Border Patrol around and there’s an incident, and you’re murdered or killed, there’s no oversight. There’s no accountability process.

And I think that’s, you know, an interesting tactic. Because when things happen like this, it’s like, well, where does it go? You know, people make reports. But as far as pressing charges, as far as someone who’s on it, you know, to make sure that there’s some type of justice, it really comes down to community members and the families. And that’s been the experience that we’ve seen throughout the years.

Amy Juan, a leader of the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, interviewed at the Border Chronicle podcast. In a May 18 incident that remains to be clarified, Border Patrol agents killed a 58-year-old O’odham man, Raymond Mattia, shooting him multiple times in the front yard of his house.

Juan added thoughts about how alone O’odham communities near the U.S.-Mexico border are, living alongside a Border Patrol presence that is very hard to hold accountable, and may even be engaging in corruption—an issue that Mr. Mattia, the victim, may have raised.

Mr. Mattia has also been vocal, not just now, but in the past and recently, about the activity happening that he’s seen in his community, namely, involving Border Patrol. Corruption, and—you know—being involved in illegal activities there. And like I said, there’s no oversight. There’s no one there to really monitor the activity that happens there. And so from what I understand, what I’ve heard, from community members—and also reporters that have reached out to me—they say that they had been talking to Raymond about these issues for a while. And so I’m not assuming anything, I’m just I’m sharing that, you know, this is an instance, you know, where the community has been, you know, “keeping eyes.”

Border Patrol’s “Green Line” flag

Both of these photos appeared on social media yesterday. Can’t the U.S. Border Patrol just use a regular American flag at its events, instead of this “green line” flag? At least when involving children?

I understand that the design is meant to honor fallen agents. But it also portrays Border Patrol as a line of defense protecting “good” people from “others.” Who is implied to be on the other side of that line?

Several days after January 6, 2021, I wrote about why I’m uncomfortable with the pro-police “Blue Line” flag, which appeared often that day even as rioters attacked police at the Capitol.

Next Tuesday: Abuse, Accountability, and Organizational Culture at U.S. Border Law Enforcement Agencies

I don’t host events very often, and I’ve wanted to do this one for a while.

There’s a few colleagues in Washington and at the U.S.-Mexico border whose work I really admire: people who take testimonies from migrants about abuse they say they suffered at the hands of U.S. border law enforcement agencies (CBP and Border Patrol), and people who doggedly follow the DHS complaints process and otherwise seek reforms to hold abusers accountable. It’s hard work.

I’m delighted that four of these colleagues accepted my invitation to talk about their work, what they’re finding, what happens when you try to achieve justice or redress after an abuse occurs, and how to bring about institutional and cultural change.

We’ll be talking at 1:00pm Eastern next Tuesday in this virtual event. I’ll share the video on YouTube (and embedded here) afterward. Please join, and share—here’s the WOLA event announcement.

“Fearless”

When a message starts with “Women account for five percent of the United States Border Patrol Agents”…

You expect to read “but we plan to do better.” Not “rest assured they are fearless.”

I mean, General Custer was fearless, too, with similar asymmetry.

A New Resource About Border Abuse and Accountability

In our work at the U.S.-Mexico border, we regularly hear about abuses or improper law enforcement behavior by U.S. security agencies. But so often, whatever happens gets overtaken by the next events, forgotten.

I wanted to start damming up this steady, alarming stream going by us all the time. So, many months ago, I set up a new WordPress install, and my staff and I started throwing into it everything we’ve seen and heard since 2020 about abuses committed at the border.

The result is a database that we’re hosting at borderoversight.org. It has more than 220 entries so far, fully cited. We’ve captured these events and allegations, and organized them by category, place, agency, victim, and “accountability status.”

I’m not exactly “proud” of what we’ve created here. Actually, trying to read through it is a monstrous experience. There’s only so many use-of-force incidents, high-speed vehicle pursuits, spied-on U.S. citizens, Facebook slurs, non-return of belongings, dangerous deportations, and timid oversight that one can take in a single sitting. The picture is grim.

I don’t want this to be viewed, though, as an attack on the individuals who’ve chosen to build a career as a Border Patrol agent or CBP officer. I have met many agents and officers, and found nearly all to be decent and honorable people. But take CBP and Border Patrol as a whole, and something changes. Organizational cultures are powerful.

Our maintenance of borderoversight.org will be continuous: a database is never “done,” but we’ll use it to spin off a lot of other materials and carry out further work on what’s causing this problem and how to reform it.

I hope you find it useful as we work for greater accountability and cultural change at these agencies.

Here are some resources:

  • We added a page with links to reports about the border: from WOLA, from the U.S. and other governments, from non-governmental colleagues, and from the media. Organized by category. More than 270 of them so far are at borderoversight.org/reports.

And here’s a quick video explaining this work:

On NPR talking about the ICE nominee

The Biden administration has named reformist border-state sheriffs to head CBP and ICE—two agencies in serious need of reform. If confirmed, they may face real friction with management and rank-and-file. Great conversation about this today with Michel Martin on NPR’s All Things Considered.

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