Amnesty International Report
The Brutal Border Patrol
Revolutionary Worker #972, September 6, 1998
The summer of 1998 has been deadly for immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. The U.S. government's intense anti-immigrant operations in recent years have forced people to cross the border at increasingly remote and dangerous areas. And with this summer's heat wave that sent temperatures soaring into the 90s and 100s in the border regions, at least 90 immigrants have died from heat-related causes. Among the victims were seven immigrants --five men, a woman and a teenage boy--found dead on August 13 in the California desert a few miles north of the border.
As the death toll mounted, the Border Patrol--the "law enforcement branch" of the INS, or La Migra--hypocritically posed as "saviors" of immigrants. Border Patrol officials claimed that they were concerned first and foremost with the lives and safety of immigrants. News articles talked about how Border Patrol agents carried extra water as part of their "Operation Lifesaver," in case they came across immigrants who ran into trouble in the dry brush country of south Texas.
In reality, it is La Migra's own policies and actions that are forcing immigrants to take more life-threatening risks, such as walking through the desert without adequate water. And, far from being concerned with the lives and safety of the people, Border Patrol agents constantly brutalize the immigrants.
In a report released in May of this year, Amnesty International documented many cases of brutal treatment of immigrants by the Border Patrol. The report was released before this year's heat wave. But one section talks about the cruel actions of Border Patrol agents during last year's summer: "There were numerous reports during 1997 of migrants who attempted to cross from Mexico to the USA across the desert areas to the east of San Diego, being denied water when apprehended by the Border Patrol, despite being in an advanced state of dehydration and heat exhaustion in some cases. During the intense heat of the 1997 summer months, there were many reports that detainees, including women and children of all ages, were not given water until they reached the detention center. There, they sometimes had to queue at drinking fountains located next to the (often stinking) toilets. Water pressure was sometimes low, and some migrants said they could not drink the quantity of water they needed to rehydrate."
La Migra's Border Patrol agents are not "lifesavers." They are torturers and brutalizers of immigrants--whose only "crime" is fleeing from the poverty and oppression in their countries and trying to find work in the U.S.
The May 1998 Amnesty International (AI) report is titled "United States of America: Human Rights Concerns in the Border Region with Mexico." The report describes the findings of a research mission that visited the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border--from San Diego, California to Brownsville, Texas--in September 1997.
The AI report points out that "the INS has more armed federal agents with arrest power than any other federal agency in the country." As part of its war on immigrants, the U.S. government is continuing to increase the number of Border Patrol agents every year.
INS operations have made it very difficult for immigrants to cross the border at more populated areas near cities. As the AI report points out, one important effect of these operations has been "to force people to attempt their border crossings in outlying areas, across the desert, over the mountains, and through rural areas where the physical dangers are considerable. Such is their determination to cross the border that people take life-threatening risks--and many die on the journey. Between 1993 and 1996, it is estimated that at least 1,185 migrants died in the attempt to cross the border, and it is feared that the true number is far higher since many bodies are never found. Causes of death include drowning (in the Rio Grande or the many irrigation canals), traffic accidents, dehydration, heat stroke and hypothermia."
In this article, we highlight some of the documentation of Border Patrol brutality found in the AI report.
Beatings and Torture
The AI report notes that "reports of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were collected along the length of the 2,000-mile border." Often, victims of brutality are quickly deported and have no chance to tell others about what happened--or do not want to file any complaints, for fear of reprisals.
The following are a few examples of beatings and other brutality listed in the AI report:
"On 12 May 1996, Jesús Hector Gaspar Segura crossed illegally into the USA at Nido de Aguilas in East San Diego County. He was accompanied by a 23-year-old woman and a 15-year-old boy. They were apprehended by the Border Patrol when they tried to board a bus. Segura said one Border Patrol agent slapped the woman twice in the face; hit Segura with a long black baton several times in the back, punched the young boy in the stomach and slapped his face. He used foul and insulting language to them and would not allow them to see his name tag. The Border Patrol agent warned them not to say anything about being hit. They were deported back to Mexico at midnight that night." "Andrés Hurtado, aged 32 from El Salvador, described how he and others were apprehended by a Border Patrol agent at Falfurrias checkpoint, east Texas, in the early hours of 24 April 1997. Hurtado says that he was caught in the brush and thrown to the ground, and stuck by cactus spines. The agent hand-cuffed him very tightly and aggressively pulled him to his feet, then transported the group to the Border Patrol station. Hurtado says he and others were repeatedly insulted by the agent during that night in detention, with verbal abuse such as, `Get up you motherfuckers, you goddamn wetbacks, dumb asses!' (Levántense hijos de su pinche madre, pinches mojados, cabrones!) Twice, the agent reportedly entered the small holding room containing about 70 detainees and kicked people, swore at them, and pulled them up by their handcuffs, hurting their wrists. `Since we were all sleeping the kicks we received were in our feet, legs and backs. He kicked us very hard. He kicked us to make us wake up.'" "According to a sworn affidavit given by a nurse on duty in the emergency room at Douglas Hospital, Arizona, a 26-year-old Mexican woman was brought into the hospital with her little boy, aged four and her one-year-old daughter, on 5 April 1997. The woman said she had fallen into a hole while being chased by the Border Patrol. She told the nurse that she had been left in the desert by the Border Patrol, who called the Douglas fire department to transport her and her two children to the hospital.
"The Mexican woman could not walk and X-rays showed she had a broken leg requiring orthopedic attention and a cast. But before she could receive any treatment, `four men were getting ready to lift the woman off the X-ray table. They said she was being discharged.' The nurse remonstrated with them: the Mexican woman was in acute pain, her knee was grossly distended and she could not walk. However, the four men carried the woman out to a taxi; she had no splint, cast or other immobilizing device on her leg. The nurse asked the taxi driver to take the woman to the house of a friend of hers, and gave him money for the fare, but the injured woman never arrived. Instead, `the driver took her to the international line and essentially dumped her there with the two children.'
"According to the nurse's affidavit, this was not the first time she had seen the Border Patrol release injured migrants back into Mexico without medical attention; and her nursing supervisor had allegedly spoken to the Border Patrol about the practice but received the reply that the Border Patrol `can do what they want.'"
Youth on the Border
One section of the AI report deals with the Border Patrol treatment of minors. The report notes, "The phenomenon of unaccompanied children, some as young as nine or ten, making their way to the USA, is a quiet but alarming tragedy. Each year, thousands of children enter the USA on their own, illegally. They come seeking escape from abusive homes or extreme poverty; some are fleeing persecution at home; others are sent to find family members already established in the USA. The majority of unaccompanied children detained by the INS will ultimately be deported to their home countries; and little is known about what happens to them after that."
The AI states that they "received reports of a number of boys aged between 14 and 17, detained along the Texas and New Mexico border areas in the autumn of 1997, who were beaten, punched, kicked and verbally insulted." The following are two of the brutality cases involving young immigrants listed in the AI report:
"Guillermo, aged 17 from Honduras, said he was arrested by the Border Patrol north of Laredo, Texas, in November 1997. He had to hide in a haystack, and a Border Patrol agent kicked him in the stomach and told him to `Get up, son of a bitch!' (Levántate, hijo de puta!). Guillermo was unable to get up because of the pain in his stomach and the agent grabbed him and pulled him to his feet. Guillermo says he was detained at the Laredo Border Patrol station for 24 hours with nothing to eat or drink but water. He had to sleep on the floor with no blanket and was cold. He was later transferred to the INS juvenile detention facility in El Paso. He continued to suffer from stomach pains for several weeks." "Amnesty International has also received a disturbing report of two juveniles apprehended by the INS in late 1997 who said they were turned over, temporarily, to Mexican officials who interrogated and, in one case, physically ill-treated them. David, a 17-year-old from El Salvador, said he was arrested in New Mexico in September 1997. He claimed to be Mexican, but the Border Patrol agents evidently did not believe him. He says they yelled and threatened him, and one stomped on his foot. David says they then handed him over to the Mexican authorities (it is unclear whether these were police or immigration authorities), who held him for three days, allegedly without food or water, and hit him. When he admitted he was Salvadoran they returned him to the INS, who transferred him to a juvenile detention facility."
Dangers for Women
Another special focus of the AI report is the brutality against women. The AI report points out that undocumented women crossing the border "are at particular risk of being physically assaulted, raped, robbed or murdered on their journey." The INS is known to release women detainees, alone or in small groups, into Mexico at night. As the AI explains, "Towns on the Mexican side of the border are fraught with dangers for women alone at night, particularly if they do not know the area. Migrant shelters, if any, may be full or difficult to locate; buses do not run at night, and taxis are expensive; gangs roam the streets and put women at considerable risk of assault and robbery."
But women immigrants are no safer if they remain in the hands of La Migra, as the following cases cited in the AI report show:
"Two Guatemalan women filed a formal complaint against the INS alleging that they were sexually assaulted by a Border Patrol agent near El Paso, Texas, on 7 March 1996. According to their lawyer and published reports, Luz López and Norma Contreras, both aged 23, were arrested after they waded across the Rio Grande river in the Ysleta Border District, east of El Paso. The Border Patrol agent handcuffed and detained them in his vehicle.
"According to the women's complaint, he lifted up Contreras' dress, pushed her legs open, pulled aside her underwear and stuck his fingers into her vagina. The other woman, López, was told to undo the buttons on her jumpsuit and the agent put his hands inside her top and felt her breasts. The two women said they stared at each other, paralyzed by terror. `We feared the worst,' said López. `We didn't know where he was going to take us... Just the sight of him with a badge and a gun was enough to intimidate anyone.' The agent then left them in the vehicle while he went to speak to the lone driver of another Border Patrol vehicle. Both men returned and, in full view of the second agent, the arresting agent assaulted both women again. López and Contreras say they were then taken to the Border Patrol office where the same agent sexually assaulted both women a third time in a detention cell and in a bathroom. Their ordeal reportedly lasted several hours. Afterwards, the agent gave the women one dollar each and released them into the USA."
"On 23 January 1997, a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl was detained with a group of migrants by the Border Patrol near Corpus Christi, Texas, and taken to a Border Patrol station. In the early hours of the morning, on the pretext of searching her for contraband, a male Border Patrol agent allegedly took her to a separate cell and fondled her breasts under her shirt and brassiere, and put his hand down the front of her pants. Afterwards, she later told another girl in the group what had happened, and the other girl said she had been touched in the same way.
Other Sections of the People
The AI report also documents the fact that the U.S. government's militarization of the border has affected many non-immigrants. The report contains a section on the shooting of Esequiel Hernandez, a U.S. citizen, by a Marine patrol in Redford, a town on the Texas-Mexico border. On May 20, 1997, 18-year-old Esequiel took his family's goats to the river as usual after school. No one in the community knew that camouflaged Marine troops were conducting maneuvers there as part of the government's border operations. Esequiel was hit by a bullet from a M-16 fired by one of the Marines, and he bled to death. None of the Marines were charged in the shooting.
The community of Segundo Barrio in El Paso has long been a target of Border Patrol harassment. The AI report describes this as "a place where some parents, fearing an accidental deportation, do not let their children leave home in the morning without their birth certificates. Legal residents of the neighborhood have been stopped, questioned, frisked, detained, insulted and physically ill-treated by Border Patrol agents."
In 1992, staff and students at Bowie High School, which serves the Segundo Barrio community, brought a class action suit demanding a stop to the INS harassment. Cases cited in the suit included:
"A 15-year-old girl, Nieden Susie Diaz, was assaulted by a Border Patrol agent on her way home from school; the agent `for no apparent reason knocked Nieden down to the ground and kicked her about twenty times.' The agent stood on her chest with one boot and kicked her with the other, causing deep leg and chest bruises." "The school's football coach, Benjamin Murillo, was stopped and threatened by a Border Patrol agent who pointed a pistol at his head." "A partially-sighted student, David Renteria, was threatened, grabbed, shoved face-first into a fence, and roughly frisked by a Border Patrol agent who ridiculed him for attempting to exercise his right to remain silent and continue walking."
Also affected by the border militarization are Native Americans who have tribal lands spanning the U.S.-Mexico border: the Tohono O'odham, the Yaqui, the Cocopah and the Kickapoo.
AI says in its report: "The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848), which ended the war between Mexico and the United States, recognized Native American tribes' rights as sovereign nations to cross the new border without hindrance. However, human rights monitors in the Arizona region have documented instances in which Native American Indians who wish to cross the border to visit family and attend native ceremonies have been harassed and had problems complying with the documentation required by the INS... Indigenous people maintain that they do not wish to cross the border--the international border crossed them."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)