Report Shows CBP Officers Rarely Punished For Abusive Actions

from the zero-accountability-in-the-Constitution-free-zones dept

Here’s how the CBP is defending our borders — even before the Trump Administration’s “surge:”

Everyone they detained was an American citizen, coming back to the US after attending a wedding of a cousin. They were treated terribly, put in a cold room with no food or drinks, and no information on what was going on. CBP demanded they hand over their electronics, and made it clear they might not get them back. The thing is, this isn’t a unique situation. As the report notes, there’s almost no oversight over CBP actions, allowing them to act with impunity. In the report, the story is told of a 4-year-old girl, an American citizen, who was detained for 14 hours, in a cold room, without being allowed to speak to her parents and given no food beyond a cookie. And then she was deported. Even though she was a US citizen. She was allowed to come back weeks later, but now has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

And that was at the Canadian border. Down south, treatment of citizens and (especially) non-citizens is even worse. The CBP has a vast amount of power but very minimal oversight. The fact that they deal with non-citizens frequently tends to result in a “They’re not Americans, so who cares?” attitude.

In 2013, the American Immigration Council studied data on complaints against the CBP. What it found was depressing, if unsurprising.

The data, which the Immigration Council acquired through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, covers 809 complaints of alleged abuse lodged against Border Patrol agents between January 2009 and January 2012. These cases run the gamut of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse. Although it is not possible to determine which cases had merit and which did not, it is astonishing that, among those cases in which a formal decision was issued, 97 percent resulted in “No Action Taken.” On average, CBP took 122 days to arrive at a decision when one was made. Moreover, among all complaints, 40 percent were still “pending investigation” when the complaint data were provided to the Immigration Council.

The most common complaint was physical abuse, occurring in nearly 40% of the studied cases with excessive force following close behind with 38% of reports. This should be expected, as the CBP is a law enforcement agency. Many US law enforcement agencies believe the most effective response to almost any situation is violence, and they deploy it frequently in various forms.

Complaints about CBP officers are notoriously difficult to substantiate. It’s not that the complainants are more unreliable than complaints against other agencies. It’s that there’s usually a language barrier to be dealt with and the odds of the complainant having been whisked into Mexican/Canadian cornfields are much higher. No other agency has the power to deport its unhappy customers.

Three years later, the Immigration Council has compiled another report [PDF] based on FOIAed documents covering complaints from 2012 to 2015]. There has been no improvement.

This data, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, includes 2,178 cases of alleged misconduct by Border Patrol agents and supervisors that were filed between January 2012 and October 2015. These cases range from instances of verbal abuse, to theft of property, to physical assault.

Even though assessing which cases did or did not merit disciplinary action was not feasible with the information CBP provided, the overall findings of this report are still remarkable. For example:

95.9 percent of the 1,255 cases in which an outcome was reported resulted in “no action” against the officer or agent accused of misconduct.

The complaints contain allegations of many forms of abuse, with “physical abuse” cited as the reason for the complaint in 59.4 percent of all cases.

“No action” was the outcome of many complaints against Border Patrol agents that alleged serious misconduct, such as running a person over with a vehicle, making physical threats, sexually assaulting a woman in a hospital, and denying medical attention to children.

A 1.1% “improvement” in sustained complaints is nothing more than expected variance. However, physical abuse appears to be on the upswing, jumping nearly 20% in the last three years. Again, the sheer amount of alleged abuse — and the allegations themselves — make for harrowing reading. Here’s a small sampling of complaints against CBP officers.

Border Patrol agent allegedly placed Taser in the mouth of a U.S. citizen, resulting in injury (Tombstone, AZ)

Border Patrol agent allegedly beat, kicked, and made a UDA [“Undocumented Alien”] (a citizen of Ecuador) eat dirt while he was apprehended (Imperial Beach, CA)

Border Patrol agent allegedly verbally abused and threatened a UAC [“Unaccompanied Alien Child”] with rape and either a weapon or [self-defense] spray (Laredo, TX)

Border Patrol agent allegedly put a gun to a UAC’s [“Unaccompanied Alien Child’s”] neck and threatened to kick and kill him (Weslaco, TX)

A UDA [“Undocumented Alien”] alleges she was raped by two male Border Patrol agents prior to her apprehension by a female Border Patrol agent (Casa Grande, AZ)

Taken altogether you have an agency that has little fear of reprisal for its actions. Bolstering this is an opaque complaint process exacerbated by language barriers. On top of it, there’s the general dehumanization of everyone the CBP interacts with, which only encourages staff to treat people like meat, rather than with any sort of restraint or dignity. Sitting all the way above it on the federal organizational chart is a president who’s decided to make anyone without US citizenship a scapegoat for overstated leaps in criminal activity. It’s only going to get worse. And considering how long the CBP has been able to escape punishment for its behavior, there’s really no reason to append “before it gets better” to the previous sentence.

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Comments on “Report Shows CBP Officers Rarely Punished For Abusive Actions”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“In the report, the story is told of a 4-year-old girl, an American citizen, who was detained for 14 hours, in a cold room, without being allowed to speak to her parents and given no food beyond a cookie. And then she was deported. Even though she was a US citizen. She was allowed to come back weeks later, but now has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Sadly, I don’t think anyone really cares about these things. We have years of records of police doing things like this without really much blow back.

The way America is about these things, unless someone goes jihad and knocks a tall structure over no one gives a shit.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, the system is obviously wrong if they can’t. Regardless of her age, a legal citizen was deported from her own country. The situation is exacerbated and becomes a very emotionally charged one due to the age of the victim, but the bottom line is that they literally could not perform the basics of their job. If there’s no recourse for that, what hope does anyone have?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

This is NOT a prosecution problem.

It is a problem of apathetic citizens. Every problem we have right now is directly traced right back to the stupid, ignorant, or apathetic masses that are not lazy enough to go and vote, but too lazy to actually research their candidates.

Platitudes still wins the vote better than producing results.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Considering that I have yet to see a video of someone insisting CBP obey the law that didn’t contain at least one federal felony punishable by ten years in prison or more, the problem absolutely IS a prosecutorial one.

The CBP is committing more crimes than the people they are trying to catch, and not one of the people in charge of watching the watchmen cares.

Daydream says:


A ski mask and a machete, perhaps.

Find out where these people live, and slash their car tires.
They can’t violate your rights if they can’t get to work, right?

(I get the feeling I’m slowly becoming radicalised by these consistent stories of road patrol and border patrol and drug patrol and whatnot abuse. Is anyone else feeling this way?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You do understand that to the average American citizen you all look insane, right? American faces real threats, and every legitimate American knows about these threats and knows that protecting against those threats is important. America is the envy of the world, everyone wants to come here either to build a life or to destroy others who are. It’s important to know the difference, who is investing and who is destroying. You appear to be destroying. You want to worry about someone sitting in a cold room when they cross the border in Canada? WTF? Literally, who cares, no one who votes or is available to a jury pool. Especially in the Great Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Come for a visit, maybe the atmosphere will realign your cerebral structures into a configuration more familiar to America and American values. There’s something magical in the soil here that makes the trees turn color every year (really, it’s true). Come take a look, maybe your mania about “slashing car tires” will pass.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You do understand that to the average non-American citizen, you look insane, right?

I have no envy of America and I have no plans to go there for any reason. I am perfectly safe and happy in my country, where I am not at risk at being shot by cops or being anally violated by border patrol. We care about all people, even if they can’t vote or serve on a jury.

But we also know you’re an outlier and the average American citizen is perfectly normal and sane and will recongnise these heinous acts as being barbaric and unnecessary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Good for you, there is nothing better than respecting and loving your own country and supporting your own beliefs, culture, history and unique expression of humanity. You respect yours and I will respect mine, that’s the basis of a great relationship with a foreigner. I doubt you know much about me or my country, you seem to be imagining a place totally unfamiliar to me or anyone or anywhere that I know. But that happens sometimes when you speak about something of which you are completely ignorant. For example, you won’t hear me spouting out about the UK. Never been there. Don’t plan to go. I’m as ignorant about the UK as you seem to be about the US.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Nope. Everything on this page thus far, except you, is spot on about the US. And I’m sorry you feel so threatened by four year old Americans because they happened to step into Canada. (But then suggest someone from a foreign nation visit your state, without any concern they might steal your precious magical leaves.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

You really want to insult the magical forests of the Great Commonwealth of Massachusetts just when they undergo their spectacular transformation into a fairy wonderland, replete with wood nymphs, leprechauns and Tajars (a cross between a Tiger and a Badger) doing death defying life leaps in the kaleidoscope of the foresting blooms? Really? What a spoil sport you are to do so. Are you even American? Son or Daughter of the Revolution? Son or Daughter of the Mayflower? Who speaks this way about the magical leaves of the Berkshire Hills in the (soon to be) fall?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

And this matters in the context of the Shiva vs. Techdirt trial, or why the judge should pay attention to your arguments of defamation and financial ruin, how exactly? You think the judge should give you preferential benefit of the doubt because you have a culture built upon fairy tales? Pull the other one, it’s got the Wendigo on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Come on, you’re a foreigner and know nothing about the US, right? You’re in the UK, right? Tell the truth now. You spell whine as whinge, only UK foreigners like you and Wendy Cockcroft do that on Techdirt. Americans spell Whine like Whine, not Whinge. You’re a foreigner, right, and your “spot on” affirmation is just a lie, right?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

“Come on, you’re a foreigner and know nothing about the US, right?”

You… do realise that people travel, don’t you? That people aren’t stuck for eternity in the country they happened to pop out in, that people can go to other places and experience them first hand? That being British doesn’t mean that I, for example, can’t have spent a year of my life in the US and see what actually happens day to day?

Actually, maybe you don’t and that’s why you’re so cartoonishly obsessed with attacking other people as foreigners. You probably have no experience outside of your own town’s borders, let alone the country.

“only UK foreigners like you and Wendy Cockcroft do that on Techdirt”

So do Australians, Kiwis and others who speak the original version of the language before one British colony arbitrarily decided their dialect was somehow the “correct” one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Wow, you went to a lot of trouble to justify fake news. A UK foreigner falsely attesting to witnesses events in the US in order to promote a false narrative. Aren’t you embarrassed? Doesn’t it take a really low moral character to defend liars and fakers in public with only the weakest of excuses (“people travel”). You show yourself to be exactly what you are – a fake defender of fake news on a fake news site. You are pathetic, over and over, again and again. Faker.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

“A UK foreigner falsely attesting to witnesses events in the US in order to promote a false narrative”

Oh you’re saying I’m lying about my actual life experiences now? Wow. I presume you have evidence of this that will be forthcoming.

Otherwise, while complaining about other people lying, you are actually admitting that you are lying yourself! How does that feel, to have to openly lie about people in order to have anything to say?

“Aren’t you embarrassed?”

One of us should be, and it won’t be the person with documented evidence of travel to the US (among 20+ other countries) at various points over the last few decades. I have my valuable, true memories of travelling across your country, you have a fantasy and an obsession with defending fiction. It’s not a pretty sight.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Arrange to go to their checkpoint in a group. Network the dash cams in all of the cars. When you see a CBP agent break the law, place them under citizen’s arrest.

Federal law specifies that persons that a state authorizes to make arrests for state offenses can also make arrests for many federal offenses. Since 49 out of the 50 states allow citizen’s arrests to be made when a citizen believes in good faith that a felony has been committed, it is completely legal to do this.

Mass protests have been tried, and people are jaded and used to them. Filming police abuses works, but it doesn’t do as much as people seem to think it will — The people who are already outraged get more outraged, the people who think police can do no wrong simply ignore the video.

But nobody has tried mass arrests yet.

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