Border Crossing Complaints


UNITED STATES. – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in partnership with other organizations, has launched a campaign called Dignity Crossing. The campaign is targeted toward anyone who has been mistreated by a border agent along the southern border, specifically in California, New Mexico, and Texas.

Thousands of people cross into the US via its southern border on a daily basis and interact with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. While many cross without incident, some face mistreatment ranging from verbal to physical abuse. According to the campaign, “[w]hen citizens and non-citizens alike feel discriminated against, humiliated, treated with suspicion, or are physically and verbally abused by poorly trained and unprofessional CBP officers, their first impression is completely contrary to our values of fairness, equality and justice”.

The campaign intends to use these stories to try and reform and bring accountability to the CBP.

While the CBP has its own complaint mechanism, the agency has faced heavy criticism due to allegations of lack of accountability and transparency. According to a report by the Immigration Policy Center, out of 809 complaints of alleged abused against the Border Patrol between January 2009 and 2012, ninety-seven percent resulted in “No Action Taken” with an average decision turnaround of 122 days. What’s worse, 40% were still pending investigation after an average of nearly 400 days, with only .7% resulting in counseling, .3% in oral reprimand, and .1% in suspension. The report calls into question the effectiveness and efficiency of the CBP’s complaint system.

As a result of these allegations, Congress ordered an internal assessment of the CBP, and external reviews by the Office of Inspector General and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). These reports remained concealed and undisclosed to the public, despite numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests until the Los Angeles Times obtained a leaked copy of the PERF report and CBP’s response back in February 2014.

The PERF report included two major recommendations for the Border Patrol to prohibit agents from shooting at occupants unless they are trying to kill them, and barring agents from shooting people who throw things that can’t cause serious injury. Both recommendations were rejected by the CBP at the time.

The Dignity Crossing campaign is part of the Southern Border Communities Coalition “Revitalize not Militarize” campaign, which promotes investment in border communities to improve quality of life for the nation. The organization hosts events frequently to attract attention to issues that concern border residents.

According to the ACLU, “agents at ports of entry may question people about their citizenship and what they are bringing into the country”. While you have the right to remain silent, if you don’t answer questions to establish your citizenship, officials may deny you entry to the US or detain you for search and/or questioning.

“Agents may search any person, the inside of any vehicle, and all passenger belongings. Agents do not need a warrant, any suspicion of wrongdoing or consent to do any of these things” However, agents must conduct these searches in a safe, secure, humane, and professional manner and agents cannot use excessive force or conduct more intrusive searches such as strip searches unless they have reasonable suspicion of a crime or immigration violation.

The agency has faced heavy criticism over unwarranted violence, including over 40 border related deaths. Examples of excessive use of force and abuse without repercussion are prevalent. In Tucson, Arizona four years ago, a man crossing on his way home to the U.S. was brutally beaten into a coma by eleven Customs and Border Protection Agent at the San Luis Port of Entry. His case has not yet been resolved and no agent has been held accountable for the excessive use of force.

On May 28, 2015, the groups will also organize the “Day of Action to Stop Brutality” event in San Diego, to commemorate the fifth year anniversary of the murder of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas at the hands of the CBP. Anastasio died as the result of a heart attack, after he was tased by agents at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The family has yet to receive any sort of resolution to the case. Initially the CBP claimed that use of a baton and stun gun was necessitated due to Anastasio’s combative behavior, but a witness’s video that surfaced later called that claim into question as it depicted Anastasio offering little or no resistance.

The two organizations have an ongoing initiative called the “Border Reality Checkpoint” which aims to “raise awareness of how abuse in our nation’s expanding “border zone” threatens civil liberties and impacts the quality of life” for residents. More than fifteen million people live along the US’s southern border, and are subjected to the CBP and Border Patrol interior checkpoints or patrol routes within the 100-Mile Border Zone. Many residents mistakenly believe they have no rights when confronted with these agents. Campaign volunteers set up checkpoints and hold signs to inform the public about their rights near interior checkpoints and ports of entry, and legal observers on site document testimonies of abuse.

As a result of the group’s campaigning, the CBP has recently initiated a pilot program to equip agents with body-worn cameras.

The organizations argue that the CBP operates with a lack of accountability and oversight, and operates above the law while hurting, killing and depriving victims of basic rights. What is worse, they say this frequently occurs with no repercussions.

The Dignity Crossing campaign invites the public to contact its local organizations to report this abuse anonymously or non-anonymously. Complaints are not limited to physical abuse and use of excessive force, and may include property damage during inspection or lack of professionalism.An online submission form as well as multiple phone numbers are available to those that wish to share their story.

For more information about the campaign, visit the website.

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