Activist Group Accuses Border Patrol Of Abusing Immigrants

September 22, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. -- An activist group in Southern Arizona says it has documented thousands of human rights abuses conducted against Mexican nationals by the U.S. Border Patrol. The group released its findings Wednesday, claiming abuses by the federal agency are not the result of a few bad apples but a systemic problem.

The allegations against Border Patrol agents were harsh. Members of the Tucson activist group No More Deaths said they interviewed 13,000 people as they were being deported to Mexico and they said those interviews revealed 30,000 instances of abuse.

The levels of abuse range from not giving food or water to illegal immigrants who were captured, to taking away personal belongings and refusing to give medical treatment.

Speaking at a Tucson church, Danielle Alvarado said 10 percent of those interviewed reported they’d been physically abused by Border Patrol agents. She co-wrote the report.

"That includes being pushed into cactus, being chased through the middle of the night, pregnant women being punched in the stomach while they are detained," Alvarado said.

The report’s findings quote nearly everyone by first name or not at all. Three heavily edited videos were posted to the group’s website but they only contained a few interviews, some without faces or names. One video does show a Border Patrol agent emptying water bottles left for illegal immigrants. The full report is now being sold online.

Katerina Sinclair is a member of No More Deaths. She stands by the group’s methodology in gathering the interviews.

"Putting together the information, it was month by month and we had various interviewers, almost 13,000 interviewees and I was shocked, particularly shocked," Sinclair said. "To the point where I not only went back and double checked the data, I went back and triple checked the data and then I went back and quadruple checked the data."

She said their margin of error is less than 1 percent.

“If you want to be convinced, in all honesty, all you have to do is go down to Nogales, hang out at the bus station and talk to people," Sinclair said. "Because what we are seeing is that most of the people are long-term U.S. residents, most of the people that we see down there actually speak very good English.”

The group is asking for an independent review commission to oversee Border Patrol activities and listen to complaints as they come up.

Afterwards, activists marched to the Border Patrol headquarters in Tucson to try and meet with the sector chief. Lloyd Easterling, an assistant Border Patrol chief met with them outside the gates.

“We don’t want to see people dying in the desert. We don’t want to see people who are having issues in custody," Easterling said as he took a copy of the report in hand. "We want to make sure that their rights are respected.”

The Office of Inspector General investigates civil rights abuses by federal agents. In 2009, the OIG opened 870 cases against Customs and Border Protection agents, including the Border Patrol. The year before? 585. Part of that is because the number of Border Patrol agents has grown dramatically the last several years.