A year ago this week, a young woman working with the ACLU of New Mexico arrived at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offices at the Ysleta-Zaragoza port of entry in El Paso/Ciudad Juárez. She was there to meet with a New Mexico State Police sergeant investigating her allegations of sexual assault by a Border Patrol agent that occurred while she was detained at a fixed checkpoint in New Mexico. The meeting had been arranged in advance with CBP officials at the port of entry by the NM State Police, and CBP was made aware of the nature of the meeting.
What happened next frightened the young woman so much that she dropped the investigation. This story, along with other stories of CBP abuse, will be featured tonight in a PBS special report on the program Need to Know. (Please see local listings for air times.)
This case is only one of many stories of abuse and impunity at the hands of CBP officers. The ACLU recently documented eleven cases of abuse at official ports of entry in a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The cases come from ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, and most involve U.S. citizens. The complaint calls for an investigation into the cases and increased oversight of DHS Customs and Border Protection, an agency that has swelled in size to become the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country.
Today’s PBS Need to Know documentary is the second installment in the series, “Crossing the Line,” that aired April 20 and focused on deaths and serious injuries caused by CBP officials. The April 20 segment told the story of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas, a 42-year-old father of five who, in May 2010, died after a group of CBP officers beat him and shocked him with tasers at the San Ysidro port of entry near San Diego. Live videotape of the beating shows bystanders calling on the officers to stop beating Hernandez-Rojas, hogtied and lying prostrate on the ground, as he screamed in pain and pled for his life.
Next week, on July 24-26, a delegation that includes members from ACLU-San Diego and Imperial Counties, ACLU-New Mexico and ACLU-Texas will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with White House staff members, top officials at DHS and CBP, and congressional members to demand more accountability and oversight of Border Patrol agents.
Congress should create an external, independent oversight commission with investigatory, auditing, and subpoena power to respond to complaints from whistleblowers and the general public about CBP abuses, while protecting the identity and status of complainants. The oversight commission, which should include non-governmental organizations among its members, should be required to issue public reports on its activity and have the authority to make legislative, regulatory, or policy recommendations.
The time has come to create mechanism for holding CBP accountable for document civil and human rights violations along the southern border. No matter your opinion on the issue of immigration, surely we can all agree that American law enforcement agencies should not kill, rape or torture those under their power.
Visit PBS.org for a web teaser of Crossing The Line, Part 2 on Need to Know. (Please see local listings for air times.)