July 26, 2023 717 PM
EL PASO — Last week, the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) released its annual Abuse Documentation Campaign detailing instances of alleged mistreatment at the hands of federal, state and local immigration authorities. The El Paso-based nonprofit serves as a watchdog for human rights abuses by law enforcement on the border and aims to empower border communities through connection and education.
For the first time since the program’s origins two decades ago, Presidio was included in the Abuse Documentation Campaign. Last year, new BNHR offices in Presidio and Del Rio were unveiled, expanding the program’s reach to smaller border communities downstream of El Paso.
The report breaks down 52 cases of alleged abuse reported to BNHR by the numbers, in hopes of reforming immigration policy at all levels of government. While the data is limited to cases collected by the nonprofit, the organization still believes that information is powerful. “We believe these cases reflect the systemic pattern of impunity under which law enforcement agencies interact with migrants, refugees, and border residents,” the report reads.
Alleged abuse by law enforcement is broken down into 31 categories ranging from physical abuse and deprivation of necessities in detention to constitutional rights violations.
The aim of the report is to shed light on these issues to prevent what the organization calls “death by policy.” Among the cases documented, four undocumented minors died in federal custody and one minor and three adults died while migrating. “[These cases] represent the aggravated systemic failure that disregards the rights and well-being of refugees and migrants,” the report reads.
The report includes narrative accounts of a handful of the documented cases, ranging from an anonymous account of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents breaking up a house party with excessive force to a woman who felt that she had been patted down in a “very exaggerated” way — and worried that her child had also been touched inappropriately.
One of the cases that allegedly resulted in the death of a minor in federal custody received national media attention. In May, an 8-year-old Panamanian girl died in a detention center in Harlingen, Texas, after being diagnosed with influenza. Her parents said that despite their repeated pleas for medical attention as their daughters’ situation worsened, care was never given.
The rest of the cases are kept anonymous, in an effort to protect those whose incidents are still under investigation or who may risk retaliation or deportation if identified. These cases are broken down into statistics to help illustrate trends observed by the organization. Among the 52 cases and 177 alleged abuses, nearly 80% involved federal immigration authorities.
Presidio appeared to follow that trend. In the 10 months that the local center has been open, the group has documented three cases of alleged abuse, two by agents with Customs and Border Protection, and one specifically committed by Border Patrol, an agency within CBP.
The two cases implicating customs involved verbal or psychological abuse, violation of due process and damage to property. The Border Patrol case accused the agency of use of disproportionate force, deprivation of medical attention in custody and violation of due process.
The organization hopes that these numbers will lead to a number of policy changes: independent oversight of federal immigration authorities, the opening of welcoming centers at the border and preservation of the right to seek asylum.
The report also calls for the disbanding of Operation Lone Star, a program launched by the State of Texas to provide over four billion dollars of funding to local governments along the border. “State meddling in federal immigration enforcement through Operation Lone Star has exposed border residents, migrants, and refugees to overwhelming instances of human and civil rights abuses,” the report reads.
Local CBP spokespeople said that they couldn’t comment on the anonymous instances of abuse, but that their agencies encouraged formal reporting of abuse through official channels.
El Paso Sector Spokesman Roger Maier said that the agency worked with “stakeholders and non-governmental organizations” to help prevent and document abuse. “CBP constantly works to maintain the highest level of professional standards in their interactions with all individuals encountered,” he said.
Maier said that the agency maintains an online portal in English and Spanish that can be used to report a number of potential crimes committed by both migrants and CBP employees. The portal can be found at https://help.cbp.gov/s/complaints?language=en_US.