REPORT: U.S. Officials Systemically Abused Immigrants And Took Their Possessions


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Arizona immigrant

A two-part scathing report released on Tuesday adds to the growing criticism against the U.S. Border Patrol Agency for its mistreatment of immigrants in detention centers. Between 2009 to 2012, Border Patrol agents routinely abused immigrants and took their possessions without returning those items. The authors of a joint study conducted by the Immigration Policy Center, the University of Arizona, and George Washington University, surveyed 1,110 immigrants dropped off by Border Patrol in six Mexican cities and found that immigrants were sometimes pushed or beaten, and often repatriated without their identification cards.

One of the two reports entitled “Migrant Mistreatment While in U.S. Custody” found that at least one in ten immigrants placed in deportation proceedings were physically abused, while 23 percent experienced verbal mistreatment, such as derogatory, racial remarks. In one instance, after Border Patrol agents caught a group of immigrants trying to cross the border, a man was beaten up inside the patrol unit for letting out a “scream of frustration.”

Of the 11 percent of immigrants who reported being physically abused, at least 70 percent were subjected to “non-blow forms of physical force,” including “being pushed or pulled, being dragged or lifted, … or being spat upon” and 30 percent were the targets of physical blows, including “being hit or kicked, hit with an object … hit or thrown while already constrained.” At least three percent of migrants also reported sexual abuse.

During a teleconference, Jeremy Slack — one of the authors — said that there wasn’t “a statistically significant” gender difference since “11 percent of female respondents report[ed] being abused by officials, while 10.9 of males report[ed] the same.” The authors believe that sexual abuse was under-reported among males who may be ashamed to report such crimes.

In “Possessions Taken and Not Returned,” one-third of deportees reported that their possessions had been permanently taken; at least one in four immigrants reported that authorities never returned their Mexican identification cards. Immigrants least likely to receive their personal belongings back were those who were held in detention for more than a week or those who were processed through Operation Streamline, which is a federal program that imprisons, prosecutes, and applies criminal charges to unlawful border crossers.

As lead author Daniel Martínez stated in the study, not returning identification cards to deportees is incredibly problematic, especially when they’re dropped off in border towns that are experiencing violence. Without identification, “one cannot receive a wire transfer, get a job, board an airplane, or access certain state services without official documents,” a problem that could put those immigrants’ lives at risk since “widespread extortion and harassment by Mexican officials has been linked to lack of identification.”

A growing number of studies show that the Border Patrol agency lacks oversight. The agency has vowed to change some of its guidelines for handling immigrants, but it has been painfully slow to take up such measures. In September, the agency released a statement intending to restructure its training program to ensure that “excessive force is strictly prohibited,” but the move came only after 19 immigrants died at the hands of Border Patrol agents and the ACLU filed a lawsuit. What’s more, justice for immigrants is not swift — two border agents were only sentenced last month for treating a group of border crossers cruelly five years ago.