STUDY: Border Patrol Agents Disciplined For Less Than 3 Percent Of Abuse Allegations

CREDIT: Associated Press/ Ross Franklin/

An undocumented immigrant is being processed through the Tucson Sector by a Border Patrol agent.

A minor said that he was physically forced to sign a document. A pregnant woman said that she miscarried after she was kicked by an U.S. Border Patrol agent. Another man alleged that he was stomped on his back even after he was already on the ground. In all these instances, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) internal affairs office did not take disciplinary action against the Border Patrol agents who perpetrated the abuse. According to an American Immigration Council (AIC) report published Tuesday, when CBP’s internal affairs office made a formal decision, “no action” was taken on 97 percent of complaints filed through nine southwestern sectors between the 2009 and 2012 fiscal years.

The report found that there were 809 formal complaints filed against the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, in which 324 cases, or 40 percent of complaints, were still being investigated. Of the 485 complaints in which a formal decision was made, 472 cases resulted in “No Action Taken,” while a total of 13 cases resulted in some form of disciplinary action including counseling, court proceedings against the perpetrator, oral reprimand, or a written report. Only one of those 13 cases “resulted in suspension of the perpetrator of the abuse.” The average amount of time taken to arrive at a decision was 122 days. AIC obtained its data through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation for the period between January 2009 and January 2012. The Tucson Sector, Rio Grande Valley Sector, and the San Diego Sector made up 71.4 percent of all complaints filed.

AIC researchers qualified the finding, stating, “this is not to suggest that all of these cases had merit and should have resulted in formal action being taken against particular Border Patrol agents. However, given that several other studies have found strong evidence of systemic abuse at the hands of Border Patrol agents, it is very likely that at least some of these cases did indeed have merit.”

The AIC report is just the latest study to corroborate findings that the CBP routinely lacks accountability in taking actions against agents who abuse their role. A 2013 Immigration Policy Center study found that one in ten migrants placed in deportation proceedings were physically abused.

Advocates have long maintained that the CBP agency ignores complaints to investigate its agents. An independent review of 67 shootings by Border Patrol agents found that the agency criticized recommendations to prevent agents “from shooting at vehicles unless its occupants are trying to kill them, and barring agents from shooting people who throw things that can’t cause serious physical injury.” The Arizona Republic also found that border agents who kill Mexicans are rarely disciplined.

In the AIC study, “physical abuse” made up 40 percent of all complaints, followed by “excessive use of force” in 38 percent of cases, and “unspecified abuse” made up 13 percent of cases. Other abuses like racial profiling, inadequate conditions, improper searches, inappropriate touching (like strip searches), sexual abuse and medical issues, made up about six percent of the total complaints.

Lead researcher Dr. Daniel Martinez said during a conference call after releasing the report that one individual who lodged a complaint in early January 2009 still had an unresolved case 960 days later through the end of January 2012 — the FOIA request end date. Jennifer Podkul, the Senior Program Officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission also said on the conference call that CBP was “disingenuous about how victims can make complaints” at border patrol stations. While there are posters — translated only in Arabic and English — that include a phone number for victims to lodge complaints, the number directs victims to contact Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) — an agency which dissolved in March 2003.