Immigration

Mockery, Beatings, Medical Neglect: A New Report Details Abuse of Migrants by Border Patrol

Border Patrol arrests a migrant who had jumped over the border fence near Nogales on February 12, 2019.
Border Patrol arrests a migrant who had jumped over the border fence near Nogales on February 12, 2019. Steven Hsieh
Border Patrol agents along the Arizona-Mexico border are allegedly beating migrants, denying them proper medical care, and verbally abusing them, according to a new report.

The report was produced by Kino Border Initiative, a binational aid organization that serves migrants on the Arizona-Mexico border, and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, an advocacy group. It details allegations of abuse that were reported by 35 different migrants who tried to enter the U.S. illegally between October 2020 and July 2021. Migrants told Kino Border Initiative staff about the alleged instances of abuse during intake interviews at the organization's migrant aid center in Nogales, Sonora. The Kino Border Initiative subsequently filed complaints on behalf of the migrants with relevant federal agencies, such as the Border Patrol Office of Professional Accountability.

In one instance, a Jamaican man tried to enter the U.S. at the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales by running through lanes intended for cars on June 16, 2021. He was then "physically attacked" by two Border Patrol agents. They knocked him to the ground with a "plastic barrier" and "began beating and punching him." After the agents dragged the man across concrete into an office at the port of entry, another agent allegedly told them that what they were doing was wrong, but they "dismissed" her objection.

During another episode, a Guatemalan man was hit in the knee by an agent on November 4, 2020, as he was forced to walk back into Mexico after illegally entering the U.S. somewhere in the Tucson Sector, which stretches from the Arizona-New Mexico border to the edge of Yuma County. The agent struck the man after he asked why he was being expelled.

Border Patrol agents also allegedly intervened and prevented a detained Guatemalan woman from getting a necessary surgery. The woman had injured herself in the desert and a nurse at the Border Patrol station in Tucson told her that she "needed surgery to fix a broken bone and a torn muscle"; a subsequent X-ray showed that her tibia was shattered. A Border Patrol agent agreed to transfer her to a local hospital for surgery. But while medical staff was prepping for the operation, different Border Patrol officials removed her from the hospital and expelled her to Nogales, Sonora on April 4, 2021 — even though she could barely walk.

The report also contains allegations of hostility and verbal abuse directed at migrants. One Guatemalan woman who crossed the border with her four children and other migrants was detained by Border Patrol agents and eventually transferred to the Tucson Station. On July 5, 2021, the mother told a Border Patrol agent at the facility that her son needed medical care and provided documents proving it through a diagnosis and x-rays. The agent allegedly "took the documents and threw them in the trash." When she tried to retrieve the papers, the agent took them away and said, "They belong in the trash."

On April 2, a different Guatemalan woman entered the U.S. illegally by walking through the desert. After she fainted in the desert, she was found and detained by Border Patrol agents and eventually transferred to a facility in Tucson. There, she told Border Patrol agents that she wanted to seek asylum due to repeated threats and beatings committed by her partner in Guatemala. The agents "started yelling at her" and said that she should have gone to a port of entry. They also mocked her and jokingly threatened to call her abuser in Guatemala.

In a statement provided to Phoenix New Times by John Mennell, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol's parent agency, the agency praised its own commitment to "the professionalism and integrity of its workforce" while declining to comment on the allegations.

"CBP constantly works to ensure that all employees understand and maintain the highest level of professional standards in their interactions with stakeholders, those they apprehend in violation of the law as well as with each other, in a manner consistent with law enforcement standards of performance and conduct," the statement reads. "As the incidents have been reported to the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, we cannot comment on the allegations identified in the report."

Tracy Horan, assistant director of education and advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative, said that the allegations of abuse documented in the report represent only a sliver of the reports their organization receives regularly. In the first six months of 2021, over 800 migrants interviewed by the organization's staff claimed to have been abused by Border Patrol in some way, she said.

Horan characterized the abuse as "just unnecessary — just above and beyond torturous behavior that seems to be perpetrated because these agents know they can get away with it with no recourse."

Horan added that the severity and frequency of allegations of abuse reported by migrants have spiked since the Trump administration started turning away migrants at the southern border en masse during the COVID-19 pandemic under regulations commonly referred to as "Title 42." The Biden administration has maintained this practice.

Jenn Budd, a 50-year-old former Border Patrol agent who worked in the San Diego Sector from 1995 to 2001, told New Times that the experiences cataloged in the report weren't surprising. She said that instances of Border Patrol agents physically abusing migrants "happen all the time" and that many agents believe that asylum seekers are "liars" who are trying to "invade the country."

"It [abuse] can happen for a variety of reasons, but normally it’s people who are bothering them [the border patrol agents] or people who are saying, 'I have a right to asylum'," Budd said. "They are teaching them a lesson. That’s what they are doing."
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety