Longform

Cloaked Brutality: The Feds Bury Border Patrol Abuses of Immigrants, But What's Been Unearthed Reveals a Culture of Cruelty

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At the aid station, his genitals were swollen, his urine contained blood, and he struggled to walk. The Mexican Red Cross examined him, telling him he needed surgery. But medics said he must return to Cancún for the operation. Paulino had no money for a bus ticket to get home, let alone funds for medical care. He walked away and was never heard from again.

Lola told New Times that Border Patrol agents treated her and her sister like animals after they were caught jumping over the U.S.-Mexico border fence that divides San Luis, Arizona, from San Luis, Sonora.

The sisters were loaded into the perrera (dog kennel), the immigrants' nickname for Border Patrol transport trucks.

It was August, and the air inside the truck was stale and sweltering (desert temperatures can surpass 110 degrees in summer). A small window cut in the camper shell was closed.

Lola clung to her younger sister, despite the suffocating heat inside the aluminum oven, on a metal bench facing a few immigrant men. She said the agent driver slammed on the gas, sending the truck careening through the desert and tossing the captive immigrants into each other. There was nothing to hold on to.

She screamed at the agent to stop, slamming her hand repeatedly on the wall separating him from his day's catch. But she said he kept tormenting them, at times speeding in tight circles through the rough terrain.

"We're not animals!" she screamed at the agent in English, when he stopped and opened the truck's door so a fellow agent could toss in another migrant.

The agents mocked them, she related, saying they were animals that deserved such treatment.

Human rights volunteers often hear similar stories from immigrants. Some say Border Patrol agents turn on heat in the summer or air conditioning in the winter to torture immigrants packed in the back of such trucks.

No More Deaths continues to gather accounts of abuse from recently deported immigrants in Mexico, in the hope of soon releasing another report.

Just days after Anastasio Hernandez Rojas died in agents' custody, Border Patrol agents in El Paso shot and killed Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereca, a Mexican teen who was among a crowd of people throwing rocks at agents.

One agent shot the unarmed 15-year-old, who reportedly had been arrested at least four times since 2008 on suspicion of human smuggling but was never charged with a crime.

A criminal history alone is no justification for killing someone who isn't posing an immediate threat to an officer, say critics like Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels.

Law enforcement officials in Texas are reviewing the death of 18-year-old Juan Mendez, a drug smuggler shot by a Border Patrol agent in early October. After a brief struggle, the unarmed man broke free of the agent's hold, and the agent shot him twice.

As already stated, it is impossible to know exactly how many border agents abuse their power, and there has been no ruling as to whether these did.

Immigrant rights activists argue that this is the way U.S. Customs and Border Protection wants it — that the agency is bent on ensuring that as few abusive agents as possible are exposed publicly.


Tucson nurse Sarah Roberts sees living examples of mistreated and neglected migrants each time she travels to Mexico to provide basic medical care at migrant-aid stations, shelters, and the comedor in Nogales, Sonora.

Sometimes migrants need something stronger than her healing hands. During a September visit to Nogales, she sat inside a worn trailer with Juana, comforting her through the anguish of losing her mother, being separated from her children, and getting stuck in Nogales, more than 3,000 miles from her home and family in New York City.

A rough encounter with the Border Patrol when she was nabbed in the Sonoran Desert only aggravated her pain.

Juana had returned to Mexico about a month earlier because her mother was dying. She knew the risks of leaving her home, husband, and 3-year-old son behind in the States. Even her ailing mother pleaded with her not to return.

Juana had been living in New York for nearly 20 years. She needed to see her mom one last time.

Her mother died shortly after falling into a diabetic coma. After the funeral, Juana made plans to return home. She came across the border with a small group of immigrants, but they were spotted by roving Border Patrol agents.

Juana didn't run. She told New Times she hunkered down in fear when the agent pulled so close to her in his Chevy Suburban that she could feel heat radiating from the truck's tires. He jumped out, grabbed her, squeezed her arm tightly, and dragged her to his transport vehicle.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo