Report paints picture of rampant human rights abuses from US border agents

A report from two human rights nonprofits claims that U.S. border patrol agents frequently treat migrants poorly and that Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the county’s largest law enforcement agency, has systemic problems.

“(CBP) has a persistent problem of human rights abuse without accountability,” reads the report compiled by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Kino Border Initiative (KBI).

“Many, if not most, CBP officers, and agents in CBP’s Border Patrol agency are professionals who seek to follow best practices. However, the frequency and severity of abuse allegations indicate that a substantial number of officers and agents don’t meet that standard.”

A WOLA database has listed more than 400 incidents of abuses against migrants encountered by CBP in the field or in custody since 2020, including physical violence, withholding of food and medicine and racial profiling.

Last month, debates flared over the use of horse patrols, after CBP concluded an investigation into a patrol that chased down migrants in the Rio Grande River last year.

The investigation found there were “multiple failures,” including training and “unprofessional and dangerous behavior” by the officers, but denied that any officer struck migrants.

One case the report focused on is that of Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez, an 8-year-old Panamanian girl who died in CBP custody in May. She was denied critical heart medication, and her death was recently classified as “preventable.”

Alvarez’s is one “of the most serious and concerning cases,” and “accountability is rare,” the report states. The report lists 13 cases where a person died due to the use of excessive force or a department failure to care for a person in custody.

The report claims that poor department policies make injuries and deaths more common, including encouraging high-speed car chases and improper use of force in crowd control situations.

Most cases of abuse go unreported, the report claims.

“Many abuses do not garner media or Congressional attention. Investigators and law enforcement never arrive at the scene, and [Department of Homeland Security] and CBP leadership likely don’t know they even occurred,” it reads.

Some of the problems are due to “opaque, bewildering, and slow-moving” reporting procedures, making it likely that cases slip through the cracks or never get reported in the first place, the report says.

“Right now, outside efforts to gain accountability for abuse must go through a convoluted system that has been cobbled together in the 20 years since the DHS’s founding,” it reads.

“Four agencies with overlapping responsibilities handle complaints and pass cases between each other. All suffer from personnel and other capacity shortfalls, and some have insufficient power to make their recommendations stick.”

A KBI study of 78 CBP complaints made from 2010-22 found that 95 percent failed to have a proper investigation. Only 1 percent resulted in disciplinary action.

Almost 20 percent of migrants who enter the U.S. suffer some form of abuse, KPI said, again acknowledging that the figure is likely an undercount.

“Most of the cases ... would have gone completely unknown without reporting from victims and those, outside of government, who accompany them. That such abuses are happening so frequently at CBP and Border Patrol indicates that DHS’s accountability system has done little to dissuade or disincentivize them,” the report says.

The Border Patrol contested the claims made in the report. A spokesperson said the agency has worked extensively in recent years to reduce incidents of abuse by improving policies and increasing transparency.

“CBP takes all allegations of misconduct seriously, investigates thoroughly, and holds employees accountable when policies are violated. We have also implemented significant reforms that make CBP more transparent and accountable to the American people,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement.

The agency has recently changed policies around high-speed chases to make them safer, deployed body cameras to officers in the field, and changed the internal investigations process, the spokesperson said.

“We recognize building and maintaining our culture of integrity is a generational commitment. We remain focused and deliberate in establishing, promoting, and enforcing our standards from recruitment to retirement through training, leadership development, and retention of those who embody the virtues and character the American people deserve in service to our nation,” they added.

The report lists more than 40 recommendations to improve the agency and stop human rights abuses at the border, including rewriting the complaint process, following through on investigations and punishing agents who commit abuse and changing agency culture to discourage abusive behavior.

“A U.S.-Mexico border that is well governed and that also treats migrants and asylum seekers humanely can go hand in hand and should not be seen as an unattainable aspiration,” the report states.

“For this to happen, U.S. government personnel who abuse human rights or violate professional standards, must be held to account within a reasonable amount of time and victims must receive justice.” 

Republicans in Congress have floated attempting to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who oversees the border patrol, due to what they view as inaction on the southern border.

According to department statistics released in July, the number of border crossings has gone down in recent months.

Updated on Aug. 3 at 2:29 p.m.

Chip Roy trolls GOP colleague over Senate pages confrontation

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) had a friendly ribbing for Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) on Friday, sharing photos of the Capitol Rotunda ceiling after Van Orden yelled at Senate pages who were resting on the rotunda floor Wednesday night.

“TGIF after a rough week, Senate Pages? I got a great photo, how about you?” Roy said on X, formerly Twitter.

Van Orden found a group of Senate pages — 16- and 17-year-olds who run messages and mail for the Senate — on the floor of the Capitol Rotunda. Pages generally rest in the rotunda when the Senate works late — as it did Wednesday night on National Defense Authorization Act Amendments.

When he saw the scene, he let loose on the teenagers, reportedly calling them "jackasses" and "little s----."

“Wake the f‑‑‑ up you little s‑‑‑‑. … What the f‑‑‑ are you all doing? Get the f‑‑‑ out of here. You are defiling the space you [pieces of s‑‑‑],” Van Orden said, according to the account provided by a page.

Van Orden later said he would not apologize, and that the teens were disrespecting the Capitol and its history by lying on the floor.

The incident has brought Van Orden under fire from his Senate colleagues, who defended the pages. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) addressed the incident on the Senate floor Thursday.

“I was shocked when I heard about it, and I am further shocked at his refusal to apologize to these young people,” he said.

“I can’t speak for the House of Representatives, but I do not think that one member’s disrespect is shared by this body, by [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)] and myself.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Friday that he would talk to Van Orden about the incident.

GOP rep: McCarthy impeachment talk a ‘shiny object’ to distract from spending

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) criticized House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) recent comments on impeaching President Biden, saying the remarks were a political move meant to distract from budget negotiations.

“What he’s doing is saying there’s a shiny object over there and we’re going to focus on that, we just need to get all these things done so we can focus on the shiny object,” Buck, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said in a CNN interview Wednesday.

McCarthy said this week that House investigations into potential misconduct by Biden have “risen to the level of impeachment inquiry,” echoing calls from conservative wings of the House GOP. 

Buck said he supported investigation into Biden, but said any talk of impeachment right now distracts from the appropriations process and sends the wrong message.

“This is impeachment theater,” Buck said. “I don’t think it’s responsible for us to talk about impeachment. When you start raising the ‘I word,’ it starts sending a message to the public, and it sets expectations.”

McCarthy is under pressure from within his own party on spending limits, as the Freedom Caucus pushes him to go back on a deal he made with President Biden earlier this year which raised the debt ceiling. That deal promised to cap discretionary spending over the next two years, but more conservative Republicans want deeper spending rollbacks.

“We right now are starting the appropriations process and there is no consensus on what the [budget] number should be. Kevin McCarthy promised when he was running for speaker one set of numbers, and then he made an agreement with President Biden for the debt ceiling increase on another set of numbers,” Buck said.

“The party itself is not in agreement, and we’re going to have some real trouble passing some appropriations bills.”

The impeachment discussions have already raised questions among Senate Republicans and have been outright dismissed by Democrats. 

Congress and the White House have until Sept. 30 to hash out a budget and avoid a government shutdown.

Crenshaw: Outcome of Titan sub would be different ‘if leadership had just acted sooner’

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) criticized the U.S. Coast Guard’s emergency operations for their attempts to save a tourist submersible bound for the wreck of the Titanic, calling efforts an “epic failure of leadership.”

Debris from OceanGate's Titan submersible was found near the region of Titanic wreckage site Thursday, bringing an end to the days-long frenzy to find the craft and its crew before oxygen reserves were expected to run out.

Crenshaw claimed the Coast Guard and Navy delayed deploying deep-sea sonar-capable crafts which could have been able to find the submarine more quickly.

“Now, it’s important to note, that if you had just deployed those assets, they would have arrived on scene by Wednesday morning at the latest,” Crenshaw said in a Fox News interview Thursday.

“They finally deploy that 6K ROV, the only thing capable of actually going to that depth and seeing what’s down there, [Thursday] morning. It deploys down there, and the wreckage was exactly where they thought it would be," he added. "So, where’s the failure here? The failure is to not put all your options on the table."

Rescue ships heard noises similar to banging coming from the ocean Wednesday, but Coast Guard officials later said they did not know if they were related to the missing submarine.

The discovered debris consisted of five parts strewn about 1,600 feet from the bow of the Titanic wreck. It included the nose cap of the submarine and parts of the pressure chamber, indicating that there was a “catastrophic event,” Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger said in a press conference Thursday. 

The location of the debris was consistent with the craft imploding while it was in the water column on the descent to the Titanic wreck, he said.

After debris was recovered, the Navy also announced that its under-sea listening posts heard what is believed to be an implosion of the craft shortly after it lost contact with the surface on Sunday. An implosion would have resulted in the instant death of the five people on board.

“It begs the question — could this have been resolved differently if leadership had just acted sooner and actually put options on the table instead of just assuming, ‘Well it doesn’t matter because they’re dead,’” Crenshaw said Thursday evening.

Mayorkas says administration to announce plans to address expected border surge

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says the Biden administration is getting ready to announce a new border security plan to handle an expected surge of migrants when pandemic-era immigration restrictions lift May 11.

“I think next week we’ll have more to say about our preparation and some of the things we are going to be doing,” Mayorkas told reporters at the Department of Homeland Security headquarters on Thursday.

President Biden has come under steady fire from Republican lawmakers over his administration’s handling of the border. This week, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) filed a vote of no confidence resolution against Mayorkas, saying his handling of the border is negligent.

“I stand at the ready to receive articles of impeachment from the House and conduct an impeachment trial in this body,” Marshall said at a Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. “But in the meantime, I think the Senate must show our colleagues in the House that we’ve had enough of the failures from the Department of Homeland Security and believe that the secretary is not fit to faithfully carry out the duties of his office.”

Illegal border crossings are expected to increase significantly starting in May once pandemic-era rules on immigration expire, most notably Title 42, which allows the U.S. to quickly turn away undocumented migrants without allowing them to seek asylum in the interest of public health.

“We’re certainly going to see numbers higher than we’re seeing today,” Border Patrol Commissioner Troy Miller said in a hearing Wednesday.

Miller cited U.N. statistics that an estimated 660,000 migrants are traveling through Mexico right now. He said the number of border crossings could nearly double to about 10,000 per day.

Mayorkas did not disclose what the new plan would be, but he said the department would prepare with additional bed space in migrant facilities.

Nearly 2 million migrants have been turned back from the border using Title 42. The Biden administration has come under fire from Democrats and activists who have said the measure does not provide border crossers with their right to seek asylum in the U.S.

The administration has attempted to overturn Title 42 in the past but ran into roadblocks in federal court and opposition from Republican lawmakers in border states. With the coronavirus pandemic officially over, the administration no longer expects any legal challenges.

Mayorkas said the department is considering a new rule to more easily deny asylum claims. Migrants who have not applied for asylum in other countries on their way to the U.S. or have crossed the border illegally would not be eligible for asylum. 

The rule is in the public comment period, and Mayorkas said Tuesday that there is not a specific date for implementation as of now.

Mayorkas was questioned by House and Senate lawmakers this week in hearings that saw him receive harsh criticism and some personal attacks.

Much of the criticism was focused on reports that a significant number of child migrants were placed with sponsors who forced them to work, sometimes through the night, at dangerous factories.

Immigration is expected to be a major issue in the 2024 election; Biden is expected to announce his reelection campaign in the coming days.