Violations of Human and Civil Rights on the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1995 to 1997: A Report

By Huspek, Michael; Martinez, Roberto et al. | Social Justice, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview
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Violations of Human and Civil Rights on the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1995 to 1997: A Report


Huspek, Michael, Martinez, Roberto, Jimenez, Leticia, Social Justice


This report considers a number of complaints by persons who maintain that law enforcement officials have violated their human and civil rights. The violations include illegal search of persons and their private property, verbal, psychological, and physical abuse of persons, child abuse, deprivation of food, water, and medical attention, torture, theft, use of excessive force, assault and battery, and murder. The complaints are directed at a number of law enforcement agencies located principally in Southern California, including the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs, U.S. Port Security, the Sheriff's Departments of San Diego, Vista, San Marcos, Fallbrook, and Riverside, the San Diego Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, and the California National Guard. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), including the U.S. Border Patrol, is mentioned most frequently in the majority of complaints. The subjects responsible for voicing the complaints include 267 individuals who are highly diverse with respect to age, social class, gender, life ambition, and legal status. Many are undocumented immigrants, but many others are holders of valid border crossing cards as well as citizens and legal residents of the United States. All of the subjects share an Hispanic ethnicity.

The complaints were collected in two ways. First, during 1996, the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) charted a decline in the number of human and civil rights abuses reported on the northern side of the California/Baja California border. In the same year, an increase in the number of reports of abuse on the Mexican side of the border suggested that victims of abuse were being apprehended and deported before they could file reports with human rights workers in the United States. In December 1996, therefore, the AFSC-San Diego met with human rights representatives from Baja California to formulate a strategy for interviewing migrants immediately after they were deported to Mexico by U.S. authorities. As a result of this meeting, students from the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California conducted interviews from January to April, 1997, at the Tijuana, Tecate, and Mexicali ports of entry. The binational study documented 204 cases of abuse.

Second, staff of the AFSC-San Diego office carried out 63 interviews of victims of human and civil rights abuses for the years 1995, 1996, and 1997. During the course of these interviews, respondents were encouraged to provide detailed narratives that identified the nature of the abuses and the contexts within which they occurred. Each narrative is highly individualized, offering a uniquely human story that provides a glimpse of the queries, shouts, interrogations, and threats that were used in the course of the law's applications, as well as the felt humiliation, intimidation, frustration, fear, and other life interruptions such applications imposed upon narrators and their family or friends. The narratives also form a collection; considered in conjunction with the binational study, they validate the following statements:

1. That violations of persons and their most basic rights by law enforcement officials are a routine occurrence;

2. That there is a pattern in the delivery of wrongful law enforcement practices;

3. That an identifiable logic motivates and legitimates such delivery; and

4. That the delivery and logic of law enforcement practices together may amount to a routinized infliction of terror upon persons who are targeted by the practices or who feel themselves likely to be so targeted.

The remainder of this report further develops and provides illustrative support for the above statements. The report begins by focusing on the complaints raised by 204 persons released into Mexico after being apprehended by agents of the U.S. Border Patrol, the INS, U.S. Customs, and other law enforcement agencies. The report emphasizes the nature of the complaints and their statistical frequency, but also draws upon the additional 63 narratives to supply meaningful content to the complaints and to address the substantive practices of law enforcement at the specific points of their application.

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