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. Insofar as the practices are revealed to be patterned, an attempt is made to describe the logic that motivates and legitimates the practices as well as their consequences.
Second, in an attempt to explain the nature of abusive law enforcement practices and the logic that drives them, the report offers an overview of the general climate of law enforcement in the southwest region of the United States. Recent developments throughout the region include a steady build-up of military and police personnel, an increased integration of military and police units, heightened deployment of surveillance technology, intensified criminalization of activities related to illegal immigration, and an inflamed rhetoric that both vilifies targeted subjects and legitimates the tactics used by law enforcement agencies against them. The report concludes with a set of recommendations as to what is needed in the way of practical, remedial policies.
I. Human and Civil Rights Abuses and Their Contents
Human and civil rights violations by law enforcement officials have long been a regular feature in the southwest region of the United States. This is especially true of the United States Border Patrol, whose agents have demonstrated a penchant for cruelty and violence toward those they have been commissioned to hunt down and apprehend. The forms of conduct range from the labeling by Border Patrol agents of the undocumented immigrants they apprehend as "tonks," in reference to the sound of a flashlight striking a human's skull, to unwarranted discharging of firearms (ILEMP, 1992). Concerning the latter, a recent study by Americas Watch (1992: 9) reports that "since 1980, Border Patrol agents have shot dozens of people along the U.S.-Mexico border, killing at least eleven and permanently disabling at least ten." The study goes on to state that further killings resulted from a joint Border Patrol-San Diego Police task force, referred to as the Border Crime Prevention Unit. From 1984 to 1989, members of the task force were involved in 26 shooting incidents in which 19 people were killed and 24 wounded.
Many complaints detailed in this report point specifically to what appears to be a continuation in recent years of violent and abusive conduct on the part of law enforcement officials. This statement finds backing in the binational study's statistical breakdown of statements by 204 persons released into Mexico after being apprehended: 43% reported witnessing excessive use of force either to themselves or to others; 12% reported instances of physical/sexual abuse; 23% reported hearing verbal abuse; 11% reported being made to hear racial insults; 46% reported denial of food or water; 14% reported denial of medical attention; 21% reported being recklessly transported; and 15% reported having been threatened.
A. In No Man's Land: Flight and Punishment; Surrender and Punishment
Reported abuses often refer to the treatment undocumented immigrants receive after being intercepted in remote areas. On the one side are enforcement agents who are assigned to hunt down and capture illegal immigrants, which may entail traversing dangerous terrain, made even more dangerous once the hunters and hunted enter into the heat of a chase. On the other side are undocumented immigrants who may have a great deal to lose upon being apprehended. In addition to financial loss (e.g., coyote fees) and possible imprisonment, there may be strong emotional factors at work. At one moment, they are concealed under cloak of darkness in the isolated wild, only to be struck by utter panic in the next upon being sighted in the search beams of a hovering helicopter or pursuing Ford Bronco. Because the undocumented immigrant may have been the victim of violence in the past, or has heard about violence being directed against others, fear may also come into play. In any event, the undocumented immigrant, having been detected, must make a rapid calculation: Do I attempt to flee, or do I submit?
Running places the targeted subject at great risk, for upon being captured one may receive physical punishment from angry law enforcement officers. So attests Francisco Valdez Lopez who, after being apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border in July 1995, had a foot placed upon his head as he was forced to the ground and handcuffed. First threatened with death by a Border Patrol agent, he was then beaten with closed fists and batons by a number of agents, causing his nose and mouth to bleed. In February 1995, Juan Carlos Guzman Velasquez also ran after Border Patrol agents spotted him smuggling undocumented immigrants through the San Clemente checkpoint. Wrestled to the ground and handcuffed, he was then punched and had his head slammed into the ground repeatedly. One agent pulled his hair back and punched him in the face. The beating Guzman sustained was so severe that he was transferred to a hospital, though the Border Patrol's formal written account of the incident neglected to mention the injuries.
After hopping the border fence at a railroad crossing near the San Ysidro Port of Entry in July 1996, Jorge Soriano Bautista also ran, until he was hit hard in the back by a Ford Bronco that pursued him, knocking him to the ground and causing him to lose consciousness. Upon regaining consciousness, Bautista heard his arm snap while being handcuffed by a Border …
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Publication information: Article title: Violations of Human and Civil Rights on the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1995 to 1997: A Report. Contributors: Huspek, Michael - Author, Martinez, Roberto - Author, Jimenez, Leticia - Author. Journal title: Social Justice. Volume: 25. Issue: 2 Publication date: Summer 1998. Page number: 110+. © 1998 Crime and Social Justice Associates. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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