Border Violence against Illegal Immigrants and the Need to Change the Border Patrol's Current Complaint Review Process

By Trevino, Jesus A. | Houston Journal of International Law, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Border Violence against Illegal Immigrants and the Need to Change the Border Patrol's Current Complaint Review Process


Trevino, Jesus A., Houston Journal of International Law


I. INTRODUCTION

The United States of America is considered to be the land of opportunity,(1) which is why every year more than one million people cross the Mexico-U.S. border illegally.(2) These people leave behind their homes and families searching for a better life in the United States. They have dreams and aspirations of making a fresh start in a country created by immigrants.(3) They bring few personal belongings, but they carry the very heavy burden of crossing the border undetected. Upon their arrival to this great country, however, many of these illegal immigrants come face to face with the harsh reality that they are not welcome here.(4) Standing directly in their path to freedom is the ever-present law enforcement officer wearing the green uniform, whose primary mission is to prevent them from entering the United States illegally.(5) The U.S. Border Patrol agent waits to apprehend and deport illegal immigrants crossing the Mexico-U.S. border.(6) One would expect a law enforcement officer to treat detainees humanely, but it appears that more and more illegal immigrants are learning firsthand, courtesy of a fist, boot, or nightstick, the harsh reality that some Border Patrol agents abuse illegal immigrants.(7) In his journey across the border, the illegal immigrant has to protect himself not only from bandits and white vigilante groups, but now he must add Border Patrol agents to his list.(8)

There continues to be a steady flow of people entering the United States illegally through Mexico(9) and a significant number of Border Patrol abuse reports and allegations.(10) A history exists of reported illegal immigrant abuse by the Border Patrol, ranging from beatings and rapes(11) to homicides.(12) However, many complaints go undocumented because the current complaint procedure available to victims of abuse is inadequate. A complaint's validity is measured by the subjective investigation of the immigration supervisor within the Border Patrol who may or may not forward it to the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General to investigate.(13) The Border Patrol's internal complaint procedure has outgrown its usefulness, and the implementation of a new complaint procedure is required so that illegal immigrants' complaints do not go unheard. It is time to re-examine Border Patrol enforcement measures and policies.

Part I of this paper focuses on the relationship between illegal immigration and the U.S. Border Patrol. It provides a brief historical background of the Border Patrol, and it traces the agency's legal development throughout its existence. Part II then discusses the broad law enforcement power and discretion given to Border Patrol agents by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990,(14) followed by a discussion of the causes of illegal immigration and Border Patrol abuse. Part III of this paper examines human rights abuses of illegal immigrants by Border Patrol agents at the Mexico-U.S. border. This examination focuses on several Border Patrol abuse cases, and it explains the legal rights possessed by illegal immigrants who find themselves the victims of abuse by Border Patrol agents. Part IV of this paper focuses on the current complaint procedure available to illegal immigrants who are abused by Border Patrol agents and explains why it is ineffective. Part IV also discusses the citizen review committee currently in force and concludes by providing support for a permanent independent review commission as an alternative to the subjective review process currently in place.

II. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER PATROL

A. Border Patrol History and Current Development

The current U.S. Border Patrol is part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice.(15) The Border Patrol's mission is to stop illegal immigration into the United States.(16) Congress created the Border Patrol in 1924 as part of the Immigration Bureau, the predecessor of the INS. …

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