Rights Groups Demand Accountability from U.S. Border Patrol

The following is a press release,  dated March 26, 2012, from a coalition of human rights groups working on the border:

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Human rights groups No More Deaths, the ACLU of New Mexico – Regional Center for Border Rights, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, the Women’s Refugee Commission, Rights Working Group and the National Immigration Forum have been granted a hearing by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about human rights violations against migrants detained and repatriated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Three of these groups will present testimony tomorrow before the IACHR. Established by the United States and all countries in the Western hemisphere in 1959, the IACHR is authorized to examine allegations of human rights violations by any member country. The hearing will take place at 9:00 a.m. in the offices of the IACHR at 1889 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. on Tuesday March 27th. The U.S. government will send representatives to respond to the allegations.

The hearing follows six years of interviews and documentation work by No More Deaths, a humanitarian and advocacy organization based on the Arizona-Mexico border. This work has included nearly 15,000 interviews with recent deportees who had experienced abusive conditions while in custody. No More Deaths’ most recent report, A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody, published in September 2011, included the following findings, consistent with those of other civil society organizations working in the region:

  • 11,384 reports of inadequate access to food;
  • Children were more likely to be denied water than adults;
  • 374 cases of individuals being repatriated without needed emergency medical care or medication;
  • Coercion into signing legal documents;
  • Practices that put vulnerable migrants in harm’s way: dividing families and repatriating vulnerable populations, including children or pregnant women, in the middle of the night;
  • Unsanitary and inhumane processing center conditions;
  • Reports of verbal, physical and psychological abuse.

In addition to these cases of abuse and mistreatment, the report documents serious structural shortcomings in U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) internal oversight mechanisms, resulting in a widespread culture of impunity in which abusive behavior goes unpunished and uncorrected. Petitioners have identified violations of repatriation agreements between the U.S. and Mexico that put vulnerable migrants at risk.

“Not only is the U.S. government failing to adequately screen for asylum seekers and trafficked children, it is failing to meaningfully engage with civil society to work on addressing these violations of U.S. and international law,” said Jennifer Podkul, program officer, Women’s Refugee Commission.

The U.S. Border Patrol has refused to release complete versions of existing detention policies or to allow civil society organizations access to the facilities to monitor conditions. Efforts to use existing oversight mechanisms have been similarly unproductive, in part due to the fact that all are internal to DHS.

“Current complaint processes are difficult to navigate and lack transparency, providing little to no information regarding allegations of abuse,” said Danielle Alvarado of No More Deaths and co-author of A Culture of Cruelty. “This reflects DHS’ limited ability to meaningfully address systemic, abusive Border Patrol practices.”

Some of the dangerous and abusive U.S. Border Patrol practices documented by these groups violate existing repatriation agreements between the governments of the United States and Mexico; other practices fail to comply with asylum and trafficking screening requirements set forth in domestic and international law, including the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization of 2008, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Stated Alvarado, “The Border Patrol blatantly disregards its own policies regarding the treatment of those in their custody, and existing oversight mechanisms have proven unable to prevent abuse. It is clear that the Department of Homeland Security cannot be trusted to police itself. We need independent oversight with the participation of civil society human rights observers if we want to actually stop, and not just cover up, the truly outrageous violations we hear about on a daily basis from people who have been deported to Mexico.”

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