Government Report Critical of Border Patrol Finally Released after 15 Months

Wednesday, June 04, 2014
Anastasio Hernández Rojas (photos: ACLU)

The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has finally released a scathing internal report—which it had previously tried to bury—on the killings of immigrants by Border Patrol agents, a move that comes 15 months after the contents of the investigation became public knowledge.


In February, the Los Angeles Times obtained a copy of the report, produced at the request of CBP by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit research and policy organization in Washington that works closely with law enforcement agencies.


R. Gil Kerlikowske, CBP’s new commissioner who came into office in March, took credit for the report’s release. “We had a difference of opinion, and I won,” he explained at a recent news conference, referring to an internal debate at the agency regarding public disclosure of the report.


Immigration activists claimed that Kerlikowske gave in only after they urged him to do so in a private meeting that was held days earlier. During his confirmation hearing in January he had been non-committal about whether or not to release the document.


The leaked report criticized agents for intentionally standing in front of speeding automobiles to justify shooting at drivers, as well as questioned the Border Patrol policy of allowing the use of deadly force against individuals who throw rocks or other objects at agents, including those who did so from across the border in Mexico. The agency also was accused of a “lack of diligence” in investigating agents who had fired their weapons and not consistently reviewing shootings in a thorough manner.


All of these findings were present in the report released this week by CBP, which also issued new rules dictating when and how agents can use deadly force.


It specifically states that agents are to avoid stepping in front of or blocking the path of a moving vehicle. They also should avoid shooting rock-throwers unless there is a “reasonable belief” of imminent danger of serious physical injury or death. Instead, agents are expected to back away from those throwing objects.


Furthermore, agents will now be trained in the use of less-lethal weapons (before it was optional). In the case of Tasers, their use will only be authorized on people who are actively resisting arrest, and agents cannot shock anyone more than three times.


In at least one documented incident, agents used a Taser five times on Anastacio Hernández Rojas in 2010 and beat him, resulting in his death.


Critics of the Border Patrol said the changes could have meant Rojas and others killed by agents would be alive today had the new policy been in place previously.


At least 45 people have been killed by the Border Patrol since 2005.


While expressing hope that the report indicates positive changes within CBP, ACLU Border Rights director Vicki Gaubeca insisted that “the agency will require monitoring.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

CBP Releases Scathing Use-of-force Report, New Policies (by Bob Ortega, Arizona Republic)

Report Shows 67 Cases of Excessive Force by Border Patrol (by Elliot Spagat, Associated Press)

Border Patrol Used Dubious Tactics to Create Pretext to Justify Shootings; CBP Tried to Bury Scathing Report (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Homeland Security Dept. Censors Internal Report on Border Patrol Shootings (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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