PHOENIX – A report by a Tucson-based human rights group contends that Border Patrol agents routinely deny food, water and medical treatment to illegal immigrants in custody, including those in life-threatening conditions.
“It’s not a few border agents; it’s a general culture of cruelty perpetuated by the system of detention and deportation,” said Adam Aguirre, a spokesman for NoMoreDeaths.org.
The group’s report, which it says was based on interviews with 13,000 immigrants, alleges that Border Patrol agents committed more than 30,000 acts of abuse between 2008 and 2011. Those include cramming immigrants into cells, subjecting them to extreme temperatures, depriving them of sleep, threatening them with death and beating women and children.
A Border Patrol spokeswoman called the report false and said the agency doesn’t tolerate such acts.
According to the report, agents denied 2,981 aliens food and 863 people water. Only 20 percent of aliens in custody for more than two days received a meal, it said.
The report said 10 percent of those interviewed reported physical abuse and 86 percent of emergency medical cases were ignored. In 211 cases, agents took and didn’t return aliens’ money, it said.
Aguirre said the group, funded by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, decided to conduct the research after volunteers heard several similar stories from immigrants from both sides of the border, some of whom were already deported.
Katerina Sinclair, a statistical consultant and research associate with University of Arizona who worked independently on the project, said the Border Patrol is consistently violating human rights and has demonstrated that it doesn’t have the ability to police itself.
“We as Americans shouldn’t allow our agencies to violate people’s rights,” she said, adding that the agency needs a watchdog.
Crystal Amarillas, a spokeswoman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, said all agents are trained and professional in handling apprehended aliens.
“These are obviously false accusations. We have logs and records of our agents feeding aliens in our custody,” she said.
Amarillas said agents are all emergency medical technicians and trained in CPR and evaluate any detainee who complains or appears unwell.
All the detention facilities are fitted with surveillance cameras that are routinely inspected, she said, adding that the Mexican Consulate has access to the footage.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization that seeks to improve border security and stop illegal immigration, said the report is an unfounded an advocacy piece written by people who oppose any sort of enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.
“Abuse is not justified, but there’s no evidence that abuse is being committed here,” Mehlman said. “If there was abuse going on in that magnitude, it wouldn’t have taken some advocacy group to discover this.”
Aguirre and Sinclair said NoMoreDeaths.org is advocating for an independent oversight committee to hold the Border Patrol accountable.
“We need a system of consequences for violations,” Sinclair said.
Elvina Nawaguna-Clemente is a reporter for Cronkite News Service