Group to document alleged abuse of migrants by law enforcement

Border Report Tour

Border Network for Human Rights campaign focuses on treatment received by both legal and unauthorized border crossers

U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations following the implementation of Title 42 USC 265 at the northern and southern land borders. U.S. Border Patrol agents transport a group of individuals encountered near Sasabe, Ariz. to the U.S. Mexico border on March 22, 2020. CBP Photo by Jerry Glaser

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – An El Paso civil rights group wants to know if the relationship between migrants and law enforcement has gotten any better in the past year.

In 2019, the Border Network for Human Rights recorded numerous instances of abuse and neglect at overcrowded detention centers, verbal abuse at ports of entry and aggressive enforcement activities in some communities in its Abuse Documentation Campaign.

Dozens of complaints originated at the international border itself or while individuals were in federal custody at the height of the migrant surge from Central America.

Detention centers are no longer crowded, and the northward flow of migrants isn’t as heavy, but the group is worried aggressive law enforcement practices remain.

“We want to shed light on what we believe are practices that remain which are in violation of human rights. We are calling on the community to report all incidents of abuse,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.

Fernando Garcia (center), executive director of El Paso's Border Network for Human Rights
Fernando Garcia (center), executive director of El Paso’s Border Network for Human Rights. (Border Report file photo)

The group usually canvasses high traffic areas and known migrant communities to solicit input. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic the reports this year should be filed online. The electronic form can be found at BNHR’s Abuse Documentation Campaign 2020 web page.

Garcia said the group this year is worried about migrants being summarily deported upon arrival through the CDC’s Title 42 policy. The rule to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is leaving the migrants in a dire situation south of the border, he said.

Deported migrants rest at a shelter in Palomas, Mexico, shortly after being deported from the United States. (Border Report file photo)

Department of Homeland Security officials have said the policy is helping protect American communities against the spread of COVID-19 and reducing the risks for border agents through limited contact with migrants who may be infected.

Also, coronavirus-related non-essential travel restrictions at the border are creating tension, Garcia said.

“There is a lot of pressure at the international crossings because of the travel ban. We have heard regrettable testimonies from people who cross (in a lawful manner) and are sent to secondary inspection in a demeaning manner,” he said.

Earlier this year, the group complained that stepped-up immigration enforcement in Far East El Paso and in Canutillo, Texas was prompting Latino families to shy away from taking part in the census count. The census is over but one nearby community is still experiencing heavy Border Patrol activity.

“We want to know what is going on in Sunland Park, New Mexico. We want to hear from the residents,” he said.

Just across the state line west of El Paso, Sunland Park in recent years has been site of construction of a privately built border fence and patriot militia activity.

According to current and former Border Patrol officials, the area remains a hot spot for illegal border crossings. In June, a group of U.S. teenagers and some of the Guatemalan and Mexican nationals they allegedly picked up in Sunland Park died in a car crash after an alleged high-speed chase.

The Border Network for Human Rights said it receive complaints through December and make a public report in January.

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