July 12, 2017 — A new report from the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and the Jesuits of Canada and the United States reveals the inadequacy of the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) complaint and oversight system in investigating abuse allegations by migrants.
KBI, an immigrant aid organization in Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, co-sponsored by the Jesuits and five other U.S. and Mexican church groups, files complaints on behalf of individuals in their aid center who report having been mistreated during their migration journey. “Intake without Oversight: Firsthand Experiences with Customs and Border Protection Complaints Process” is based on findings from 49 complaints filed by KBI from October 2015 to March 2017. Of these 49, KBI was notified of findings for only 13.
“Investment in an effective oversight process is necessary both to protect the human dignity of individuals crossing the border and to enhance the training and professionalism of agents and officers,” said Fr. Sean Carroll, SJ, executive director of KBI.
Despite some progress in improving the complaint process, KBI found that most complaints were only investigated by management at the local level and not by the independent oversight bodies tasked with accountability, such as the Office of the Inspector General.
The report highlights several cases, including a 21-year-old who alleges he was dragged and punched by Border Patrol in November 2015 and was not allowed to file a complaint while in Border Patrol custody. After KBI filed a complaint on his behalf that same month, the only communication it received was a notification from the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties that the complaint was included in their information collection.
Another case is of a woman who was eight months pregnant and had an injured ankle when she was detained by Border Patrol in December 2015. While in custody, she informed agents that she was pregnant and asked for food and medical attention. She received undercooked food and crackers every six hours and no medical care. When KBI filed a complaint on her behalf in January 2016, the local station found it to be unsubstantiated because agents did not notice that she was pregnant and said they did not remember hearing requests for food or medical attention.
The report also offers a look at the types of abuse reported, including failure to refer migrants to the asylum process (22 complaints); denial of medical care (12); use of force (10); and family separation (10).
KBI said its experience with the complaint process “reflects a pattern of failed oversight that necessitates reform by the Department of Homeland Security and the US Congress.” The report recommends increasing funding for the Office of Professional Responsibility; establishing a complaint hotline accessible from CBP holding cells; and regularly recording interviews between migrants and Border Patrol agents.