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Immigration Officers Continue to Have Impunity as Migrants Are Needlessly Put at Risk

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 19, 2012–Pressure is mounting for the Obama administration to make swift changes in U.S. Border Protection policies and actions. Tomorrow, PBS will air a piece on Need to Know exposing Border Patrol’s horrific abuses against migrants. Representative Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) is also holding a Congressional Briefing tomorrow on an international study that found that current U.S. policies are inadequate in controlling the border and actually make conditions more dangerous for vulnerable migrants. 

PBS will air graphic footage of U.S. Border agents fatally beating a father of five children, who are all U.S. citizens. The U.S. government has not yet conducted a criminal or civil rights investigation into the man’s death. Human rights organizations from around the country are asking the Obama administration to finally take concerns about the behavior of Customs and Border Protection agents seriously and to conduct an open and thorough investigation of this and all other killings by U.S. Border agents that have occurred since 2010. Since that time, seven people, half of them minors, have been killed by U.S. government agents.

“For years, human rights monitors, concerned community members and migration experts have been calling on the government to improve the accountability and transparency of the largest law enforcement body in the United States to ensure the billions of taxpayer dollars intended to make this country safer are in fact doing just that,” said Jennifer Podkul, program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission.

None of the killings committed by the agents have been properly investigated by the government, nor have the agents been held accountable for their abuses. Despite an outcry from communities along the border, protests and countless meetings with agency leadership, the Department of Homeland Security has taken no known action against the agents involved. In February, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano dismissed human rights organizations’ findings of abusive practices at the border as unsubstantiated, despite the fact that they were based on interviews with nearly 13,000 migrants.

Tomorrow’s Congressional briefing is focused on the release of the report Beyond the Border Buildup: Security of Migrants along the U.S.-Mexico Border, the product of a yearlong study of border security policy and its impact on the migrant population. The report is published by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and College of the Northern Border (Colegio de la Frontera Norte, COLEF). Jennifer Podkul will speak at the Congressional briefing in support of the report’s findings.

The authors of Beyond the Border Buildup visited border regions, conducted surveys of migrants in Mexico and met with Mexican officials and representatives of civil society and migrant shelters. The research found that U.S. and Mexican governments’ border security policies are not well coordinated and do little to alleviate the hazards that migrants face. Indeed, some policies are specifically worsening the situation, pushing migrants into dangerous terrain, abusive situations, unsafe cities and even into the hands of organized crime. 

As the report states, “Instead of a series of disconnected efforts with grave consequences for migrants, our countries need a border security policy that strengthens legality and makes us safer while reducing human suffering.” 

The report, to be released on the same day as the airing of damning footage of Border Protection abuses, highlights the need for the Department of Homeland Security to take a serious look at Agency reforms that will not only protect Americans from real dangers, but will ensure the end to grave human rights abuses against vulnerable migrants and U.S. citizens living in border communities. The Women’s Refugee Commission, in partnership with WOLA, COLEF and other human rights organizations, calls on the U.S. government to respond promptly. We join the Southern Border Community Coalition’s Bringing Justice Home campaign in asking the Obama administration to investigate all of the deaths that have occurred since 2010.

“It is time for the Border Patrol abuses to stop and for investigations and agency-wide reform to begin,” said Jennifer Podkul. “The widespread abuse by Border Protection is not consistent with American values and does not make our country safer.” 

For more information contact: Jennifer Podkul, JenniferP@wrcommission.org, (202) 415-5666

Join the Bringing Justice Home campaign

Read the report by WOLA and COLEF

Watch PBS’s Need to Know Friday, April 20, 2012 and online