Adios Shadow Units

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_Sometimes it’s better to show than tell: if you have the stomach and fortitude to watch the ecological disaster caused by the construction of Trump’s lethal vanity wall, check out this article and 13-minute documentary. Heartbreaking, really, especially if you recognize that the Biden administration is still considering building an additional 155 miles of this obscenity in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

_Acting in complete contradiction to CBP’s own standards on belongings, U.S. Border Patrol has consistently failed to safeguard and track personal belongings of people apprehended and held in their custody as illustrated by this news story that also underscores the harms and uncertainty migrants face when their personal belongings are taken and thrown away. 

_The last thing we need in our borderlands are QAnon conspiracies and crusaders given their potential for wreaking havoc and harm to people and children seeking safety here. C’mon people gather your senses. 

_We’re still very much disappointed that, despite years of advocacy, Border Patrol continues to undercount migrants who lose their lives as the result of their “deterrence policies” and still refuses to include remains from local humanitarian groups into their count.

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_Adios Shadow Units. So, not going to lie, we were tremendously encouraged when we heard the news last Friday that we could bid adios, adieu, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye to Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs), the shadow cover-up units that have repeatedly interfered with law enforcement investigations of agents involved in the killing and harming of borderland community members, as announced by a memo issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

We commend CBP for taking this action and acknowledge the leadership of Commissioner Chris Magnus, who was responsive to community concerns about BPCITs. It is no easy feat to change a longstanding, entrenched and problematic practice within the agency, and the Commissioner has taken an enormous, important step towards accountability. 

And while we recognize the importance of this forward-looking memo, action must also be taken to fully account for the harms done by BPCITs over the last three decades that they have operated. This includes an assessment of where the agents, supervisors, and chiefs who have been involved in the BPCITs and their many permutations have engaged in criminal acts of obstruction of justice. To that end, we call on Commissioner Magnus to ensure that all records of BPCIT activities are preserved so that they can be reviewed independently by external law enforcement investigators, congressional oversight committees, and prosecutors. 

Earlier last week, family members of those who lost their lives or directly endured brutal and horrendous abuse at the hands of Border Patrol agents called for an end to the cover-ups and obstructions committed by BPCITs. Each of the powerful stories described the trauma and anguish felt by family members living without the justice, closure, and accountability that they deserve. 

CBP, which includes the Border Patrol, is the largest law enforcement agency in the country. CBP’s lack of accountability and oversight paired with its culture of violence has resulted in the loss of lives of nearly 220 U.S. citizens and noncitizens just since 2010. None of the agents involved have been held accountable. In fact, no agent in the near 100-year history of the agency has been convicted for homicide while on duty.  

In October 2021, the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) sent a letter to Congress to sound the alarm on Border Patrol cover-up units, which appear to be at the heart of impunity at the agency. 

After discovering the existence of these units, SBCC called for a congressional investigation. In January 2022, ten House and Senate committee and subcommittee chairs sent a  letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting an investigation into the involvement of these shadow units. Simultaneously, the chairs of two of these committees — the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Committee on Homeland Security opened an investigation

It is imperative that Congress and the GAO continue to pursue their investigations to get a full accounting for the actions of the BPCITs. Without it, there can be no justice. 

And under no circumstances should anyone involved in these teams be transferred or reassigned to CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility or given access to past, present, or future investigations of agents involved in killing and harming community members.  Right? That era has ended (finally!) and prosecutors should now consider charges for obstruction of justice and other crimes where they are warranted. The elimination of cover-up teams — which engaged in obstruction of justice and acted only in the interest of agents, not the public — is an essential step towards addressing the longstanding problem of Border Patrol impunity. 

Please consider the comments below from family and victims of Border Patrol excessive use of force:

Maria Puga, wife of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, killed in 2010 said,

“It’s been hard for our family to be without Anastasio. He would have turned 54 years old this week. The Border Patrol lied about Anastasio’s death. They covered up what happened. Thanks to an eyewitness video we know the truth. We need our cases to be reviewed, and for these Border Patrol cover up units to be fully investigated.”

Valentín Tachiquín, father of Valeria Monique Tachiquín killed in 2012 said,

“Valeria was a U.S. citizen who would have turned 42 years old this past month. That void will never be filled again. The police investigation, in this case, was not independent; border agents interfered every step of the way. Border agents detained and threatened a key witness to the killing. They were present at the autopsy and used it for their own reports. They allowed evidence to be run over, kicked, and moved. We cannot trust investigations if there is no integrity and the Border Patrol is involved. If there have been cover-ups, agents involved must be brought to justice.”

Doña Taide, grandmother of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, killed in 2012 said,

“My grandson, Jose Antonio, was 16 years old when he was killed. He would have been 26 years old this year. We leave a chair empty for him in the house to remember. He was walking next to the border fence near our home in Mexico, when he was shot and killed by a border agent who was standing on the U.S. side of the border wall. When Jose’s death was being investigated, the Border Patrol agents disappeared video evidence, and they picked up the biggest rocks lying nearby and claimed that Jose had thrown them at the border agent without any evidence to back their claim. There are so many anomalies in Jose Antonio’s case and it is because of the Border Patrol cover-up units. Jose Antonio’s case must be reexamined and reopened.”

Marisol García Alcántara, survivor of Border Patrol shooting in 2021 said,

“On June 16, 2021, I was a passenger inside a car driving through Arizona, when the Border Patrol pulled over the car. The car stopped and a border agent shot me in the head. I still have parts of the bullet in my brain and my life has changed forever. Although the Nogales police had the authority to investigate the use of force, it was the Border Patrol agents who got involved and interfered with the Nogales police investigation. I won’t stay silent. These cover-up teams must be brought to justice.”

If so compelled, view/download the relevant documents associated with each case discussed during last week’s press conference; also view the full video of the press conference.


border_lines is published every other Friday for your reading pleasure. If you’d like to submit an item for inclusion, please email Vicki B. Gaubeca at [email protected], by Wednesday COB. The Southern Border Communities Coalition is a program of Alliance San Diego.


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