Border Patrol Critical Investigative Teams (BPCITs) may be the largest and longest standing shadow police unit that is operating today in the federal government. These teams act without congressional authority, thus exist only to obstruct justice, undermine public safety, and violate public trust. BPCITs began in 1987 in the San Diego sector, followed by other sectors thereafter. They are known by many names including Sector Evidence Teams and Evidence Collection Teams. Their stated purpose is to mitigate civil liability for agents. There is no known equivalent in any other federal law enforcement agency. They are not independent investigators seeking facts. Instead they seek to exonerate agents. They act as cover-up units, protecting agents, rather than the public, and they answer to no one except the Border Patrol chiefs that control them.
In October 2021, the Southern Border Communities Coalition sent a letter to Congress to sound the alarm on these BPCITs and 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 — published a letter requesting information – by February 7 – about the "potential misconduct" of these specialized teams.
TIMELINE OF BORDER PATROL COVER-UP UNITS
1987 - BPCITs were created in the San Diego border patrol sector under the name “Critical Incident Investigation Teams”.
2010 - On May 28, 2010 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, border agents beat, Tased and suffocated Anastasio until he stopped breathing. He was revived and remained on life support for several days until he died on May 31, 2010. CBP immediately attempted to cover up the incident; they dispersed eye witnesses and erased their cell-phone video footage of the incident, disappeared government video footage, manipulated the facts, withheld evidence from police investigators, and interfered with the investigation.
2012 - On October 10, 2012, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16 year-old Mexican resident was shot ten times, 8 of which were in the back, by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent Lonnie Ray Swartz. Although former agent Swartz alleges that Jose and friends were throwing rocks over the border wall into the U.S., the geographical location of the incident tells another story. Witnesses said he was just walking down the street. The Jury acquitted the agent, in part because the evidence was faulty. At trial it was revealed that BPCIT collected all the evidence for the FBI, including the gun used, the shell casings, the photos of the scene, and the rocks allegedly thrown.
2014 - These cover-up units were mentioned in a Border Patrol use of force handbook as “Critical Incident Teams”, but then removed from the handbook in later years.
2015 - In November 2015, the Department of Justice declined to bring criminal charges against any of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel involved in the killing of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, despite eyewitness video and clear attempts from CBP to cover-up Anastasio’s murder.
2017 - In February 2017, the United States settled the civil lawsuit with the Hernandez family. The family made the difficult decision to settle without a judgement from the civil court because they feared the Trump administration would target the family and make their suffering worse. On May 10, 2017, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced that it would move forward with the Anastasio Hernandez Rojas case, giving the US government the opportunity to respond to allegations of extrajudicial killing, torture, and obstruction of justice. This is the first case alleging an unlawful killing by law enforcement opened by the IACHR against the United States.
2021 - In January 2021, new testimony is filed from three former Department of Homeland Security officials who point to a cover up in the Anastasio Hernandez Rojas case before the IACHR. On October 27th 2021 SBCC sent a letter calling on Congress to launch an investigation and oversight hearings into the unlawful operation of BPCITs.
2022 - On January 24th 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 — published a letter requesting information – by February 7 – about the "potential misconduct" of these specialized teams. On February 2nd 2022 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledged the existence of these units and shared their intentions to "regulate" the Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams aka cover-up teams. This is an admission of guilt that these units were and are unregulated, unauthorized, and unchecked. More than that they are illegal, have engaged in criminal acts of obstruction of justice, and should be prosecuted. BPCITs should be ended.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
Help rein in the extraordinary powers of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency by using our social media toolkit to contact your elected officials and demand that they hold CBP accountable. You can also sign up for “border_lines” our Southern Border Communities Coalition newsletter to stay informed on border-related issues. Follow us across social media on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and TikTok.