Southern Border — Today, SBCC sent a letter to Chairman Peters and Ranking Member Paul marking the one year since Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that the agency would eliminate Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs), which the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) exposed as the largest and longest standing cover up units in the federal government. Despite the announced elimination, which went into effect in October 2022, investigations of excessive force continue to be compromised. The public deserves to know if CBP, the largest law enforcement agency in the country, is enabling more cover ups and undermining the integrity of an agency that has yet to earn the trust of U.S. voters.
Read our letter to Congress here
To date, there has been no reckoning for Border Patrol’s widespread abuse of power and SBCC remains concerned that CBP’s accountability system is neither independent nor impartial. As the agency reaches a record number of use of force incidents, the stakes are getting higher. In at least one incident that occurred in November 2022, Border Patrol personnel were involved in investigating their own agent, raising the concern that the agency continues to intervene, undermining the independence and integrity of investigations. The incident involved a Border Patrol agent who shot and killed a person in a San Antonio apartment building parking lot, far from the border. The San Antonio Police Department stated to the media that “the investigation is ongoing and Border Patrol Management is on the scene, which is standard procedure in incidents like this.”
SBCC has sought public records such as a police investigative report, autopsy report and other records that would shed light on the involvement of Border Patrol in the investigation. SBCC has been denied every request. SBCC has also sought clarity from CBP on the role that border agents or their supervisors now play in investigations of potential criminal misconduct. We do not yet have the answers we seek. This is why we are requesting Congress’ assistance in obtaining clarity on these investigations.
Since SBCC first alerted Congress to the existence and dangers of the BPCITs in October 2021, 45 more people have died in use of force incidents involving border agents — 8 were U.S. citizens. These were only the cases identified in press releases and media reports. There may be more. In no instance that we are aware of has an agent been held accountable. During that same time, the number of use of force incidents has risen sharply. In Fiscal Year 2021, the number of incidents averaged 63 per month. In 2022, that grew to 81 per month. In 2023, it has now grown to an average of 97 incidents per month. This is an alarming increase, especially in light of the fact that the average monthly reported assaults on agents has largely stayed the same.
In the nearly 100 year history of border agents, few have been prosecuted and none (zero) have been convicted or held to account for taking a life while on duty. This is due in part to the role that BPCITs and other cover up teams have played in obstructing justice by altering, destroying, and withholding evidence, as they did in the case of Anastasio Hernández Rojas. That case is the anatomy of impunity and has brought international scrutiny. It is now before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights pending a decision. While we appreciate that CBP eliminated BPCITs, the agency has never acknowledged the harm they caused in denying families access to justice. Nor have they held any agents responsible for obstructing justice.
Before Congress invests any more into CBP, it must shore up its integrity. As Congress debates whether to increase resources and responsibilities to CBP, it should remain cognizant of these critical facts (read more about these facts in our letter):
- Voters do not trust CBP because of widespread abuse and impunity.
- Use of force incidents by border agents are on the rise, taking lives and harming people.
- The accountability system is compromised, undermining the integrity of the entire agency.
- Congress can restore faith in the voters by addressing abuse and impunity at CBP.
- Until and unless it does, Congress risks exacerbating the problem with more funding.
Public safety depends on public trust, but there can be no trust if there is no accountability. It is conceivable that most, if not every, current Border Patrol sector chief has participated in or overseen the activities of BPCITs. It’s also conceivable that former BPCIT agents now serve in positions throughout CBP, DHS, and other parts of government, including for example, the Office of Inspector General OIG, Office of Professional Responsibility, and the National Use of Force Review Board. Their footprint may be significant and may affect every oversight body. If that is the case, then every part of the accountability system is compromised.
That poses a significant danger to the country. In addition, the continued involvement of Border Patrol in investigations of its agents is deeply problematic. We urge Congress to determine what role the agency plays now and consider legislation to end involvement that impedes independent and impartial investigations.
A democracy depends on checks and balances, and Congressional committees have an important role to play in exercising oversight over CBP through their investigations, hearings, and inquiries. Congress’ actions can protect lives, strengthen the integrity of our institutions, and build faith in government.
ABOUT THE SOUTHERN BORDER COMMUNITIES COALITION
The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) brings together organizations from San Diego, California to Brownsville, Texas, to ensure that border enforcement policies and practices are accountable and fair, respect human dignity and human rights, and prevent the loss of life in the region.