SOUTHERN BORDER, October 28, 2021 — Yesterday, the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) sent a letter calling on Congress to launch an investigation and oversight hearings into the unlawful operation of Border Patrol’s Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs). These teams act without congressional authority to obstruct justice, undermine public safety, and violate public trust.
As the letter details, 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 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.
The BPCITs are not authorized by Congress to engage in federal investigations in agent-involved killings and other use-of-force incidents. That authority is given to the FBI, the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), and in limited circumstances to the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). They are also not formally deputized by any of these agencies to investigate. They are simply unlawful.
Every day that BPCITs continue to exist, abuses go unchecked and agents get away with murder, as they did in the case of Anastasio Hernández Rojas and so many others. As the letter demonstrates, BPCITs withhold, corrupt, and destroy evidence against an agent. They are at the root of Border Patrol impunity. There can be no meaningful accountability of border agents as long as BPCITs exist.
The revelations in this letter cite documents including statements from members of BPCITs, police investigative records, public disclosures, court records, and more. They point to what may be the largest and longest-standing shadow police unit operating in the federal government today. It is imperative that Congress investigate them.
Vicki Gaubeca, Director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition said:
The fact that no border agent has ever been successfully prosecuted in the nearly 100 year history of the Border Patrol is not accidental. It is by design, and for more than three decades has resulted in impunity directly due to the interference of unauthorized Border Patrol cover-up units that have protected agents rather than the members of the public harmed by them. This must end and Congress can play a pivotal role. We call on Congress to investigate these cover-up units, assess the harm they have caused, and shut them down.
James Wong, former CBP Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Internal Affairs said:
The purpose of an investigation is to collect the facts, regardless of whether they are exculpatory or not. Investigators should never set out to mitigate liability. That is inappropriate. Given that Border Patrol CITs have worked to mitigate instead of collect facts leading to the truth shows that they are a questionable management tool, not a legitimate investigative tool. As such they should be abolished.
Andrea Guererro, Executive Director of Alliance San Diego said:
The activities of BPCITs are egregious and far reaching. They have allowed border agents to get away with nearly everything, including murder. The danger of abusive and unaccountable federal agents who operate outside of the law cannot be understated. They threaten the public they encounter and subvert legitimate law enforcement investigations. They undermine public safety and violate public trust. We call on the appropriate congressional committees to investigate BPCITs as soon as possible.
View the SBCC letter here with supporting exhibits: southernborder.org/letter_to_congress.
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.