A Honduran man seeking a safe haven in the United States said a border patrol told him he would not be granted asylum — a decision the officer was not empowered to make — and when the migrant refused to sign the paperwork, the officer said. he would. sent to prison, where he would be raped.
In a report prepared by a Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officer, the officer wrote that threatening rape for refusing to sign paperwork was “a gross violation.”
“I’m very sorry this happened to you,” the asylum officer reminds the man. “It shouldn’t have happened.”
In a separate report of misconduct, a migrant told an asylum officer that after she tried to run from a border police officer along the southwestern border in April 2017, “he caught me and threw me to the ground in a very aggressive manner. And he pulled me.” up three or four times and kept knocking me to the ground.” She said the officer also grabbed her by the hair and kicked her in the rib cage and lower pelvis, causing her to bleed.
These and other accounts are among 160 reports filed by federal asylum officials from 2016 to 2021, passing details of abuses described by asylum seekers during interactions with border officials and while in U.S. custody. The descriptions, which were released in response to a request from Human Rights Watch in the public records, contained no information about the outcome of the cases, including whether the complaints were well founded. And many other details, including dates and locations, were redacted.
While the complaints are mostly based on interactions that took place during the Trump administration, they come at a time of heightened concern over the treatment of migrants by US border and immigration officials. Scenes last month of Border Patrol agents on horseback in Del Rio, Texas, encircling black migrants with their reins, have renewed focus on years of complaints about inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants.
“The department will not tolerate any form of abuse or misconduct,” a homeland security spokeswoman Marsha Espinosa said in a statement Wednesday evening. Mrs Espinosa said the department, led by its secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, conducted internal assessments “to identify and end intolerable prejudice and reform its policies and training,” and on the use of force. The agency has also added more staff to its Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, she said, and has issued memos on “the need to respect the dignity of every individual, fight discrimination and protect civil rights and civil liberties.”
President Biden has promised that Border Patrol agents caught on camera in Del Rio would “pay” for their behavior. An internal investigation into their actions is underway and officials from the Biden administration have promised to share the findings publicly. But in the past, there has been little transparency about such investigations or disciplinary action.
At his hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Biden’s choice to lead customs and border protection, Chris Magnus, promised lawmakers he would be candid about the Del Rio investigation.
“I have a long history of transparency and sharing things with the public, whatever the outcome, because I think this is how you maintain and build trust,” said Mr Magnus, the chief of police in Tucson, Ariz. has a reputation for changing the culture of law enforcement organizations, saying that after Del Rio, “definitely researching tactics and training is appropriate.”
When migrants are caught illegally crossing the border, a border police officer will stop and question them. Although the policy has been temporarily changed during the pandemic, the agents are believed to be asking if the migrants fear persecution or harm in their home countries. If migrants express a credible fear of returning, they are placed before the immigration court and eventually interrogated by an asylum officer.
The data obtained by Human Rights Watch is from reports made by asylum officials after hearing allegations of law enforcement misconduct. In addition to complaints of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, migrants said in some reports that they were not asked if they feared persecution; that they were told they could not apply for asylum; that they were pressured with threats to sign documents; and, in a few cases, that their documents were torn up by border officials.
“The documents make it clear that reports of serious CBP abuse — physical and sexual assault, violent detention conditions and violations of due process — are an open secret within DHS,” said Clara Long, associate director at Human Rights Watch, using the report. abbreviations for Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security. “They paint a picture of DHS as an agency that seems to normalize shocking abuses on the US border.”
The documents also show that federal asylum officers have apologized for the treatment received by asylum seekers in U.S. custody. In March 2019, an asylum officer told an immigrant, “U.S. government officials shouldn’t be treating you like that. They should treat you and others with respect.”
It is not clear how many conversations asylum officials had in the period that the more than 160 complaints were received. According to immigration data, there were 409,000 referrals for credible fear interviews with asylum officials from 2016 to 2020.
Similar complaints have been reported before. In 2014, the American Immigration Council obtained documents containing more than 800 complaints against border officials, also through a public registry request. In a subsequent request, the organization found that of the more than 2,000 allegations of misconduct by border officials filed between 2012 and 2015, more than 95 percent of the cases ended in no action against the accused.
Around 2013, some asylum officials from the Citizenship and Immigration Department reached out to a supervisor to see what could be done about complaints they heard from migrants, a former asylum official said. The former officer was not authorized to publicly discuss the inner workings of the agency and spoke on condition of anonymity. The reports from migrants were troubling, the former officer said, and they wanted a formal system to document the complaints.
In 2015, the agency issued a directive to asylum officials to report known or suspected misconduct.
The allegations requested by Human Rights Watch had been sent to the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security. The group asked the department about the outcome of the complaints last month but received no response, Ms Long said.
In the reports of asylum officials, migrants described being called “pigs”, “herds of animals” and a “parasite”.
“They treat you like you’re worthless, like you’re not human,” said an asylum seeker in September 2018.
Mr Mayorkas said last month that Del Rio’s images “do not reflect who we are as a department, nor who we are as a country.”
But many immigrant advocates said rough treatment of migrants by border police officers was the norm.
This argument was used in defense of a Border Patrol agent who admitted to deliberately running over a Guatemalan migrant, Antolin Rolando Lopez-Aguilar, in December 2017. A few weeks before the episode, the agent, Matthew Bowen, referred to immigrants in text messages as “brainless murderous savages,” “inhumane,” and “unworthy of being lit in front of a fire.”
In the court files, Mr Bowen’s attorney argued that his client’s views were “mundane in the Tucson border patrol industry”.
“It’s part of the agency’s culture,” he said.