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November-December 2011

Vol. 36, No. 6


U.S.-Mexico: No More Deaths releases new report

No More Deaths (NMD) is a network and movement whose mission is to end death and suffering on the U.S./Mexico border through civil initiative: the conviction that people of conscience must work openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights. In October, NMD released A culture of cruelty: Abuse and impunity in short-term U.S. Border Patrol custody, its second report documenting the human rights abuses perpetrated against migrants in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. (The first report, "Crossing the line," was published in 2008.) Below are excerpts from the report's executive summary; the eight-page summary, the entire report and more resources and information are available at

… The abuses individuals report have remained alarmingly consistent for years, from interviewer to interviewer and across interview sites: individuals suffering severe dehydration are deprived of water; people with life-threatening medical conditions are denied treatment; children and adults are beaten during apprehensions and in custody; family members are separated, their belongings confiscated and not returned; many are crammed into cells and subjected to extreme temperatures, deprived of sleep, and threatened with death by Border Patrol agents. By this point, the overwhelming weight of the corroborated evidence should eliminate any doubt that Border Patrol abuse is widespread. Still the Border Patrol's consistent response has been flat denial, and calls for reform have been ignored.

[The report's] findings demonstrate that the abuse, neglect, and dehumanization of migrants is part of the institutional culture of the Border Patrol, reinforced by an absence of meaningful accountability mechanisms. This systemic abuse must be confronted aggressively at the institutional level, not denied or dismissed as a series of aberrational incidents attributable to a few rogue agents. Until then we can expect this culture of cruelty to continue to deprive individuals in Border Patrol custody of their most fundamental human rights.

[NMD's] documentation from Fall 2008 to Spring 2011 includes 4,130 interviews with 12,895 individuals who were in Border Patrol custody, including 9,562 men, 2,147 women, 533 teenagers (ages 13-18), and 268 children (ages 0-12). ... Based on these interviews we have identified 12 areas of concern, and in the full report provide prevalence statistics and case examples for each: denial of or insufficient water; denial of or insufficient food; failure to provide medical treatment or access to medical professionals; inhumane processing center conditions; verbal abuse; physical abuse; psychological abuse; dangerous transportation practices; separation of family members; dangerous repatriation practices; failure to return personal belongings; and due process concerns.

  • Border Patrol agents denied food to 2,981 people and gave insufficient food to 11,384 people. Only 20 percent of people in custody for more than two days received a meal.
  • Agents denied water to 863 people and gave insufficient access to water to 1,402 additional people. Children were more likely than adults to be denied water or given insufficient water. Many of those denied water by Border Patrol were already suffering from moderate to severe dehydration at the time they were apprehended.
  • Physical abuse was reported by 10 percent of interviewees, including teens and children. The longer people were held in custody, the more likely they were to experience physical abuse.
  • Of the 433 incidents in which emergency medical treatment or medications were needed, Border Patrol provided access to care in only 59 cases—86 percent were deported without necessary medical treatment.
  • The most commonly reported forms of inhumane processing center conditions were overcrowding (5,763 reports), followed by unsanitary conditions (3,107), extreme cold (2,922), and extreme heat (2,349).
  • NMD recorded 2,926 incidents of failure to return personal belongings ... People deported without money or key personal belongings are at heightened risk of exploitation and physical harm.
  • Border Patrol deported 869 family members separately, including 17 children and 41 teens. Family separation frequently involved "lateral repatriation," or deportation through ports of entry that are distant from the location of apprehension. It is a costly practice that increases the risk of physical harm to those who are repatriated to unfamiliar or dangerous locations.
  • 1,051 women, 190 teens, and 94 children were repatriated after dark in violation of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Mexican Consulate and U.S. Customs and Border Protection and, in the case of children, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008.
  • Increasing reports of psychological abuse included threatening detainees with death; depriving them of sleep; keeping vehicles and cells at extremely hot or cold temperatures; playing traumatizing songs about people dying in the desert (migracorridos) loudly and continuously; and forced holding of strenuous or painful positions for no apparent reason other than to humiliate.

It is clear that instances of mistreatment and abuse in Border Patrol custody are not aberrational. Rather, they reflect common practice for an agency that is part of the largest federal law enforcement body in the country. Many of them plainly meet the definition of torture under international law. ...

A culture of cruelty

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