TUCSON, Ariz. – A report by a humanitarian group based on interviews with thousands of illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol in Arizona claims agents threw unpackaged food on the floor for them to eat, took away medicine for diabetes and other illnesses, made them sleep on overcrowded cell floors and called them ethnic and racial slurs.
Migrants also complained of being shoved by agents into cactuses, kicked and hit, made to walk in the desert without shoes and subjected to sleep deprivation by agents who blared music in detention centers, according to the 72-page report by the Tucson, Ariz.-based group No More Deaths.
The report is to be released Wednesday in Tucson. Without addressing the specific complaints in the report, a Border Patrol spokesman said the agency does not tolerate acts of misconduct and mistreatment, and the Border Patrol would cooperate with any investigation.
“Each and every Border Patrol agent has a responsibility to the United States government and its citizens to place loyalty to the Constitution and its laws and ethical principles above private gain,” Agent Mario Escalante, a Border Patrol spokesman in Tucson, said in an e-mail statement. “That duty should be carried out at all times with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism.”
No More Deaths provides water, food and medical assistance to illegal immigrants along the Arizona border with Mexico as part of an effort to reduce migrant deaths. This is the first time the nonprofit group has done a report based on a large number of migrant interviews. It was triggered by a smaller report released by the group in 2008 based on interviews with fewer than 400 migrants.
Volunteers from the group interviewed 12,895 migrants who had been caught by the Border Patrol beginning in the fall of 2008 until the spring of this year, the report said. The interviews took place in shelters and other locations in the border towns of Naco, Nogales and Agua Prieta, Sonora, after the migrants had been returned by the Border Patrol to Mexico, the report said.
Katerina Sinclair, a statistical consultant and research associate at the University of Arizona, oversaw the report separately from her work at the university. She said the report was funded by donations to No More Deaths and a grant from the Fund for Unitarian Universalist Social Responsibility.
The main finding of the report “is that Border Patrol is acting with impunity and that abuse is pervasive,” she said. She said researchers expected to find abuse limited to certain shifts or certain days of the week by a small number of agents.
Instead, she said, “it was across the board. It was a horrible violation of human rights, and I don’t think that is what people were expecting at all. We were deeply shocked.”
Of the nearly 13,000 migrants interviewed, the report said 2,981 migrants complained of being denied food by Border Patrol agents and 11,384 migrants complained of receiving insufficient food. The most common examples were being given only crackers, unpackaged food that had been thrown on the floor or food that was uncooked, frozen or otherwise inedible.
The report said 863 migrants said they had been denied water and another 1,402 said they received insufficient water. Children were more likely than adults to be denied water or given insufficient water, the report said.
Escalante, the Border Patrol spokesman, said migrants in custody are provided snacks and juice every four hours, and detainees who are in Border Patrol custody longer than eight hours are provided meals.
The report also said that 10% of the migrants interviewed said they had either been physically abused or had witnessed physical abuse.
Jessica Vaughan, policy director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group in Washington, D.C, that favors strict immigration enforcement, called the findings surprising.
“My experience in dealing with the Border Patrol has been that they pride themselves on their professionalism and in not abusing authority or anyone’s human dignity,” she said. “But certainly they should be looked into.”
The 72 page report can be viewed and downloaded here.