A Honduran man seeking refuge in the United States said a border patrol officer told him he would not be granted asylum – a decision the officer was not allowed to do – and when the migrant refused to sign documents, the officer said he would be sent to jail, where he would be raped.
In a report prepared by an asylum officer from Citizenship and Immigration Services, the officer wrote that threatening rape for refusing to sign documents was “a flagrant violation.”
“I’m so sorry this happened to you,” the asylum officer recalls, telling the man. “It shouldn’t have happened.”
In another account of misconduct, a migrant told an asylum officer that after trying to flee a border patrol officer along the southwest border in April 2017, “he grabbed me and threw me to the ground very aggressively. And he shot me three or four times, and kept slamming 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 stories are among 160 reports filed by federal asylum officials from 2016 to 2021, relaying details of the abuses asylum seekers described in interactions with border officials and while in detention. in the USA. The descriptions, released in response to a request for public registration made by Human Rights Watch, did not include information on the outcome of cases, including whether the complaints were found to be valid. And many other details, including dates and locations, have been redacted.
While the complaints are mostly based on interactions that took place during the Trump administration, they come at a time of growing concern about the treatment of migrants by US border and border officials. immigration. Scenes last month of border patrol officers on horseback in Del Rio, Texas, rounding up black migrants with their reins have renewed attention to years of complaints about the inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants.
“The department does not tolerate any form of abuse or misconduct,” Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Espinosa said in a statement Wednesday evening. Mrs. Espinosa said that under the leadership of its secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the department was conducting internal reviews “to identify and end intolerable biases and reform its policies and training,” and on the use of force.
The agency also added more staff to its Civil Rights and Liberties Office, she said, and issued notes on “the need to respect the dignity of every individual, to fight discrimination and to protect civil rights and civil liberties “.
President Biden promised that border patrol agents filmed in Del Rio would “pay” for their behavior. An internal investigation into their actions is underway and officials in the Biden administration have vowed to share the results publicly. But in the past, there has been little transparency about such investigations or disciplinary actions.
At his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Mr Biden’s pick to head customs and border protection Chris Magnus promised lawmakers he would be open about the Del Rio inquiry.
“I have a long history of being transparent and sharing things with the public, regardless of the outcome, because I believe that is how you maintain and build trust,” said Mr Magnus, the chief of police in Tucson, Arizona. Mr. Magnus has a reputation for changing the culture of law enforcement organizations and said that after Del Rio, “reviewing tactics and training is certainly appropriate.”
When migrants are caught crossing the border illegally, a border patrol agent stops them and questions them. Although policy changed temporarily during the pandemic, during some procedures officers are expected to ask if migrants fear persecution or injury in their home country. If migrants express a fear of returning, they are subject to proceedings in immigration court and ultimately questioned by an asylum officer.
The records obtained by Human Rights Watch are reports that asylum officers made after hearing allegations of misconduct by law enforcement officials. In addition to complaints of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, migrants said in some of the reports that they were not asked if they feared persecution; that they were told that they could not apply for asylum; that they were pressured by threats to sign documents; and, in a few cases, that they have had their documents torn up by border officials.
“The documents make it clear that reports of serious abuse by CBP – physical and sexual assault, abusive detention conditions and due process violations – are open secrecy within DHS,” said Clara Long, associate director of Human Rights Watch, using the abbreviations for Customs and Border Protection and Department of Homeland Security. “They paint a picture of DHS as the agency that appears to have normalized shocking abuses at the US border.”
The documents also show federal asylum officers apologizing for the treatment asylum seekers suffered in detention in the United States. In March 2019, an asylum officer told an immigrant, “US government officials shouldn’t treat you this way. They should treat you and everyone else with respect.
It is not known how many interviews asylum officers conducted during the period in which the more than 160 complaints were reported. According to immigration data, from 2016 to 2020, there were 409,000 referrals for credible fear interviews with asylum officers.
Similar complaints have been previously disclosed. In 2014, the American Immigration Council obtained records detailing more than 800 complaints against border officials, also through a public records request. In a subsequent request, the organization found that of more than 2,000 allegations of misconduct by border officials filed from 2012 to 2015, more than 95 percent of cases resulted in no action against the accused.
Around 2013, some of the asylum officers working in citizenship and immigration services contacted a supervisor to see what could be done about the complaints they were receiving from migrants, a former asylum officer said. The former officer was not authorized to discuss the internal workings of the agency publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Reports from the migrants were troubling, the former officer said, and they wanted a formal system to document complaints.
In 2015, the agency issued a directive to asylum officers to report any known or suspected misconduct.
The allegations sought by Human Rights Watch had been forwarded to the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security. The group questioned the ministry last month about the results of the complaints, but did not receive a response, Ms. Long said.
In reports filed by asylum officers, the migrants described being called “pigs”, “herds of animals” and a “parasite”.
“They treat you like you don’t want anything, like you’re not human,” one asylum seeker said in September 2018.
Mr Mayorkas said last month that Del Rio’s images “do not reflect who we are as a department, or who we are as a country”.
But many immigrant advocates said the brutal treatment of migrants by border patrol agents was normal.
This argument was used to defend 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 in text messages to immigrants. as “savage blind assassins”, “subhumans” and “unworthy of lighting a fire”.
In court documents, Bowen’s attorney argued that his client’s views were “common throughout the Tucson area of the border patrol.”
“It’s part of the culture of the agency,” he said.