[News] Border Patrol policies kill hundreds of migrants each year—and they were designed to

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Sat Feb 6 14:17:56 EST 2021


https://www.prismreports.org/article/2021/2/5/border-patrol-policies-kill-hundreds-of-migrants-each-yearand-they-were-designed-to
Border
Patrol policies kill hundreds of migrants each year—and they were designed
to
Tina Vásquez <https://www.prismreports.org/tina-vsquez> ▸ February 5th,
2021
------------------------------

Each year, untold numbers of migrants disappear in the borderlands after
being pushed into dangerous and remote terrain by Border Patrol, the same
agency that is then tasked with responding to migrants’ search and rescue
emergencies. A new report released Wednesday found that the federal agency
does not respond to 40% of these emergency calls. In a series of reports
<http://www.thedisappearedreport.org/> published over the course of five
years, the southern Arizona organizations No More Deaths and La Coalición
de Derechos Humanos have cataloged and reported the specific Border Patrol
policies and tactics that have fueled a crisis of death and disappearance
in the borderlands. The first report, released in 2016, detailed
<https://rewirenewsgroup.com/article/2016/12/14/family-members-seek-answers-missing-loved-ones-border-patrol/>
the 1994 Border Patrol policy “Prevention Through Deterrence” in which the
United States militarized urban border areas in an effort
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/355856-border-patrol-strategic-plan-1994-and-beyond.html>
to steer migrants away from ports of entry and into geographically harsher
and more remote and hazardous regions, leading to their deaths. The second
report, published in 2018, detailed
<https://rewirenewsgroup.com/article/2018/01/18/border-patrols-destruction-humanitarian-aid-killing-migrants/>
Border Patrol’s practice of destroying life-saving humanitarian aid left by
volunteers for migrants.

Part three in the series
<http://www.thedisappearedreport.org/uploads/8/3/5/1/83515082/left_to_die_-_english.pdf>
published Wednesday—*Left to Die: Border Patrol, Search and Rescue, and the
Crisis of Disappearance—*details how when 911 response systems receive
calls from people crossing into the United States without authorization,
they transfer those calls away from local emergency services and to Border
Patrol, an agency that for decades has failed to provide life-saving
assistance to undocumented immigrants who are lost and dying.
*Undocumented and in distress*

The report outlines dozens of incidents in which migrants en route to the
U.S. were left to die by Border Patrol. In one case, a man named Jaime
contacted 911 11 times over the course of 10 hours. He was lost and alone
in southwestern Arizona. As the hours passed, his condition deteriorated
and his voice faded. His location was traced, but each time he called 911
he was transferred to Border Patrol, so he stopped calling. It’s unknown
what happened to Jaime. A woman named Flora was last seen severely
dehydrated and losing consciousness in South Texas. Despite pressure from
consulate officials, it was not until 14 days after Flora was last seen
that Border Patrol conducted an interview with an eyewitness. Flora was
never found. In another case, Narciso and his son were last seen in the
remote Arizona desert. Narciso was unable to walk, so his son went in
search of assistance and was encountered and apprehended by Border Patrol.
Despite the fact that his son reported his father’s emergency to arresting
agents, Narciso was never found. In 2019, the *New York Times *published an
interactive feature
<https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/05/29/opinion/migrant-crisis.html>
that
included a few of the hundreds of calls that Border Patrol has ignored over
the years.

After the implementation of Prevention Through Deterrence, Border Patrol
launched the Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue Unit (BORSTAR) in
1998 to address the rising death toll resulting from its enforcement
policy. The unit, which accounts for an infinitesimal portion of Border
Patrol’s budget, is supposed to respond to emergency situations in the
borderlands. However according to the report, “BORSTAR is a relatively
minuscule initiative with little to no capacity to respond to the massive
search and rescue crisis in the borderlands.” Less than 6% of Border Patrol
agents have certified medical training, and less than 1% are trained in
search and rescue techniques. Still, in 2007 surrounding counties began
forwarding emergency 911 calls to Border Patrol from people perceived to be
undocumented and in distress. Up until 2015, these calls were transferred
to a single cell phone carried by a BORSTAR agent.

“This ‘emergency’ cell phone was frequently out of service, out of battery,
and at times, turned completely off over the weekend or overnight. For
years, untold numbers of calls from people in dire need went unanswered,”
No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos reported. Pima County,
Arizona, estimates that 70% of the 911 calls from this period were dropped
upon transfer to Border Patrol.

The report’s findings are based on data collected in 2015-2016 by the
Derechos Humanos Missing Migrant Crisis Line, a community advocacy
initiative created to assist family members searching for their loved ones.
In 63% of all distress calls referred to Border Patrol by crisis line
volunteers, the agency did not conduct any confirmed search or rescue
mobilization whatsoever—this includes 40% of cases where Border Patrol
directly refused to take any measures in response to a life-or-death
emergency.

Border Patrol was also found to be more than twice as likely to take part
in directly causing a person to go missing through deadly enforcement
tactics than they are to participate in locating a distressed person. As a
regular part of daily enforcement operations, Border Patrol agents chase
groups of people who are migrating together. Sometimes these chases are on
foot, other times Border Patrol utilizes helicopters, ATVs, horses, and
dogs, causing people to run in different directions “leaving people
disoriented, exhausted, sometimes injured, and separated from their
traveling companions,” according to the report. Many of the emergency cases
received by the Derechos Humanos Crisis Line are people who have gone
missing as a direct result of a Border Patrol chase.
*Families take matters into their own hands *

Hannah Taleb, one of the report’s authors, told Prism that it’s unhelpful
to talk about disappearances “in a vacuum.”

“What is happening has been intentional in every way,” Taleb said. “The
findings of our report talk about Border Patrol's enforcement and
non-response [to people in distress], but we really hope that people focus
on the lengths that families have gone to in order to find their loved
ones.”

When people migrate on foot to the United States, their cellphones become
their life lines. When they are in distress, one of their final acts before
they disappear is using the last of their cellphone battery to call their
family and share information about their surroundings and their health. In
at least 26% of emergency cases, No More Deaths and La Coalición de
Derechos Humanos found that a family member received a distress call from
their loved one or from an eyewitness.

When these loved ones go missing, families contact Border Patrol for help,
only to experience inaction, negligence, and hostility. Left with no other
options—as phone calls to 911 and police are transferred to Border
Patrol—families overwhelmingly turn to the Missing Migrant Line and other
humanitarian organizations <https://linktr.ee/Borderlandssearchandrescue>
that perform searches in the borderlands. But these groups also face
obstruction from Border Patrol, including the agency’s practice of
criminalizing
and harassing
<https://theintercept.com/2019/11/23/scott-warren-verdict-immigration-border/>
humanitarian search and rescue volunteers; denying search and rescue teams
access to land jurisdictions; denying humanitarian parole to family members
who want to search for their loved ones; and failing to provide critical
information—like access to eyewitnesses—or providing outright false and
misleading information.

In one case, the Derechos Humanos Missing Migrant Crisis Line received a
call from the sister of a man named Manuel, who had been lost in the desert
for nine days and called his family to tell them he could no longer walk.
Manuel wanted to turn himself into Border Patrol, which he told his sister
was nearby, but he couldn’t make it to them.

Manuel’s family contacted Border Patrol and asked them to search for
Manuel, which the agency agreed to do. But when it became clear Border
Patrol wasn’t searching for him, Manuel’s brother left his home in Mexico
to search the area of the desert Manuel described in his final phone call.
The family also continued pushing Border Patrol to act, so agents removed
Manuel’s traveling companions from detention to act as eyewitnesses in a
search. According to the report, the eyewitnesses were brought to the
search area, however Border Patrol agents refused to allow the eyewitnesses
to lead them to Manuel’s last known location. Days later, volunteers with
the Crisis Line learned Manuel’s brother crossed the border himself and
found Manuel dead.

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One of the report’s authors, Alicia Dinsmore, told Prism that the full
scope of Border Patrol’s violence in the borderlands is hard to quantify
because much of it is unreported or underreported.

“This is why we use the language of ‘disappearance.’ So much of the loss of
human life isn’t counted in the death counts [provided by Border Patrol]
each year. There is a real lack of documentation about what is happening.
For example, counties don’t keep recordings of 911 calls for long periods
of time. For years in Pima County, 911 audio recordings were destroyed
after six months. The full scope of what is happening isn’t reflected in
the United States’ official records, but it is reflected in the tragic loss
of lives that families experience—families who never see or hear from their
loved one again,” Dinsmore said.
*Deadly discrimination *

Families who have lost loved ones because of Border Patrol’s deadly
negligence and inaction have no real recourse for justice or
accountability. Taleb said that the process for filing any form of
grievance with Border Patrol is arduous, often monolingual, and a
bureaucratic dead end.

“Border Patrol does not have systems built in to be accountable to people
because they're an enforcement agency that is not built around
accountability,” Taleb said. “The conclusion we have come to is that this
is beyond accountability. There is no form of recourse that will address
this crisis that leaves Border Patrol in control of what is happening in
the borderlands. It would be illogical to think you can hold an agency
accountable for a crisis of their own making.”

Taleb said she understands that people might read the latest No More Deaths
and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos report in disbelief because it seems
unbelievable that such a well-resourced agency would choose not to enact
searches for people who are dying and calling pleading for help, but she
said it’s important to understand that Border Patrol does not care about
loss of life. “They are not going to use their resources to find missing
people because they use their resources to prioritize punitive action and
enforcement,” the co-author told Prism.

It’s important to note that if the population of people calling in distress
were American citizens, there would be a fundamentally different approach
and outcome. The report found that in 37% of cases in which Border Patrol
did mobilize search or rescue measures, the quality and scope of the
agency’s efforts were seriously diminished when compared with government
search and rescue standards for cases involving U.S. citizens in which
there is a near 100% success rate of county-led search and rescues in the
same or similar remote areas.

In one July 2016 case when a 56-year-old Salvadoran woman named María went
missing in the borderlands, a Border Patrol agent told her family, “It’s
not our problem to look for ‘illegals.’” This profound and deadly
negligence is rooted in racism and xenophobia, and impacted families may be
able to prove in court that Border Patrol engages in discriminatory
practices.

“Governmental services providing one response to a group of people and not
another is clearly a form of discrimination, and county governments
transferring 911 calls to an agency that does not actually search for
people is clearly a segregated system of emergency response that creates
different outcomes based on who you are. It’s a discriminatory system,”
Dinsmore said. “The court system is incredibly complex and the potential
consequences of going into litigation are high stakes, but there is
absolutely a case to be made for pursuing a lawsuit regarding
discriminatory practices.”

No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos is in conversation with
the Center for Constitutional Rights regarding a potential lawsuit, though
they are currently only in the research phase.
*Call to action*

The organizations behind the report included a lengthy series of
recommendations. Of primary importance is for government agencies to
establish borderlands emergency response systems that are fully separate
from immigration enforcement, and for government agencies at all levels to
end discriminatory treatment toward undocumented people reporting
emergencies in the borderlands. A call to action for the report’s readers
can also be found on the No More Deaths website
<https://nomoredeaths.org/defund/>.

The organizations are also demanding that the Department of Homeland
Security and Customs and Border Protection—the agency that oversees Border
Patrol—immediately demilitarize the border and decriminalize migration by
legalizing border crossing, dismantling all border enforcement
infrastructure, disempowering, disarming, and ultimately dissolving Border
Patrol, and establishing a reparations program for the families of all
people harmed, killed, and disappeared by Border Patrol.

“We cannot advocate for an equal system that upholds the border or that
upholds the way in which people are treated at the border. People who are
forced into a deadly situation should be searched for equally, but the
demand cannot stop there,” Taleb said. “People shouldn't be forced into
deadly and remote areas of the desert, period.”

In 2020, the remains of 227 people were recovered in the borderlands of
southern Arizona—the highest of any year on record.
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