WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

Photo: CBP; Illustration: Sergio Ortiz Borbolla

2 Aug 2023 |

Section I – Abuse by CBP and Border Patrol: two accountability pathways – Abuses at the U.S.- Mexico Border: How To Address Failures and Protect Rights


WOLA and the Kino Border Initiative have documented many examples of abusive or improper conduct committed by U.S. border authorities. We have also identified glaring flaws in the accountability process at the Department of Homeland Security.

We present this extensive report in several sections. Here, in Section I, we demonstrate the scope of the abuse problem at the U.S.-Mexico border. We explain that there are two pathways to accountability: cases initiated by U.S. authorities, and the much larger number of cases that require action from outside advocates or the victims themselves.

Subsequent sections will discuss how the accountability system is meant to work, what happens at key points of failure along the way, and recommendations for complaints, investigations, discipline, oversight, and organizational culture.


I. Abuse by CBP and Border Patrol: two accountability pathways

Our organizations’ tracking of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Border Patrol abuses and improper conduct reveals patterns of troubling behavior that rarely get held accountable. This behavior ranges from misuse of force, to endangerment of vulnerable people, to racial profiling, to confiscation of valuables and documents, to politicized insubordination.

Efforts to achieve accountability for these abuses and events, which rarely succeed, follow two broad paths.

In the first accountability path, authorities launch investigations on their own initiative, with no need for an outside complaint to initiate the investigation. That usually happens when investigators are present or arrive on scene, when local law enforcement is involved, when the severity rises to the level that the law requires congressional notification, or when media coverage or other profile-raising activity compels action.

This first path would also get triggered if agents or officers, troubled by their colleagues’ behavior, choose to blow the whistle and alert internal accountability offices. Little evidence, however, points to this happening often. That is less a reflection of agents’ and officers’ character than of existing incentives and disincentives, like the perceived probability of achieving a meaningful response, or the probability of retribution or harm to one’s own career.

On the second accountability path, no investigation would happen at all without an outside party, like a victim or their advocate, initiating a complaint. That “initiation” often occurs through filing a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) civil rights complaints system, the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL). In some cases it involves alerting CBP’s internal affairs body (Office of Professional Responsibility, OPR), DHS’s Inspector General’s Office (OIG), or the Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman (OIDO) if alleged abuse occurs in ICE or CBP custody. At times, it means outside actors using informal methods to pressure for investigation, such as through legislative staff inquiries or generating media coverage.

This report will focus on cases within this second path: abuses committed in the U.S.-Mexico border region by CBP officers or Border Patrol agents, which would be unknown, unrecognized, and forgotten without the actions of victims, their advocates, or other non-governmental actors. In nearly all cases, these outside actors’ complaints ensure that the abuse allegations become part of the public and official record. However, in nearly none of these cases—for reasons that this report will explain—do outside complaints lead to abusers being held meaningfully accountable. This hard fact is unacceptable. It calls for deep reform.

I.A. Abuses that get investigated without outside actors’ instigation

Before moving on to this second, extensive set of CBP and Border Patrol abuses, this report must first acknowledge the victims whose cases follow the first accountability path. Because they involve other law enforcement agencies being present on scene, or because they trigger congressional notification and automatic involvement of OPR and OIG, these are some of the most severe and concerning cases. Here, too, accountability is rare.

Since 2020, WOLA and KBI are aware of 13 cases of fatalities in which there is reason to believe that CBP officers or Border Patrol agents may have (1) used deadly force under circumstances in which it is unclear whether they faced an imminent threat of death or bodily injury, or (2) failed to prevent the death of an individual in custody.

    • July 9, 2020: A CBP officer and a contract security guard shot and killed an unidentified Mexican man, who was apparently wielding a knife, just inside the U.S. border at the Calexico, California port of entry.
    • October 23, 2020: A Border Patrol agent shot and killed David Angel Villalobos Baldovinos, a Mexican citizen, following an alleged scuffle at the San Ysidro port of entry south of San Diego.
    • January 29, 2021: A Border Patrol agent shot and killed Diosmani Ramos, a Cuban migrant, as he emerged from the Rio Grande in Hidalgo, Texas holding a stone. Ramos’s partner said the agent shot him a second time, after he was already wounded on the ground.
    • May 14, 2021: Three Border Patrol agents shot and killed San Diego resident Silvestre Vargas Estrada through the windshield of his car, following a pursuit in Campo, California.
    • August 2, 2021: A Salvadoran man, Jason González Landaverde, died while in Border Patrol custody in the field near Eagle Pass, Texas. CBP reported that he became “unresponsive” after being restrained for having become “unruly.”
    • February 19, 2022: A Border Patrol agent shot and killed Carmelo Cruz Marcos, a citizen of Mexico, at night on a desert trail near Douglas, Arizona. The agent claimed that Cruz Marcos sought to evade capture and threatened to throw a rock at him.
    • May 24, 2022: Abigail Roman Aguilar, a citizen of Mexico, died of stab wounds to the upper chest following a reported “altercation” with a Border Patrol agent, who stabbed Aguilar with a knife.
    • October 4, 2022: Border Patrol agents shot and killed Mexican citizen Manuel González Morán inside the Ysleta Border Patrol station in eastern El Paso, Texas. González reportedly threatened agents with a pair of scissors; a security camera in the room was not functioning at the time of the incident.
    • October 30, 2022: Members of Border Patrol’s tactical unit, BORTAC, shot and killed an individual on U.S. soil near San Luis, Arizona. A Border Patrol camera had shown a member of the group holding a gun, and the agency reported that a handgun was found near the man’s body. CBP’s statement did not specify what provoked the agents to open fire.
    • January 13, 2023: An ill, unidentified migrant, who had reportedly become “agitated and began to kick the interior” of a Border Patrol vehicle died while being transported, shackled, through rural Arizona to receive medical attention. Agents did not realize he had died until they arrived.
    • March 14, 2023: Body-worn camera footage released by CBP showed a Border Patrol agent shooting and killing U.S. citizen Noe Mejia, the apparently unarmed driver of a car suspected of smuggling migrants, at point blank range in Sasabe, Arizona.
    • May 17, 2023: Anadith Danay Reyes Álvarez, an 8-year-old citizen of Honduras, died in a Harlingen, Texas Border Patrol facility while her family was in its ninth day of CBP custody. Anadith suffered from a chronic heart condition and sickle cell anemia, and tested positive for influenza while in CBP custody. Anadith was experiencing abdominal pain, vomiting and a high grade fever. Medical staff refused multiple pleas from Anadith’s mother to call her an ambulance. Anadith’s case was the first death of a child in CBP custody since 2019. In 2018 and 2019, six children died while in, or soon after leaving, CBP custody. [1]
    • May 18, 2023: Border Patrol agents shot and killed Raymond Mattia, a 58 year-old member of the Tohono O’odham nation, while Mattia was steps from the front door of his home in the community of Menager’s Dam (also known as Ali Chuk), Arizona. Three agents, part of a group accompanying Tohono O’odham Nation police, fired their weapons at Mattia, striking him nine times. Commanded to drop his weapon, Mattia tossed a sheathed machete or hunting knife toward agents. Commanded to take his hand out of his jacket pocket, Mattia pulled out his hand holding an object. The agents fired numerous times, killing Mattia. The object in his hand was a mobile phone.

Some serious cases, though not fatal, involve individuals being wounded by CBP officers or Border Patrol agents, with no indication that the officers or agents faced a threat to their lives or safety.

    • June 16, 2021: A Border Patrol agent in Nogales, Arizona fired a 9 millimeter handgun round at an SUV, striking Marisol García Alcántara, a 37-year-old undocumented Mexican mother of three who was riding in the vehicle’s backseat. Ms. García, who has bullet fragments lodged in her brain, was deported without speaking to any agency investigating her shooting.
    • December 12, 2021: A CBP officer fired four times at a sedan approaching the San Ysidro Port of Entry “at a high rate of speed” with Russian asylum seekers aboard. Two occupants of the sedan “suffered minor head contusions.” It was known at the time that Russian asylum seekers in Tijuana were renting cars and attempting to drive over the borderline at the San Ysidro port, not to do harm but to reach U.S. soil to request asylum.
    • February 14, 2022: An unidentified Salvadoran woman claimed that a Border Patrol agent severely beat her during her apprehension in Calipatria, California, that she was denied medical attention, and that agents separated her from her 10-year-old daughter. The case came to light only because she was charged with assaulting and intimidating the agent whom she says attacked her.
    • July 11, 2022: One unidentified individual was injured after Border Patrol shot at a van in Calexico, California.

An especially controversial use of force category for which investigations usually originate from within DHS is Border Patrol’s risky high-speed pursuits, on public roads, of vehicles suspected of carrying undocumented migrants. Chases resulted in accidents that killed 23 people in 2021 and 21 people in 2022, up from 14 in 2020 and 2 in 2019, according to the ACLU’s count.

DHS has launched internal investigations as a result of media coverage of Border Patrol agents’ improper use of force in crowd control situations since 2020. In 2020, the Trump administration deployed agents to confront protesters in Portland, Oregon, where they were recorded grabbing individuals off of a street and pushing them into unmarked vans while wearing uniforms with no insignia. In September 2021, agents on horseback were recorded charging menacingly at a group of Haitian migrants, including children, during a large-scale migration event in Del Rio, Texas.

I.B. Abuses that are only known due to outside actors’ complaints

Many abuses do not garner media or Congressional attention. Investigators and law enforcement never arrive at the scene, and DHS and CBP leadership likely don’t know they even occurred. These cases would be lost to all scrutiny without the initiative of victims, their advocates, media, or other outside actors who alert DHS accountability offices.

These cases are the main focus of this report. As with cases that take the first path, though, meaningful accountability for abuse is exceedingly rare. In fact, as Section III below will demonstrate, much of the time the accountability offices take no action whatsoever.

Cases resulting from outside action or complaints make up the majority of examples of abuse in WOLA’s “Border Oversight” database, which captures examples known since 2020. These cases do not involve loss of life, but they do involve suffering and endangerment inflicted by CBP and Border Patrol personnel. Some of this suffering is grave, including bodily harm and mistreatment of minors. Much of it is “everyday” acts of cruelty and victimization that point to a pervasive toxicity within federal border law enforcement agencies’ organizational culture.

This abusive and improper behavior falls into several categories. For each, we provide just a few emblematic examples.

I.B.1. Conditions of arrest or apprehension

Some serious allegations of human rights abuse involve the moment that migrants come into contact with, or into the custody of, CBP and Border Patrol personnel. It is at the moment of apprehension that some migrants, including women and children, describe being struck or threatened with violence, at times with drawn guns, dogs, or oncoming vehicles. Following apprehension, some migrants describe being subject to “rough rides,” defined as “the practice of intentionally operating a vehicle in a manner that causes passengers physical harm, fear, or other discomfort.” [2]

    • February 18, 2020: During the apprehension of a Honduran couple and their six-week-old baby, the agent who apprehended them subjected them to a reckless “rough ride” through uneven terrain, severely jostling baby “Sofia.” According to an ACLU complaint, the agents who fingerprinted the mother yelled at her, telling her she was a terrible mother for bringing her baby to the United States.
    • April 17, 2021: A Salvadoran woman, her 1-year old daughter, 1-year old son, brother, cousin, and cousin’s daughter, entered the United States, hoping to seek asylum. According to a report from KBI and NETWORK, when they saw a Border Patrol truck approaching them, they stopped and waited. An agent exited the truck, pulling a gun on the mother, calling them “terrorists”, “rats”, and “criminals”. He continued to pull his gun on them, even after they were crying and asking for asylum. A second agent arrived and de-escalated the situation. The woman repeated her asylum request to 7 or 8 more agents, was ignored, and told the agents didn’t speak Spanish.
    • February 14, 2022: The San Diego Union-Tribune narrated the experience of a Salvadoran mother fleeing death threats, who crossed the border in eastern California with her children. They stopped to rest with a group of other migrants when Border Patrol agents found them, and began beating the mother in front of her children. She reported thinking she would die from being hit so many times. One of her sons threw rocks near the agent to get him to stop. They were then transported to the Border Patrol station, where the woman was bleeding and bruised, and did not receive medical attention. She was handcuffed and separated from her children for over a month.

I.B.2. Conditions in custody

After turning themselves in to, or being apprehended by, CBP or Border Patrol, migrants usually spend time in the agencies’ jail-like holding facilities, which were designed more than a decade ago for a population of single, mostly male migrants. These facilities are meant for stays of 72 hours or less while migrants undergo processing, but at times of heavy migration, migrants can be confined to CBP and Border Patrol cells for a week or more.

After emerging from custody, migrants often speak of frigid, crowded, unsanitary conditions in which they are denied basic hygiene, have no privacy even while using toilets, and must sleep on benches or floors. Denial of needed medical care is frequent, and in some of the worst recent cases has caused severe injury and lost pregnancies. CBP officers and Border Patrol agents use abusive language with migrants in their custody, which at times meets the definition of sexual harassment. Numerous migrants, including children, report denial of food or water while in custody, with agents responding angrily to requests, even from children. Attorneys accuse CBP and Border Patrol of blocking asylum seekers’ access to counsel while in custody.

    • “If you keep complaining I will put you with the dogs,” a Border Patrol agent said to a woman when she refused to undress during a search upon her apprehension, according to a complaint filed by the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and ACLU Border Rights Center.
    • August 1, 2021: A Guatemalan man entering the United States in a group of six was apprehended by Border Patrol agents and was pushed to the ground with a knee on his back. According to a report from KBI and NETWORK, another man from the group attempted to run, so the agents released their dog to attack him. He was knocked face down into a cactus. When the injured men asked for help, the agent refused: “this is what happens to people who come here.” A third member of the group was suffering from dehydration and vomiting, asking for water. An agent put his foot on the man’s back and kneeled on him. He did not receive water until nearly two hours later.

Some of the most disturbing examples of mistreatment in CBP and Border Patrol custody involve abuse of migrant children, particularly unaccompanied minors. In recent testimonies, children have told of agents using abusive, profane, and racist language, kicking and shoving them, denying them food and hygiene, withholding bedding and other comforts as punishment, and accusing them of lying or falsifying documents, amid other allegations.

    • September 25, 2021: A report from the Border Network for Human Rights narrated the experience of a Mexican man and his 13-year-old son, who were crossing the Rio Grande into the United States when they saw a Border Patrol truck approaching. They stopped and waited. Upon the truck’s arrival, an officer quickly got out, screamed at them, and proceeded to aggressively grab the boy and press him against the ground. The man told the officer he couldn’t treat his son that way and that he would report him. The officer then threw the man on the ground and grabbed him by the neck, calling him “trash” and saying to go ahead and report him. The agent then called for backup, and all who arrived ignored the man’s request to report the mistreatment of his son.
    • October 9, 2021: A 15-year old girl was detained by two agents in Arizona. According to a complaint filed by four children’s defense organizations, she reported being violently grabbed by the sweater and being forced face-down to the ground while the officer put his knee on her back while handcuffing her. She was pinned to the ground for approximately 2 minutes, causing difficulty breathing. During the violent encounter, she sustained abrasions and bruises to her face and legs. She was not treated for her injuries, and besides an interview with an officer regarding the incident, there was no follow-up or explanation.
    • March 18, 2021: The same complaint recounted the experience of three siblings, 5, 6 and 15 years old, who were detained by CBP officers in Texas and held for 16 days. Officers believed the 15 year old was lying about her age, and they intimidated her so she would admit she was the mother of the children, rather than a sibling. The siblings experienced aggressive behavior from the officers, like threats of beating them with a nightstick, yelling, and verbal attacks saying they never should have come to the United States.

I.B.3. Family separations

It is in CBP and Border Patrol custody that most family separations continue to happen. Though the scale is not as massive as during the Trump administration, children continue to be taken from grandparents, uncles, adult cousins, legal guardians, and other caretakers who are not part of a traditional nuclear family—or from parents, if agents find that they fail a background check or wish to prosecute them. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data show that 102 migrant children were separated from parents during fiscal year 2022, and advocates allege that the actual rate of separations is higher. [3] U.S. border authorities also continue frequently to separate husbands and wives, and adult siblings.

    • March 7, 2021: KBI and NETWORK reported that a Cuban man and his wife crossed into the United States and were detained, searched, and their documents confiscated. Agents separated the couple, even though they told the agents that they were together. The man repeatedly requested asylum for him and his wife, but after five days, he was expelled to Tijuana in the early morning hours, with no explanation and without his wife. A week later, he tried to cross again at Yuma, as his wife was still in U.S. custody. He was then expelled to Nogales.
    • Mid February 2022 : Two unaccompanied minor brothers were apprehended in the desert by Border Patrol. The older brother, who was 17, told KBI that they were taken in for processing and questioned separately. The agents accused the older brother of lying about his age. They said his birth certificate was fake and threatened him with a 10-year prison sentence if he didn’t state his real age. They eventually expelled him to Nogales, and he did not know the whereabouts of his little brother.
    • Mid-September 2021: A 16-year-old Nicaraguan boy was separated from his parents when his family sought asylum in Eagle Pass, Texas. According to a report from Human Rights First, during detention, CBP tore up the boy’s birth certificate, accused him of lying about his age and his family, and threatened to imprison him and his family if he didn’t sign a document stating that he was 18 years old. After severe intimidation, he signed the document and was jailed alone in an adult ICE detention facility for one-and-a-half months, including eighteen days in an isolation cell.

I.B.4. Non-return of belongings and confiscation of documents

While in CBP and Border Patrol custody, numerous migrants report non-return of belongings. Agents confiscate, and either destroy or do not return, cash, jewelry, religious items, mobile phones, medicines, and items of sentimental value, from family photos to children’s stuffed animals. In many cases, confiscated items include official documents like identification cards, birth certificates, medical records including proof of vaccination, and evidence crucial for pursuing asylum cases.

    • Late March, 2022: Border Patrol expelled a young Guatemalan woman to Nogales, Mexico after she had been repeatedly raped by the guides who brought her across the border into the United States. She showed paperwork from the hospital examination to a Border Patrol agent as proof of the attack, and the agent confiscated it. The woman was expelled back to Mexico without the documentation, where she shared what happened with KBI. The Guatemalan consulate later attempted to help the woman apply for a U-Visa (for victims of criminal activity) since she had experienced the crime in the United States, but she no longer had any of the medical documentation to substantiate it.
    • August 1, 2022: A letter from the ACLU of Arizona contended that Border Patrol agents in Yuma had confiscated at least 64 turbans from asylum seekers of the Sikh faith during the first 7 months of the year, including at least 50 in the prior 2 months. “Forcibly removing or targeting a Sikh’s turban or facial hair has symbolized denying that person the right to belong to the Sikh faith and is perceived by many as the most humiliating and hurtful physical and spiritual injury that can be inflicted upon a Sikh,” the letter noted.
    • November 6, 2022: A migrant woman from Venezuela who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border told the CBS program 60 Minutes that Border Patrol agents kept several of her family’s personal documents, including their passports, Venezuelan identification cards, her children’s birth certificates and her husband’s drivers license. Agents told her they would receive their documents during their immigration court hearing. Her family had yet to receive a court appointment, and attorneys said it was unlikely that documents confiscated along the southern border would be transferred to courts across the United States.

I.B.5. Dangerous deportation

Between March 2020 and May 2023, when DHS implemented the Title 42 pandemic expulsion authority, CBP and Border Patrol interpreted Title 42 as superseding repatriation arrangements with Mexico. These arrangements, reached in the mid-2010s, seek to avoid practices that remove Mexican nationals to likely danger in Mexican border cities. [4] During the pandemic, agents often expelled migrants—including families with children and individuals in poor health—into Mexican border cities in the middle of the night when no services were available, security risks were very high, and temperatures were often very low. Cases of dangerous deportation also include removals of people with legal status in the United States, and many returns of especially vulnerable individuals like injured people, unaccompanied minors, or victims of sexual violence, kidnapping, and other crimes suffered while in Mexico.

The Title 42 policy ended on May 11, 2023, but as this report goes to publication in July 2023, our organizations are concerned that the new rule may continue Title 42’s re-definition of what is a “normal” repatriation. Mexico has agreed to accept deportees of other nationalities deemed ineligible for asylum under a new Biden administration rule. This rule presumes ineligibility for asylum if non-Mexican nationals do not have an appointment, made using the CBPOne smartphone application, to present at the port of entry and did not first seek asylum in another country en route. We are concerned about the possibility of continued non-recognition of existing repatriation agreements designed to limit dangerous deportations, including at which ports of entry repatriations occur and the times of day they are allowed, with more restrictive hours for unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable populations.

    • Early November 2022: KBI spoke with a Mexican migrant who sought asylum in the United States after she and her husband spent a month in captivity, kidnapped for ransom by organized crime. Despite explaining the persecution they fled in Guerrero and the hostage situation they had just escaped, CBP expelled them back across the border to the same area where they had been held hostage, with no explanation.
    • February 13, 2021: The Dallas Morning News told the story of Pedro Gómez, from Guatemala, and Jhon Jairo Uscha Alcoser, from Ecuador, who ended up in Border Patrol custody after falling from the border wall in late January 2021. Gómez told the Morning News that, with two broken ankles, he could not walk: “I crawled inside the migra vehicle.” Uscha Alcoser said that agents made him stand up even though, as the Morning News noted, x-rays “later revealed broken tendons and a fractured back and pelvis.” Border Patrol expelled both injured men “into the small town of Palomas, across from Columbus, New Mexico, far from where they fell from the wall.” Palomas is isolated and has few services.
    • January 6, 2022: KBI spoke with a young Guatemalan man who had tried to cross into the United States to seek asylum after fleeing threats from extortionists in his hometown. He fell and injured his knee while traveling in the desert. Although he reported his injury to immigration officials, he was not offered medical attention. He was expelled to Nogales at 3AM, where he spent the night exposed in the plaza downtown until the sun came up.

I.B.6. Denial of protection to the most vulnerable migrants

Including by employing the Title 42 expulsions policy, CBP officers and Border Patrol agents rapidly return to Mexico individuals and families who are under threat or suffered violent crimes in Mexico, or who have other vulnerabilities like disability, age, young children, or LGBTQ status. Migrants accuse U.S. personnel of lying to or deliberately misleading them, in some cases leading them to believe that they were about to be reunited with U.S.-based loved ones before expelling them into Mexico or Haiti. Even before Title 42 went into effect, KBI often documented Border Patrol agents attempting to prevent Mexican families from accessing asylum through wrongful removals and misuse of expedited removal; we are concerned that these practices will continue or even intensify in the post-Title 42 era. [5]

    • February 27, 2021: The Arizona-based Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project was alerted to a pregnant woman in Border Patrol custody at a local hospital. Fearing she would be removed without due process and concerned about the vulnerability of pregnant women at the border, the Florence Project requested she be released to the community rather than sent to Mexico. Border Patrol never responded. Two days later the woman reached out from Nogales, Sonora seeking aid.
    • October 13, 2021: A Honduran family held in Border Patrol custody, before entering detention, was asked for the contact information of their relatives in the United States; they were assured that they would contact them and be reunited. After two days, the Honduran news website ContraCorriente reported, they were put on a bus, taken to the airport, and put on a flight to Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico. The family did not know they were being taken to Mexico until they landed. No explanations were given, and they were then picked up by Mexican immigration and boarded onto a new bus taking them back to Honduras.
    • March 2022: According to a report from Human Rights First, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Al Otro Lado, CBP officers turned away a Mexican asylum seeker and her children who fled Guerrero after the woman’s husband and teenage son were murdered. The woman brought photos of the chopped-up bodies of her loved ones as evidence of the danger the family had fled. “I’m not here because I want to be here. I’m here to save the lives of my children,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune. The family spent the night outside the San Ysidro port of entry until Mexican officials pressured them to leave.

I.B.7. Falsifying protection-seeking migrants’ documents

CBP and Border Patrol personnel stand accused of falsifying or negligently handling asylum seekers’ paperwork on numerous occasions. Entering wrong, or invented, addresses, or failing to file notices with immigration courts, has complicated thousands of asylum cases. In other cases, migrants—including children—report being compelled to sign English documents that they don’t understand, with resulting harm to their requests for protection in the United States.

    • 2021: A complaint from four children’s defense organizations described the experience of a 17-year-old child from Romania who was held in CBP custody for five days. “D.S.” did not have access to sufficient interpretation services and was forced to sign some documents that were never explained to him in Romanian. D.S.’s passport was never returned to him.
    • September 15, 2022: A letter from several non-profit organizations and a BuzzFeed article pointed to border law enforcement officials inventing addresses around the United States and adding them to asylum seekers’ immigration paperwork when those asylum seekers lack U.S. relatives, contacts, or specific destinations. In most cases, the addresses that officials—usually Border Patrol agents—added to documents like immigration-court hearing notices and Notices to Appear were those of non-profit service providers in cities around the United States. CBP and Border Patrol do not inform those service providers. “Catholic Charities in New York City received over 300 [people given] such notices,” the letter read.

I.B.8. Discrimination and harassment

In their interactions with migrants, and—according to media reports—in their interactions with U.S. citizens, legal residents, and even their own colleagues, CBP and Border Patrol personnel face numerous recent allegations of discrimination and harassment. This includes cases of racial discrimination or profiling against Black and Latino individuals; cases of sexual assault, harassment, or other gender-based harm both in the field and in a workplace that, in Border Patrol’s case, is about 95 percent male; and cases of discrimination or aggression toward LGBTQ individuals.

    • July 7, 2020: Among examples of abusive language from CBP and Border Patrol personnel detailed in a complaint from the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and the ACLU Border Rights Center was: “Desgraciada, ¿porque tienes tantos niños si no los puedes cuidar? Puta, prostituta.” “Disgraced woman, why do you have so many kids if you can’t take care of them? Slut, prostitute.” The complaint noted that “agents bully LGBTQ people,” reporting an agent asking a holding cell of boys aged 13 to 17, “Which of you faggots suffer from asthma?”
    • April 7, 2022: The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) revealed the existence of a 2018 DHS OIG survey that had found more than 10,000 CBP, ICE, Secret Service, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct at work. That was more than a third of the survey’s 28,000 respondents. Of these, 78 percent said they did not report the incident, often out of a belief that doing so would derail their careers. The Inspector General has still not reported these results.

1.B.9. Insubordinate or highly politicized conduct

Several recent episodes point to a highly politicized culture, particularly within Border Patrol, that is not appropriate for a professional law enforcement agency. Resulting behaviors range from the workplace harassment discussed above, to toleration of, or collusion with,  vigilante “militia” groups in border areas. Meanwhile, as we discuss further below, the DHS and CBP accountability and disciplinary apparatus rarely issues meaningful punishments for abusive behavior, which means there is little disincentive for engaging in this conduct.

    • May 24, 2021: Video footage depicted a Border Patrol agent having a conversation at a Texas checkpoint with members of a militia group, “Veterans on Patrol.” The unidentified Border Patrol agent tells the militia members, “You guys are very effective and a lot of fun. You can’t talk to every agent the way you talk to me. Maybe 90% of the people you can. We’ve got some strange f—ing ducks, man.” The agent concludes saying, “Citizens, I don’t mind anything you guys do… Whatever you do, man. … Hey, I appreciate it.”
    • September 10, 2022: CBP stopped updating its “@CBPWestTexas” Twitter account after an unidentified employee used it to share former Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s view that “Biden’s eradication of our border means we are no longer a Republic,” and to issue “likes” to homophobic tweets.
    • April 4, 2022: In a Fox News appearance, National Border Patrol Council union President Brandon Judd accused the Biden administration and the Democratic Party of allowing migrants into the United States “to change the demographics of the electorate.” According to journalist Melissa del Bosque, “Judd was echoing the ‘great replacement theory,’ a white-supremacist belief with roots in the French nationalist movement of the early 20th century.”

I.B.10. Civil liberties and privacy infringements

CBP, with its Border Patrol component, is by far the largest law enforcement agency in the federal government, and it has sweeping powers to surveil, search, seize, and detain. Fear that these powers may be misused is aggravated by recent cases of civil liberties infringements, misuses of intelligence capabilities, harassment of journalists, and intimidation of humanitarian workers.

    • December 11, 2021: A Yahoo News investigation of Jeffrey Rambo, a Border Patrol agent assigned to the Counter Network Division of CBP’s National Targeting Center in 2017 and 2018, revealed serious infringements of the privacy of U.S. citizens not suspected of committing any crimes. Rambo led a team that dug through classified government databases to uncover information about the private lives of as many as 20 U.S. journalists. An analyst on the team regularly investigated congressional staffers’ travel and looked for “inappropriate contacts between people.” As of December 2021, Rambo remained on duty.
    • August 7, 2020: Sources inside DHS raised concerns to NBC News about the Trump administration’s use of Border Patrol agents and other DHS personnel to confront protesters in Portland, Oregon. Nate Snyder, an Obama-era DHS counterterrorism official, told NBC that Trump “wants his own state-run police force” that can commit “violence against protesters without coordinating with local law enforcement.”
    • October 5, 2020: Border Patrol agents, including members of BORTAC, a SWAT team-like unit, carried out their second raid of the year on a desert facility operated by the faith-based humanitarian group No More Deaths (NMD). Border Patrol agents stormed the camp in a convoy of vehicles that included a Bearcat tank. A Border Patrol helicopter buzzed the camp, flying so low that its rotor wash destroyed a NMD tent and storage shed.

I.C. Abuses reported by Kino Border Initiative (Nogales, Sonora, Mexico): 2020-2022

KBI has assisted migrants in filing formal complaints about their treatment by CBP, and by Border Patrol in particular, since 2015. From this work, KBI concludes that abuse by U.S. authorities during the migration journey is unfortunately common.

KBI performs an intake survey with every migrant person who arrives at its migrant aid center in Nogales, Mexico, to better understand their experiences. One survey question asks if migrants experienced any rights violations on their journey, and which actors perpetrated these abuses.

In 2020, KBI received 442 reports of abuse by U.S. authorities, meaning that 18 percent of new arrivals had experienced abuse by a U.S. authority. Allegations pointed to Border Patrol agents in 52 percent of reports. In 2021, KBI received 1,668 reports of abuse by U.S. authorities (experienced by 20 percent of new arrivals), 94 percent of which Border Patrol allegedly perpetrated. In 2022, KBI received 615 reports of abuse by U.S. authorities (experienced by 10 percent of new arrivals), with Border Patrol accused in 75 percent of cases.

These abuses span many categories, such as night-time expulsions, expulsion of unaccompanied minors under Title 42, confiscation or non-return of belongings, and excessive use of force. In 2022, the types of abuse reported most frequently were due process violations, medical neglect, excessive force or physical abuse, and inhumane detention conditions.

The prevalence of abuse by Border Patrol reported to KBI is likely an undercount, as it requires that migrants self-report to KBI staff and therefore recognize that their experience of being abused was not, in fact, just the normal cost of crossing the border. Further, many other migrants who faced abuses and were removed to Nogales may never have arrived at KBI and did not have a chance to report.

People who experienced abuse may have reasons for deciding not to file a formal complaint. Some fear it will harm their future immigration processes, or that they might face retaliation if the offending agent is aware of the complaint. Some feel that filing a complaint is not worth the effort, as KBI staff clearly explain to potential complainants that there is no personal benefit in doing so and there is often no response to these complaints at all.

In addition, filing complaints is time and resource intensive. Many NGOs across the border lack the capacity to file complaints as they struggle to meet humanitarian needs. This leads us to believe that the complaints outlined in this report represent only a small fraction of what migrant people are actually experiencing at the hands of CBP and Border Patrol.

These are only the cases in which migrants or other victims have dared to discuss what happened to them, usually because a service provider like KBI or an advocate or journalist was there to record it. In border sectors with less of a presence of outside “denouncers”—for instance rural areas like Del Rio, Texas or Yuma, Arizona, or the south Texas region across from Mexico’s very dangerous state of Tamaulipas, where fewer service providers operate—many abuses may be occurring without anyone to take note of them.

This report’s first section has established, with a preponderance of examples, that abuse events and allegations committed by CBP and Border Patrol personnel are pervasive and severe. The examples cited in Section I have occurred just since 2020. Some, particularly the most severe cases, are known because DHS accountability agencies have initiated investigations. Most of the cases presented here, though, would have gone completely unknown without reporting from victims and those, outside of government, who accompany them. That such abuses are happening so frequently at CBP and Border Patrol indicates that DHS’s accountability system has done little to dissuade or disincentivize them.

This report’s next section explores what that system looks like, and why abusive and unprofessional behavior persists in spite of it. It focuses on the process for achieving accountability for abuses that take the “second path,” becoming known due to the work of outside actors.


[1] Molly Hennessey-Fiske, “Six Migrant Children Have Died in U.S. Custody. Here’s What We Know about Them,” Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-migrant-child-border-deaths-20190524-story.html.

[2] Mitra Ebadolahi et al., “ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and ACLU Border RIghts Center Letter to DHS Inspector-General Joseph Cuffari Re: U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol’s Abuse and Mistreatment of Detained Sick Children,” February 18, 2020, https://cbpabusestest2.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/2020-02-18-dhs-oig-cmplt-2-final.pdf.

[3] “Monthly Report to Congress on Separated Children” (Washington: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022), https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/september-2022-monthly-report-on-separated-children.pdf; Anna-Catherine Brigida and John Washington, “Biden Is Still Separating Immigrant Kids From Their Families,” The Texas Observer, November 21, 2022, https://www.texasobserver.org/the-biden-administration-is-still-separating-kids-from-their-families/.

[4] “Updated U.S.-Mexico Local Repatriation Arrangements,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, May 31, 2022, https://www.dhs.gov/publication/updated-us-mexico-local-repatriation-arrangements.

[5] “Border Patrol Increasingly Removing Mexican Asylum Seekers Without a Hearing,” Kino Border Initiative, October 4, 2019, https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/border-patrol-increasingly-removing-mexican-asylum-seekers-without-a-hearing/.


This report was made possible, and tremendously improved, by editing, design, research, communications, and content contributions from Kathy Gille, Joanna Williams, Ana Lucía Verduzco, Zaida Márquez, Sergio Ortiz Borbolla, Milli Legrain, and Felipe Puerta Cuartas. We could not do this work without the generosity of our supporters; please become one of them.