WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

Abuse, Accountability, and Organizational Culture at U.S. Border Law Enforcement Agencies

1:00 PM -2:30 PM EST Tuesday, 18 October 2022


A virtual discussion hosted by the Washington Office on Latin America, Tuesday, October 18, 2022 1:00-2:30pm Eastern


The U.S. federal government’s border law enforcement agencies face serious and frequent allegations of human rights abuse: some severe, many “everyday” in nature. Other incidents pointing to serious organizational culture problems, like insubordinate or highly politicized behavior, happen troublingly often at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and its Border Patrol component.

Victims at the U.S.-Mexico border, ranging from protection-seeking migrants to U.S. citizens, describe misuse of force, deliberate infliction of suffering in custody, dangerous deportation practices, non-return of belongings and documents, hazardous vehicle pursuits, racial profiling, sexual assault, and several other categories of offenses. Advocates working for accountability describe an investigation and internal-affairs apparatus that is frustratingly dysfunctional, rarely providing justice or redress.

A WOLA project documents border law enforcement incidents and allegations. For us, this experience recalls our work elsewhere, monitoring the human rights records of security forces throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

We’re seeing little progress on this problem. In order to raise the profile and spur more discussion of border accountability, WOLA is organizing an online event on Tuesday, October 18, 1:00-2:30pm Eastern time, to hear from people working to defend victims, seek accountability, and promote reforms.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Sarah Turberville, director of the Constitution Project at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Washington DC.
  • Zoe Martens, advocacy coordinator at the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), Nogales, AZ/Sonora.
  • Jennifer Johnson, border policy advisor to the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), Washington DC.
  • Shaw Drake, senior policy counsel on border and immigration at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), El Paso, TX.
  • Moderator: Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight at WOLA and creator of WOLA’s abuse-monitoring database.

Speakers will discuss emblematic examples of abuse, or evidence of an organizational culture crisis, that they have encountered in their work. They will discuss their experience navigating the Department of Homeland Security’s accountability system. All will reflect on reforms that Congress and the executive branch must implement, in the short, medium, and long term, to stop patterns of abuse and impunity and to change border law enforcement organizational culture.

The presentation will be virtual and in English. Register here.