January 12, 2019


THE BORDER PATROL HAS BEEN A CULT OF BRUTALITY SINCE 1924 (Greg Grandin, January 12 2019,The Intercept)

SINCE ITS FOUNDING in the early 20th century, the U.S. Border Patrol has operated with near-complete impunity, arguably serving as the most politicized and abusive branch of federal law enforcement -- even more so than the FBI during J. Edgar Hoover's directorship.

The 1924 Immigration Act tapped into a xenophobia with deep roots in the U.S. history. The law effectively eliminated immigration from Asia and sharply reduced arrivals from southern and eastern Europe. Most countries were now subject to a set quota system, with the highest numbers assigned to western Europe. As a result, new arrivals to the United States were mostly white Protestants. Nativists were largely happy with this new arrangement, but not with the fact that Mexico, due to the influence of U.S. business interests that wanted to maintain access to low-wage workers, remained exempt from the quota system. "Texas needs these Mexican immigrants," said the state's Chamber of Commerce.

Having lost the national debate when it came to restricting Mexicans, white supremacists -- fearing that the country's open-border policy with Mexico was hastening the "mongrelization" of the United States -- took control of the U.S. Border Patrol, also established in 1924, and turned it into a frontline instrument of race vigilantism. As the historian Kelly Lytle Hernández has shown, the patrol's first recruits were white men one or two generations removed from farm life. Some had a military or county sheriff background, while others transferred from border-town police departments or the Texas Rangers -- all agencies with their own long tradition of unaccountable brutality. Their politics stood in opposition to the big borderland farmers and ranchers. They didn't think that Texas -- or Arizona, New Mexico, and California -- needed Mexican migrants.

Earlier, in the mid-1800s, the Mexican-American War had unleashed a broad, generalized racism against Mexicans throughout the nation. That racism slowly concentrated along an ever-more focused line: the border. While the 1924 immigration law spared Mexico a quota, a series of secondary laws -- including one that made it a crime to enter the country outside official ports of entry -- gave border and customs agents on-the-spot discretion to decide who could enter the country legally. They had the power to turn what had been a routine daily or seasonal event -- crossing the border to go to work -- into a ritual of abuse. Hygienic inspections became more widespread and even more degrading. Migrants had their heads shaved, and they were subjected to an increasingly arbitrary set of requirements and the discretion of patrollers, including literacy tests and entrance fees.

The patrol wasn't a large agency at first -- just a few hundred men during its early years -- and its reach along a 2,000-mile line was limited. But over the years, its reported brutality grew as the number of agents it deployed increased. Border agents beat, shot, and hung migrants with regularity. Two patrollers, former Texas Rangers, tied the feet of one migrant and dragged him in and out of a river until he confessed to having entered the country illegally. Other patrollers were members of the resurgent Ku Klux Klan, active in border towns from Texas to California. "Practically every other member" of El Paso's National Guard "was in the Klan," one military officer recalled, and many had joined the Border Patrol upon its establishment. [...]

In 1993, the House Subcommittee on International Law, Immigration, and Refugees held hearings on Border Patrol abuse, and its transcript is a catalogue of horrors. One former guard, Tony Hefner, at the INS detention center in Port Isabel, Texas, reported that "a young Salvadoran girl" was forced to "perform personal duties, like dancing the Lambada, for INS officials." (In 2011, Hefner published a memoir with more accusations of sexual abuse by, as Hefner writes, the INS "brass"). Roberto Martinez, who worked with the San Diego-based U.S.-Mexico Border Program for the American Friends Service Committee, testified that "human and civil rights violations" by the Border Patrol "run the gamut of abuses imaginable" -- from rape to murder. Agents regularly seized "original birth certificates and green cards" from Latino citizens, "leaving the victim with the financial burden of having to go through a lengthy process of applying for a new document." "Rapes and sexual abuse in INS detention centers around the United States," Martinez said, "seem to be escalating throughout the border region."

Brutality continued as Washington further militarized both the border and broader immigration policy -- first after the 1993 signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and then years later with the creation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 attacks. Since 2003, Border Patrol agents have killed at least 97 people, including six children. Few agents were prosecuted. Last year, a 19-year-old Guatemalan Maya woman, Claudia Patricia Gómez Gonzáles was killed, shot in the head by a still-unnamed Texas Border Patrol agent shortly after she entered the United States. According to a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union, young girls apprehended by the Patrol have been physically abused and threatened with rape, while unaccompanied children have experienced "physical and psychological abuse, unsanitary and inhumane living conditions, isolation from family members, extended period of detention, and denial of access to legal medical service."

Posted by at January 12, 2019 6:37 PM