Copyright 2005, Mark Campos
Alternately feared and lauded by the many who have attempted or succeeded in crossing the border dividing the U.S. and Mexico and those who oppose their efforts, the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) has seen a rise in notoriety over the course of the past decade as attempts at crossing the border have grown from feasible and relatively safe migrations to increasingly dangerous expeditions. Reports of abuses at the hands of CBP officials have become customary occurrences, and little to no effort has been made to ensure the implementation of accountability measures. That may finally begin to change, however, depending on how a new series on border accountability is received by the public (US news channel PBS). Two episodes have already been aired with the third slated to air at a later date. Called “Crossing the Line”, the series’ first installment on April 20 drew attention to the 2010 beating (and subsequent death) of 42 year-old Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas, a father of five who died near an entry point close to San Diego, California. The second installment discusses the case of a young woman working for the New Mexico branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who had arranged, over a year ago, to meet with CBP officials regarding a case of sexual assault, which later revealed a darker and even more brutal element of CBP’s dealings with migrants.
The series itself comes at a crucial time; laws across the South and Southwest of the U.S. have forced migrants to resort to ever-more dangerous methods of entry into the country, and confrontations with CBP officials have become more frequent, with increasing reports of torture, assault, and varying levels of abuse. Conditions within detention centers, generally described as overcrowded and miserable, which have gone underreported in past years are also being discussed. Part of the PBS program involves a border patrol agent who openly talks about the deplorable situation facing detained migrants, as well as the many violations occurring on the part of the agents themselves. The series plans to look into whether border (and international) law is being broken, and what needs to change in order to create a safer and more humanitarian presence on one of the most-crossed boundaries in the world. The ACLU released a statement and lawyers representing ACLU New Mexico and ACLU Texas (two states that see some of the highest number of border crossings) have proposed that the U.S. government create a committee to oversee complaints and provide protection to those willing to come forward and talk. The organization has gone on to assert that, regardless of the personal views of Americans on the subject of immigration, migrants must be protected from torture, rape, and murder – each of which constitutes a violation of international law.
While it remains to be seen what impact programs such as the PBS one will go on to have on U.S. border control accountability, it is at least clear that measures are now needed to enforce respect of human rights. A recent article discussed border agents who actively set out to destroy water containers left for dehydrated immigrants, leading many who attempt the dangerous journey to die. This disregard for human life is counter to both U.S. and international law, to say nothing of being intrinsically flawed on a moral level. In addition to working to ensure that immigration law within the U.S. improves, it is also essential that CBP officials be held accountable for their actions, and that measures be taken to also ensure the safety of migrants once they fall into the hands of the U.S. government.