Last week, a series of disturbing photos surfaced, depicting border patrol agents showing children to shoot targets that look like migrants. Ironically, the photos were taken at a 5K run and community event in San Diego last June, designed to promote friendly relations between Border Patrol agents and residents.
As quoted by Think Progress, immigrant rights organizer Pedro Rios called the target practice exercise “symbolic of the agency’s unabashed culture of violence.” The Border Patrol defended their actions, asserting that the weapons were not lethal and fired inert rounds; and that any similarity of appearance between the targets and migrants crossing the border was accidental. Regardless of intent, such exercises reveal an agency out of touch and out of control.
The agency has come under increased scrutiny for its brutality and use of lethal force. An investigative report published two months ago by the Arizona Republic revealed that the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection were responsible for killing at least 42 people since 2005. Twenty-two of those people were killed in the last three years. Despite clear evidence of excessive use of force and brutality, and public outcry, reporters found:
“In none of the 42 deaths is any agent or officer publicly known to have faced consequences — not from the Border Patrol, not from Customs and Border Protection or Homeland Security, not from the Department of Justice, and not, ultimately, from criminal or civil courts.”
Other independent investigations have found that killings by US authorities at the border are only the tip of the iceberg. According to a report from the Immigrant Policy Center, there is systemic abuse of migrants while in US custody: more than one in ten migrants reported physical abuse, and nearly one in four reported verbal abuse. Another investigative report into border patrol abuse, published by humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths, confirms these findings and reveals further abusive behavior by agents. Specifically, agents were recorded vandalizing or destroying emergency food and water supplies in the Arizona desert.
Migrant deaths at the border are also tied to increased militarization of the border. According to an ACLU report, between 1994 and 2009, 5600 migrants died crossing the border. Director of the San Diego ACLU, Kevin Keenan, explains: “Because of deadly practices and policies like Operation Gatekeeper, the death toll continues to rise unabated despite the decrease in unauthorized crossings due to economic factors.”
At a demonstration against border militarization in November, relatives of those killed by Border Patrol agents spoke against the border surge, a component of an immigration reform bill passed by the Senate:
“Over a year has passed since my daughter was killed and we are still waiting for a response regarding her death,” stated Valentin Tachiquin, the father of Valeria Munique Tachiquin, a 32-year old mother who was shot and killed by Border Patrol in 2012. “How can it be possible to call for more border agents when the ones that we do have, which are numerous, are not properly trained?”
Despite the public outcry and congressional investigation, the Border Patrol continues to buck efforts to reign in its violence. In November, agency chief Mike Fisher announced he would disregard official recommendations that the Border Patrol curb its use of lethal force.
As congressional debate over immigration reform continues, and proposals to “secure the border” return again and again, it is important to keep in mind the devastating impact border militarization has already had on migrants and border communities. And to remember that the agencies responsible for policing the border are, quite literally, out of control.