Border Patrol sadism and human rights abuses on the Mexican border

John Carlos Frey investigates the deliberate cruelty of the US Border Patrol agents who work on the US-Mexican border. A humanitarian relief group called No More Deaths used hidden cameras to record smiling Border Patrol agents destroying water-caches left in areas where migrants have died of exposure. A former senior agent who left after witnessing horrific acts of torture and cruelty describes the way that Border Patrol agents delight in sadistic brutalizing of captured migrants. These accounts have been corroborated by the Red Cross and Doctors of the World.

My grandparents -- Red Army deserters -- deliberately destroyed their papers after WWII in order to become "displaced people" so that they could make their way from a camp in Azerbaijan to the DP boats in Hamburg. I don't see any difference between that sort of "illegal" migration and the sort that the US BP is currently fighting. Back then, the US, UK and Canada used very similar rhetoric about the way that migrants would take badly needed jobs, bring criminality, and fail to assimilate. But as Elie Weisel said, "there is no such thing as an illegal human being."

In his nine years working the border near Tucson, Ariz., and earning the rank of senior agent, Cruz says he frequently saw agents physically abusing detainees and denying food and water to those who were in obvious need. He also saw “individuals being crammed into cells twice beyond the posted capacity. Standing room only. I mean, you couldn’t even lie down on the floor.” This was done, he says, even when empty cells were available nearby. In 2003, he began warning his supervisors of this pattern of abuse. When his spoken complaints didn’t elicit a response, he began to write letters. “I started at the unit level,” Cruz says. “I went to the sector chief, office of inspector general — via phone calls and faxes of those memorandums. Went on to the commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection, who’s over the U.S. Border Patrol Agency. And then felt the need to move on to Congress.” Cruz left the force in 2007 without ever hearing a response.

Cruelty on the border


  1. Nice to see the author proclaiming his bias by equating deserters from an armed services and subsequent lying to try to get into another country illegally with opportunity seekers and miscreants crossing illegally into the US. There is no comparison between these two. 

    1. Would you be so kind as to share the handy chart you seem to have? You know, the one that cross-references specific reasons for migration with the specific human rights abuses a given migrant can be subjected to?

      1. It’s simple really: migrant ≠ immigrant. They are NOT the same thing.

        An immigrant, is one who moves to a new country to live there on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, and as part of the acclimation and assimilation process adopts a new, typically hybrid, national identity. 

        A migrant, on the other hand, is only a visitor, a temporary immigrant for work purposes, and retains their national identity, as they will return to their -home- country when the work is over.

        You confusion seems to disingenuous at best, as words have distinct meanings, which you are deliberately blurring as part of a poorly-constructed straw man argument for the purpose of improperly equating immigration enforcement with racism.

        And as Canadians don’t count as a singular “race” and Canadian illegal immigration is not seen as a major problem along the United States’ porous northern border… which points the discussion to the United States’ semi-porous southern border… THEREFORE… it’s clear that you’re projecting your own biases in claiming that ENFORCING THE LAW is somehow inherently racist.

        1. Your words, they are very tasty to some, no doubt, but please stop shoving them into my mouth. Please, do point out where I said anything at all about racism, or even used the word. Human rights aren’t about racism — they’re universal.

          But hey, please keep lecturing the person who immigrated thrice in his relatively short life on what immigration and migration really mean.

    2. I’ve read this like three times and I can’t tell how one group or the other can claim any sort of moral superiority according to the poster. In general, deserters from any armed service — allied or enemy — are regarded among the most undesirable immigrants there are by most countries. 

      1.  Both of my grandparents were child soldiers. My grandmother was inducted into the civil defence force during the Siege of Leningrad when she was 12; my grandfather and his brothers were forcibly inducted when he was 14 by a patrol as they fled the Nazi troops marching on their town.

          1. My grandfather was a 15 year old boy when he was forcibly inducted into a Volkssturm unit in the last days of WW2. His Gruppenführer (Squad Leader) was a 60 year old WW1 Veteran. He saved my grandfathers life when he told the boys in his unit to run and throw away their weapons hearing tanks advancing on their position.

            For the officials this man was a deserter and traitor. Guess what my family thinks about this man. 

        1. What a nightmare situation.
          The last of my grandparents to leave Russia did so in 1905, after serving in the Russo-Japanese War.  No combat, just horrible rations and ennui punctuated by disease.

    3. Ugh! Those poor people who are risking their lives to get jobs picking cabbages and cleaning up rich ppl’s shit just want MORE and MORE, don’t they? When will they be satisfied? Once they’re allowed to live decently? Feh!

      Also: You’re calling Cory Doctorow “the author” on his blog… and you only have 2 comments. Astroturfer.

    4.  Two of my great grandfathers stowed away on ships bound for America, they didn’t pay passage, and they didn’t go through customs, as the crew just dumped them off at the docks.  Also relation a much farther back lied about being catholic to get in.

      Most illegals come from poor rural areas where there are few jobs and no opportunities. Just part of the huge migration from rural agricultural areas to the cites.  Most illegals come to the US because they have family already here.

      When I was born there were 12 million people in California.  Over the last fifty years people have come from all over the place. Some of papers in order, so do not.  Why do you care, really? Some people seem to be willing to do all sorts of nasty things to illegals, upshot of it is, I don’t trust those people at all.

    5. Unless you can bring sufficient funds to invest with you the criteria which states use to distinguish the desirable from the undesirable movement of people seem pretty arbitrary to me despite the legalistic veneer of fairness. Anyone can project their own prejudices and definitions onto the terminology used.

    6. ‘Bias’, sometimes referred to as ‘a point of view’.

      I can discern yours pretty clearly, too.

      1. Native Americans moved to America from Asia, I believe. Really very few of us are native or aboriginal regardless of which model of human evolution you subscribe to.

        1. You’re trying to define aboriginal or native out of existence.

          Aboriginal/native/indigenous Americans commonly refers to those peoples who were here before the Europeans came.

          @retepslluerb again — indigenous Americans (First Nation) are pre-European.

          1. Yes. Blame it on satanic postmodern relativism. I’m not the only one. I wouldn’t deny them, however, their creation myths.

          2. It seems to me there is a distinction to be made between nationhood on the one hand and the nation state, nationality and nationalism on the other and their relation to place. This informs the stories we tell, either histories or myths, which we use to locate ourselves in a particular place. Our relationship with these stories can inform our sense of security and belonging in a particular place so as not to feel threatened by the advent of new and unknown arrivals.
            The antagonism between Native myth and Western history can ultimately produce a proper sense of both, I believe.

          3. Well, there were three waves of migration, so lots of native Americans come from people who immigrated into populated territory. 

          4. I fail to see your point. What are now commonly called indigenous Americans are a group of people who come from one group that traveled to true Terra Nullius and two groups that joined the first group later.

            That later immigrants didn’t distinguish – couldn’t distinguish – just emphasises that it’s perfectly possible to *become* a new kind of aboriginal. 

            As long as the first group is still around, it makes some vague sense to distinguish between those groups, but that’s more important for the people who live there.

            From the outside, anyone who was born and raised in the American continent, especially when a significant set of his ancestors was born there, too, is certainly a native of America. 

          5. Ah yes, just become indigenous.

            Never mind that the Mexican immigrants we’re talking about are descended from people who have lived in the Americas for 12,000 years or more while the folks trying to prevent this immigration are descendants of people who got here a few hundred years ago.  I don’t know how much more indigenous these folks could possibly get.

          6. …while the folks trying to prevent this immigration are descendants of people who got here a few hundred years ago.

            More like 60 or 70 years in many cases. Arianna Huffington was anti-immigrant before she had her epiphany, and she only moved to the US in 1980.

    7.  It’s just so, so hard to think of ANY other point in American history when dark-skinned people crossed borders illegally in a northerly direction in search of better lives, and lighter-skinned people found it totally necessary to abandon their humanity in order to keep these felons from breaking the all-sacred law!!!  I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING COMPARABLE IN OUR HISTORY!

    8. opportunity seekers

      Just using your own words, there does seem to be a basis for comparison here.  Are you morally opposed to seeking opportunities?

  2. America, this is what you have become.

    This is the society your children are growing up in and YOU, by your action of inaction, have made it possible.

    May you bitterly rejoice in your success, especially since these out of control animals are running border checkpoints a hundred miles from the border.

    America Uber Alles.

    1. Oh please. There are countless people working their asses off in America to try and stop these sorts of things from happening. To claim everyone is inactive is a slap in the face to me, my friends, everyone who works their asses off to improve things, and reality. Pull your head out of your rear and realize that just because bad things happen doesn’t mean an entire group stands by doing nothing.

      You do more to justify this treatment through brushing aside any and all positive actions than you’ll ever do to help it.

      1.  > There are countless people working their asses off in America to try and stop these sorts of things from happening.

        Really? Let’s examine this. Where are the rallies to protest this? Where is the outrage? Where are the congressional investigations? Where are the firings? Where are these mythical people who do something that actually fucking matters?

        And why is it that – despite these apparently valiant efforts – this country has gone down the drain in a plethora of ways, ranging from Americans being stopped and asked for their papers, bitte while driving on US highways (which, by the way, are crumbling) to a legal system that has virtually eliminated trials via coercive plea bargains to the fact that we have 50 million people on food stamps and 23% of our fucking children living in poverty? Never mind the attacks on women’s health providers, warrant-less searches and a telecommunications spying infrastructure that would have made the stasi proud.

        > Pull your head out of your rear and realize that just because bad things happen doesn’t mean an entire group stands by doing nothing.

        See, you have it backwards. The majority (enablers) stands by doing nothing while only a minority try to effect some change via “feel good but do little” measures. That is why bad things happen.

        > You do more to justify this treatment through brushing aside any and all positive actions than you’ll ever do to help it.

        Yes, because this is America, where looking naively optimistic is pretty much the most important thing, facts be damned.

        1.  > to the fact that we have 50 million people on food stamps and 23% of our fucking children living in poverty?

          Because we’re in an unadmitted second Great Depression?

        2. Where are the rallies to protest this? Where is the outrage?

          1. This isn’t common knowledge.  That’s why Cory posted it in the first place.  Hard to get people to rally against something they don’t even know is happening.
          2. Most of the people in this thread are expressing outrage.
          3. There are plenty of pro-immigration rallies, and I have no doubt that the people at those rallies would decry the revelations in the linked story.

          Where are the congressional investigations? Where are the firings? Where are these mythical people who do something that actually fucking matters? 

          ManageWA said people were trying to do something about this and s/he wasn’t lying to you.  Those people are not necessarily senators or people in immigration who actually have the capacity to fire the people responsible.  (If either of those things were true things probably wouldn’t have gotten this bad.)  There are plenty of activists in this country as well as non-profit organizations that try to prevent this kind of abuse of human rights.

          A few other points:
          1. It’s pretty unreasonable of you to hold all citizens of the USA morally accountable for something like this.  The vast majority of citizens not only have their own problems they’re only just barely capable (or perhaps not even quite capable) of dealing with themselves, and only a tiny few have any kind of leverage in the systems of control that allow this kind of abuse.  It’s like blaming your dog for letting your house burn down.  WTF was the dog supposed to do about it?
          2. What the fuck are you doing about it, Ms. High-Horse the Self-Righteous?  If you’re asking where the rallies are then I guess you’re not organizing them.  If you’re asking why there aren’t any senatorial investigations I guess you’re not lobbying them.  You seem pretty heavy on criticism for people who are standing by and letting it happen.  So how about you?  What have you done about it?

      1. No, I’m talking about Philip Zimbardo’s famous “Stanford Prison” experiment and the resulting body of social psychology research: put people in an impossible position, put them in uniforms that anonymize them, allow them to conceal any part of their face behind masks or opaque sunglasses, allow them to use dehumanizing language to describe the people they interact with, diffuse responsibility or have one or more superiors who use the phrase “just do it, I’ll take responsibility” and you increase the likelihood that employees will resort to torture in order to get their job done. Do many of these things, or nearly all of them, and you guarantee it. The combination has been proven, both historically and in laboratory settings, to render up to 98% of even the sanest, healthiest, and most moral human beings incapable of reasoning morally.

        Border Patrol officers can be, and occasionally are, held accountable for their failure to plug the border, when simple math shows that it would take at least 100 times more of them than there are to do so. They wear uniforms, and usually wear dark sunglasses, while working. The people they are tasked with dealing with aren’t identified as individuals or called “people” in the language of the job, they’re called “aliens” — at best. So before you even tell me whether or not, when one of them objects to something he’s been ordered to do or something that a co-worker is doing, his supervisor says, “that’s not your responsibility, that’s my responsibility,” even before you tell me whether or not they use even more dehumanizing names for the targets of their work? I know enough social psych to know that most of them will be torturers — and that, if asked about it, they will acknowledge that they knew it was wrong and that they will be completely unable to explain to you, or even to themselves, why they did it. The reason they can’t explain it is that the part of their brain that makes decisions was actually disabled, would not have registered as active on a PET scan, by the situation that they’re in.

          1.  Not so much a defense as a diagnosis.
            ‘Twould only be a defense if they were being prosecuted, which is not the case.

            In other words, you appear to be missing the point.

      1. The idea that everybody does everything of their own conscious choice and free will, without any control or even influence from their environment, situation, or the people around them is the dominant American superstition.

        I continue to believe that people have free will. But I also think that the evidence is overwhelming that most people use theirs no more than twice in a lifetime. Every other time that they are confronted by a choice, they look around them and do what everybody else is doing. If there isn’t a crowd they can look at, they do what they did last time. If there isn’t a last time, they do what they think someone like them is supposed to do. If they can’t figure out what role they’re supposed to fit into, then most of the time they do what they’re told.

        Only maybe once or twice in a lifetime, on average, do they consciously think about the choice in front of them, research all available alternatives, project the likely outcomes based on logical inference and/or historical analysis, weigh the costs and benefits, and then consciously choose. This is unsurprising. It’s a slow process. Under normal circumstances, it doesn’t produce any better outcomes than just doing what everybody else is doing or doing what you’re told. People get very little training for it or practice at it.

        Which is why we call people who stop to think, a lot, mentally ill or at least anti-social. And why people who make conscious moral choices to object to evil or to try to stop it are such lonely and persecuted individuals.

  3. I wonder what would happen if a calamity forced everyone living in Arizona to flee southwards?

    1. One hopes they would be better treated than illegal immigrants who come into Mexico from Guatemala and other points south.

  4. This is bad.  But I work in South Texas, and I talk frequently with illegal immigrants who have been apprehended by Border Patrol agents.  Although I get the occasional, rare complaint about inappropriate use of force, I have not heard many complaints about deliberate, physical cruelty.  The typical complaints I get are that the agents coerce immigrants to sign documents without explaining them, try to get them to implicate other immigrants as being alien smugglers, or speak rudely to the people they arrest. 

    But by and large, most of the immigrants I talk to acknowledge they were treated fairly civilly, in the sense that they were taken to a hospital if they suffered any sort of injury during the trek north, and they were provided with food and water if they were hungry or dehydrated.  In my experience, agents are fairly conscientious about ascertaining whether people they find in the brush need medical attention.

    The use of force complaints I hear usually involve someone who resisted arrest.  Whether they were injured deliberately as a reprisal for not going quietly or whether they actually tried to fight with the agents is usually impossible to tell.  There are rarely witnesses beyond the complaining immigrant and the Border Patrol agents, and not surprisingly, those two camps have diametrically opposing views of the facts.

    The most common complaint against Border Patrol is the way they tend to

    1. There are rarely witnesses beyond the complaining immigrant and the Border Patrol agents, and not surprisingly, those two camps have diametrically opposing views of the facts.

      And the fact that these stories come from a former senior border patrol agent?

      1.  Well, it looks like the accusations in the main story are from Arizona, while my experience is in South Texas.  Perhaps attitudes differ from sector to sector.  Granted, I’m not out there in the brush when they make these arrests, but when I hear pretty consistent stories for 10 years, I tend to believe them.  I’m no apologist for the Border Patrol.  In my opinion, they have little regard for, let us say, “accurate reporting”, but I tend to have far more contact with immigrants than agents.

      2. As someone who knows really, really well, “senior patrol agent” is a title that used to be given to agents who had worked up in pay grade, but had not moved up in rank to be supervisors, chiefs, etc. The title sounds nice, but someone with it is incredibly low on the pecking order, but managed to remain there for a long time.

        It’s not to question his stories, which are likely accurate, but to put some context to the title.

    2. Is that like the private prisons we hold them in, where they are getting abused and mistreated by the employees and suddenly they get deported before getting a day in court?
      They have really clean records on paper, until someone with a soul starts working there and documents the abuses in the system that everyone else claims aren’t happening.
      Then there is a media campaign to make the person raising the alarm look like someone making stuff up…

      How many threats does it take to make someone not speak up after they’ve already been abused by the system?

    3. Thats heartening to hear and I hope it’s a wide spread approach. I know a fair number of young people who have made the trip. They describe miserable conditions and great risk in their search for a better life. I hope they are treated with dignity by the Border Agents. Many are hardly more than kids who simply want a chance to feed their families. All of them state how sweet it would be if the process to legally cross were available. Instead they face a nightmare of paperwork and fee’s that are out of their reach.

  5. Oops, forgot to finish comment.  The most common complaint against the Border Patrol is the way they tend to want to search people for random reasons or no reason at all at checkpoints and during traffic stops.

    1. How there is anyone that doesn’t understand this principle is beyond me.  The irony of white people in the US complaining about immigration is simply retarded.

      1. Must be my day for linking to Youtube videos…

        Helps if you can read the Hebrew subtitles, but not necessary.
        tl;dr: The previous immigration wave complaining about each and every consequent one is a time-honoured tradition, by no means unique to North America.

        1. Oh definitely, I didn’t mean to insinuate that it was unique to the US. We get the same thing in the UK, normally from the less liberal North (primarily of Viking descent). What makes the US such a good example is how recent the migration occurred, we’re talking a few generations in some cases – we have Asians in the UK that get a hard time that have been here longer than that.

          1.  Not terribly fair tarring the North there, given that the right wing is exclusively powerful in the South of England.

          2. Generally speaking I think that it’s fair to say that the North of England is less liberal. They may have more Labour voters than Conservative but that doesn’t really mean anything tbh; I’ve met just as many racist labour supporters as conservative supporters. My main point was that quite a large proportion of people North of the A5 are of Viking descent. It’s not as powerful a statement for the South as their immigration is a bit more dilute and happened a little longer ago; but of course it’s all relative either way, and there have been more recent migrations. It’s all silly, that’s the main takeaway.

          3. tl;dr People think that they care about culture and jobs, whereas they’re actually just xenophobic; wherever they’re from and however long ago their descendants migrated to their current breeding ground.

  6. Let’s have compassion for those who are at the lowest end of the spectrum within the context of human cognitive evolution, those that define others of their own kind as “illegals”.

  7. There is ofcourse also a middel ground in acknowledging that simply allowing unlimmited imigration causes problems for the host country and also not being a complete sadastic asshole in finding a solution to that problem.

    1. Which could be obviated by allowing free movement of people as of capital, goods and services.

  8. If the Border Police are going to destroy a life-saving water cache, the least they could do is leave a $200 EPIRP in its stead. This would at least allow the migrants to “give up” rather than die.

    1.  but their superiors have orders not to incur the expense of keeping prisoners… you remember that scene?

  9. We’ve spent so much time demonizing immigrants as being responsible for all of the ills in society, and then we are surprised people might take a job where they could take out their frustrations on the embodiment of the “problem”?
    That people given power over others tend to become a law onto themselves, ignoring their actual duties and responsibilities.
    But then I watched a US Border agent on television tonight asking a woman in line for the x-ray scanner if she was pregnant (a safety check) and when she replied no he followed up with well do you want to be?  He then insulted her openly infront of her children… and this goes on because we want to believe these defenders of freedom would NEVER do that, and that the system would stop this.  Like the young immigrant molested by an agent, who almost got her day in court… until a large contingent of agents showed up and demanded she be body checked before she could pick her attacker out of a line up.  When the people abusing the power are the only ones to take your complaints to, you’ll notice the line to complain is very short.

    To much power, to much trust.  We deserve better.

    1. Borders only exist for the 99% (the 1% couldn’t possibly get up to mischief, could they?), so why not let them get on with it and sort the problem out for themselves?

  10. My mom volunteers in Mexican Nogales at a shelter for migrants who have been picked up by border patrol either in the desert, or on sweeps, etc. She helps bandage feet, hand out socks, try to connect people with their families wherever they are from–the US or Mexico or Honduras or someplace. She has a blog that is pretty interesting: . This story was extremely sad and really upset my mother about a man who tried to return to his family in southern CA but who got in trouble in the desert. The US border patrol did not behave admirably.

    Also, part of the group she volunteers with does water drops/refills in the desert and they routinely find them slashed. One guy set up a stop-motion camera in some trees near a water stop and recorded the border patrol cutting up the jugs.

  11. I volunteer with undocumented teens who have been apprehended and are awaiting their fate in a pretty awesome shelter (it’s illegal to house minors with adults in immigration detention centers). The thought that anybody would think any kind of abuse by the Border Patrol is “okay” because these young people are crossing the border without papers sickens me. They come here for better schooling, to escape violence, to work their asses off, and sometimes are trafficked here, believing they’re going to a better place when they’re going to a terrible one (and in that case I am very thankful they are apprehended.) Don’t believe they should be here? I disagree with a lot of that, but I’m willing to discuss it. Believe they “deserve” abuse in the hands of U.S. officials? You’re a monster.

    To be fair, most were not abused by Border Patrol during their journey, but were simply taken through the steps by a reasonable person doing their job. I sure hope the 15-year-old I spoke to who survived 3 days in the desert without water, though, wasn’t deprived of it because some asshole destroyed the water cache.

  12.  lovely voice

    Father says head down, we don’t want them finding you
    Mother says practice now all the words you know

    Oh, Arizona’s burning, they say the fence turned round
    And now the razor wire keeps us out

    Mother says with luck we’ll sleep under a roof tonight
    Father says in the truck we’ll be crushed in tight

    Oh Chicago, don’t forget me as the miles between us grow
    Keep the maple tree carved with the name of my love
    The hills we would sled race down
    Lake Michigan stay endless and painted in sky goodbye

    Mother says years ago the whole world was ours to rule
    [From: ]
    Father says let it go those days are gone for good

    All the signs read no gringo but somehow we’ll find our way
    Maybe waiting at dawn by the factory doors
    Sun burnt and bent in the fields
    Hey don’t turn us in, we’ll be silent as the grave, as time

    No gringo, no gringo aquí
    Words as levies against the flood
    Hoy cerrado, there’s too many to feed
    Room for only our own kind, our own blood

    No gringo, no gringo aquí
    You have stayed in this land for too long
    Tan amargo but there’s no time to grieve
    You just pack up your things and move on
    And move on, and move on

  13. Its fascinating and inspiring how Cory’s parents worked the system to flee to lands that held out the promise of freedom prosperity to its citizens. But I think there is a huge difference between the  “sort of “illegal” migration” of his grandparents “and the sort that the US BP is currently fighting.”  grandpa Doctorow was fleeing a corrupt totalitarian system with an inefficient state controlled capitalist economy that was reeling from a devastating war.  Obviously, the future was bleak for anyone living under the soviet boot.  by contrast modern day Mexico  is a liberal democracy with a diversified economy. The US has off-shored much of it manufacturing to maquiladoros in free trade zones on the Mexican-us border raising the standard of living of millions of Mexicans.  In addition to embracing a free-market capitalist economy, which is highly diversified in manufacturing, finance, tourism, etc., Mexico is also rich in natural resources. (just checked the price if oil, over $90 USD per barrel.)  Perhaps doctors without borders, no more deaths, the red cross and other human rights groups should work on eliminating  the persistent gap between the rich and poor in mexico through the political system already in place which promises civil liberties for her citizens.  everything is in place in a country like mexico to achieve this and to continue to help these people where they are.  Modern Mexico not the same as Soviet Russia under Stalin.

  14. As a Mexican, it would be highly biased of me not to point out the equally disgusting way in which our *own* police forces treat the Central and South American immigrants who cross our nation trying to reach the United States.

    Sometimes instead of repatriating the immigrants, they sell them to los Zetas, who either extort their families for ransom, or force them join them… or else

Comments are closed.