In 2006, in the midst of humanitarian work with people recently deported from the United States to Nogales, Sonora, No More Deaths began to document abuses endured by individuals in the custody of U.S. immigration authorities, and in particular the U.S. Border Patrol. In September 2008 No More Deaths published Crossing the Line in collaboration with partners in Naco and Agua Prieta, Sonora. The report included hundreds of individual accounts of Border Patrol abuse, as well as recommendations for clear, enforceable custody standards with community oversight to ensure compliance. Almost three years later, A Culture of Cruelty is a follow-up to that report—now with 12 times as many interviews detailing more than 30,000 incidents of abuse and mistreatment, newly obtained information on the Border Patrol’s existing custody standards, and more specific recommendations to stop the abuse of individuals in Border Patrol custody.
The abuses individuals report have remained alarmingly consistent for years, from interviewer to interviewer and across interview sites: individuals suffering severe dehydration are deprived of water; people with life-threatening medical conditions are denied treatment; children and adults are beaten during apprehensions and in custody; family members are separated, their belongings confiscated and not returned; many are crammed into cells and subjected to extreme temperatures, deprived of sleep, and threatened with death by Border Patrol agents. By this point, the overwhelming weight of the corroborated evidence should eliminate any doubt that Border Patrol abuse is widespread. Still the Border Patrol’s consistent response has been flat denial, and calls for reform have been ignored.
We have entitled our report “A Culture of Cruelty” because we believe our findings demonstrate that the abuse, neglect, and dehumanization of migrants is part of the institutional culture of the Border Patrol, reinforced by an absence of meaningful accountability mechanisms. This systemic abuse must be confronted aggressively at the institutional level, not denied or dismissed as a series of aberrational incidents attributable to a few rogue agents. Until then we can expect this culture of cruelty to continue to deprive individuals in Border Patrol custody of their most fundamental human rights.