By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Oh, and if they [have] run, that only made the agents angry. The [agents] beat them to punish them."
Deportee Armando told volunteers that an agent beat him for fleeing. It happened after he had grown too tired to go on. He stopped, turned toward the agent, and threw his hands up in the air. The officer caught up, yanked Armando's head back, and slammed his fist into the side of the immigrant's face.
Officials deported the Michoacán native, and he later arrived at the migrant-aid station. Volunteers noted in their reports that he had scratches on his chest, was bleeding from a large gash in his hand, and looked like he had been savagely beaten.
Volunteer Sally Meisenhelder has encountered someone like Armando each time she has traveled from her New Mexico home to work at the aid station at the Nogales port of entry.
"Every day I have been at the port, I have met someone who was physically abused by Border Patrol, sometimes in a sadistic manner," she wrote in a signed affidavit included in the "Crossing the Line" report. "The injuries I have personally seen have been fractures of feet, after being run over by vehicles, pulmonary contusions caused by beating to the chest wall, lacerations caused by being pushed down on the ground, [and] bruises and sprains."
Sarah Roberts provided medical care to one man who told her a Border Patrol agent in Douglas, Arizona, kicked him in the head after he asked for food for a child. The man said the agent also swung his foot at a woman who asked for food. Another migrant warded off the kick intended for the woman with his hand, absorbing a blow so strong that it broke his wristwatch.
Roberts did her best to console Juana before they walked about a half-mile to the comedor.
While they ate, Roberts told the group at the soup kitchen that she was there to provide first aid and to document accounts of treatment by Border Patrol agents.
After the meal, a few went to Roberts for aspirin, a muscle rub, or something to heal the deep cuts or raw blisters on their feet. Those who needed more attention followed her to Grupo Beta, a Mexican aid station not far from the border.
In a back room, Roberts filled a small tub with water for the deportees to soak their feet. She applied medication and gave them fresh pairs of socks. Her husband helped wrap sprained ankles and handed out Girl Scout cookies and clothes.
No one Roberts saw that day volunteered that he or she had been abused by the Border Patrol. But when questioned about what they ate, the conditions of their holding cells, or how the agents spoke to them, a different picture emerged.
Some said they were given food — a few saltine crackers — and water in a dirty bucket. They said agents did not hit or manhandle them, only mocked or berated them.
Almost none of the immigrants were aware that while they were in the United States, they were entitled to the most of the same constitutional rights as Americans — rights that are supposed to protect them from mistreatment.
For example, federal law (18 USC 242) decrees that law enforcement officers cannot subject illegal immigrants to "different punishments, pains, or penalties" than those they can use legally against U.S. citizens.
Further, the Fourth Amendment affords immigrants protection from excessive and unreasonable force by law enforcement, and the Fifth Amendment decrees that they cannot be harmed while in custody or lose their liberty without due process of law.
"When we're talking about the U.S. Constitution, about civil rights and human rights, we need to apply these to all people in this country, regardless of their immigration status. Otherwise, we're jeopardizing our very basic constitutional rights," said Victoria Lopez, immigrant rights advocate with the ACLU of Arizona.
"We all have a responsibility to defend these rights that we cherish, that we think are so important as Americans. If we don't, then we erode our own system of protection."
Despite U.S. Customs and Border Protection's secrecy about agent training — and the notion that admittedly unfit agents are hired because polygraph examinations no longer are standard — Border Patrol officials insist that agents know the law.
They insist that agents know it is illegal to slam a baton into an immigrant's abdomen without any legitimate law enforcement reason and that they know what reasons are legitimate.
They insist that agents know it is a violation of illegal immigrants' constitutional rights to angrily abuse them as punishment for trying to escape.
As part of a 55-day training program to ready agents for the demands of the job, officials say, agents are schooled about the civil rights of the people they will encounter during hours of patrols across expansive stretches of borderland. But they refuse to detail how much course work is devoted to training agents about how to preserve the civil rights of immigrants.
The Border Patrol is part of Customs and Border Protection, the largest uniformed police force in the nation, with more than 40,000 agents. The Border Patrol alone already has seen its ranks double from 10,045 in fiscal year 2002 to 20,119 in '09 — with 2,200 more agents on the way. CBP's budget nearly tripled over the past seven years — growing from $5.9 billion in fiscal year 2003 to $17.2 billion in 2010.