By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"[Sanchez] grabbed me and struck me behind the right ear . . . He continued to grab me, and we both fell to the floor. Upon landing on the floor, [he] sustained a cut on the back of his head."A year later, according to court records, Moreno changed his story again. He told FBI agents that Sanchez was looking right at him with his hands in a "ready position" and refused to put them behind his head. He said he might have grabbed the man's wrists to force him to put his hands behind his back
When Moreno finally pleaded guilty, four years later, he admitted that his assault of Sanchez was unjustified. He was sentenced to a year in prison.
"It's very offensive to me, to the agency, when we hear about someone who abuses their authority," said Agent Cantu, the spokesman for the agency's Tucson Sector. "It gives the entire agency a bad name."
He continued, "It's unfair to judge an entire organization from the actions of one person."
But as the previous examples and the ones that follow attest, more than "one person" within the Border Patrol has violated the public's trust. And given the secrecy in which the actions of agents are cloaked, there is a good probability that these examples merely scratch the surface.
Luis Edward Hermosillo, a California agent, is facing sexual-assault charges for allegedly pulling over a Mexican woman with a tourist visa in June 2009, groping her breasts and genitals, and using his finger to penetrate her while her two young children were in the car.
A judge dismissed charges in 2009 against Nicholas Corbett, a Southern Arizona Border Patrol agent who shot and killed an unarmed immigrant near the border in January 2007, after jurors in two separate trials could not reach a verdict.
Brian Dick, a Tucson border agent, was sentenced in January to more than five years in prison for raping a female agent.
While his crime wasn't directed at an immigrant, his victim shed light on the harassment agents face after reporting abuse by a fellow agent.
The Arizona Daily Star reported that the female agent told her attacker in court that she "received nonstop calls from private numbers from your buddies." She said these callers "should be ashamed of wearing a badge and uniform."
Her story demonstrates that if agents harassed her, one of their own, for reporting that Dick raped her, it is not a stretch to believe what human rights activists have preached for decades — agents are unlikely to report witnessing colleagues abuse immigrants.
There is no doubt that Border Patrol agents have dangerous jobs. And not all of them go home unharmed at the end of their shifts.
Jesus Albino Navarro-Montes was arrested in February 2009 in Mexico and extradited to the United States to face murder charges. Navarro-Montes allegedly ran down Agent Luis Aguilar, who later died, with a Hummer H2 in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in California. Navarro-Montes' case is pending.
Later that year, on July 23, a 30-year-old agent was shot and killed while on a call. Agent Robert W. Rosas Jr. was patrolling alone and had radioed spotting several individuals traveling north toward the U.S. border. Then, contact was lost.
Agents were rushing to Rosas' location on a remote border trail east of San Diego when they heard gunshots. They found his vehicle and bullet-riddled body a few feet away.
A judge sentenced Christian Daniel Castro-Alvarez, a Mexican teenager, to 40 years in prison for Rosas' murder.
Though stats on abused immigrants must be ferreted out by news media and activist groups, U.S. border officials are happy to release figures on assaults against Border Patrol agents.
CBP announced that, across the nation, there were 986 assaults on agents in fiscal year 2010, up from 974 the previous year. Along the Southwest border, 974 agents were assaulted in 2010, up from 958 in 2009, the agency says.
Just as immigrants endure desert conditions, including the threat of human assault, Border Patrol agents must work in the same environs, officials note. Not mentioned is that they have the advantages of citizenship, salaries, badges, and licensed weapons.
"We don't mind tracking a group for three, four, five miles in the middle of the heat, in the middle of the cold, whatever," Tucson Sector Agent Cantu said. "That's what we're about."
"There are currently no uniform regulations. [There is] no independent oversight of the treatment of those detained," wrote the authors of No More Deaths' "Crossing the Line" report. "The testimonies [in the report] reveal a systematic refusal to respect the dignity of human beings and a failure to uphold human rights."
Advocacy groups want this culture of cruelty to change. They want Customs and Border Protection to admit there is a big problem and enforce reform. They want the agency to make agents' behavior toward immigrants transparent — stop giving the public the runaround.
On the ground level, they want agents put on notice that there will be serious repercussions if they do not inform immigrants of their rights, provide basic medical care, offer sufficient food and water, and treat them with dignity while they are detained.