The Feds Bury Border Patrol Abuses of Immigrants, But What's Been Unearthed Reveals a Culture of Cruelty

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Perez's statement came after Border Patrol Agent Eduardo Moreno pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tucson to an unprovoked attack on Alfredo Becerra Sanchez in 2006 at an immigration-processing center in Nogales, Arizona.

Moreno initially lied to investigators, telling them it was Sanchez who attacked, punched, and grabbed him. The agent said he fought back, but only in self-defense.

Unfortunately for Moreno, a surveillance camera captured the brutal beat-down, and Moreno's actions were made public. (Moreno's sentencing report, on New Times' Web site, contains a detailed description of the video.)

After agents had searched Sanchez, they walked him to a fenced-in area of the Border Patrol facility where Moreno was working. Walking behind the deportee, Moreno escorted him past the enclosure to a holding cell. Along the way, he ordered Sanchez to put his hands behind his head. Although the prisoner obeyed, Moreno kicked the back of his left knee. Sanchez spun around and faced Moreno but kept his hands on the back of his head.

Sanchez stood still — even as Moreno pulled a collapsible baton from his utility belt. With a swift motion, Moreno slammed it into Sanchez's abdomen, forcing his body to buckle forward as he stumbled backwards.

The agent moved toward Sanchez and pointed in the direction he wanted Sanchez to walk. Again, the immigrant obeyed. With his hands at his side, Sanchez walked at a normal pace in front of the agent. In the video, Sanchez appeared to turn his head slightly toward the agent as if to say something to Moreno.

"Suddenly and without physical provocation, [Moreno] strikes the victim in the back, throws him to the ground . . . stands over the victim and begins to punch him," investigative records detail.

Sanchez starts "swinging and flailing his arms" and Moreno falls on top of him. Immediately after Moreno goes down, six or seven agents rush the scene to separate the two men and apprehend the victim.

Court records note that "from the time that [Moreno] took control of the victim to the beginning of their struggle on the ground, no other . . . agents are visible on the video."

It is hard to believe that Sanchez didn't cry out in pain sometime during the series of events, when Moreno kicked the back of his knee, slammed him in the stomach with a baton, struck him in the back, knocked him to the ground, or stood over him and punched him repeatedly.

Sanchez suffered a gash to the back of his head, and his face was covered in bruises. He was taken to Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales, where doctors used staples to close his head wound.

Apparently unaware that the surveillance cameras had captured his every move — or under the impression that his actions would never become public — Moreno told investigators, according to an incident report:

"[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.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo