Sunday, December 9, 2012

Border Patrol faces little accountability: Shootings by agents are up, but few are held responsible; families and the public rarely learn the outcome of secret, complex investigations

Just two months after a Border Patrol agent shot her 16-year-old son in Nogales, Sonora, Araceli Rodríguez Salazar sensed silence spreading over the case.

"I'm tired of crying. I'm tired of waiting. I want justice," she said on a recent afternoon, standing outside her humble home on a downtown hillside.

If the pattern holds, she'll be waiting much longer.

Even as the number of shootings by agents increases, the system for holding them accountable remains complicated and opaque, leaving the public in the dark about the status of the cases, an Arizona Daily Star investigation has found. One Arizona case has remained secret and "ongoing" for almost three years.

Questions have sharpened after agents shot people who apparently weren't threatening them at least twice in Arizona over the last two years.

Still, agents get the benefit of the doubt from the public and prosecutors, and are rarely criminally charged. In the few cases when agents have been prosecuted in Arizona, they've won.

That may be because the shootings were justified, but the secrecy of the process means the public may never know.

As questions of accountability grow louder, shootings by Border Patrol agents continue - primarily in Arizona. In the last three years agents have shot at least 22 people nationwide. Nine of those cases have been in Southern Arizona - four in the last two months and two just last week.

Last Sunday, a Border Patrol agent in the Baboquivari Mountains killed an apparent illegal immigrant - 19-year-old Guatemalan Margarito Lopez Morelos - who, the agency said, struggled with an agent. On Tuesday, an agent southwest of Gila Bend shot and wounded a man who, the agency said, brandished a weapon.

Since January 2010, there have been at least six cross-border shootings by agents, including the one that killed Rodríguez-Salazar's son, José Antonio Elena Rodríguez. When killed, he was on a sidewalk across the 36-foot-wide street along the border.

Two people were on the border fence when agents arrived at about 11 p.m. Rocks flew, though police reports leave it unclear who threw them, and at least one agent fired into Mexico.

Elena Rodriguez was hit at least seven times - twice in the head and five times in the back. The walls next to him were pocked with bullet holes.

"What would have happened if a Sonoran police officer had opened fire and shot a 16-year-old walking along the street in Arizona?" asked Kat Rodriguez of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, a human-rights advocacy group in Tucson. "We all know the response would be very different, and it shouldn't be."

agent ivie's death

Early on Oct. 2, Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie cautiously approached a site east of Bisbee where a ground sensor had gone off. Two fellow agents approached from another direction.

In an apparent accident, Ivie fired at the other agents, striking one, the FBI and Cochise County Sheriff's Department reported. The agent who was struck fired back, killing Ivie.

Amid an outpouring of support for Ivie's family, some found a key aspect of the case troubling: Here was a case where an agent apparently didn't know what he was shooting at.

Border Patrol agents are taught to use deadly force only when they or someone else are threatened with death, agency spokesman Bill Brooks said.. However, officers everywhere must always have "target discrimination" and fire only at the person posing the threat, said Dave Klinger, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"If I've got a guy shooting at me, I don't get to send rounds downrange at the general area," said Klinger, who himself shot and killed a man when he was a Los Angeles police officer.

The same rules apply to rock-throwing, Klinger and others said. The closer the thrower, the more likely it poses an imminent threat.

On March 21, 2011, an agent shot and killed 19-year-old Carlos LaMadrid in Douglas. Local police had chased LaMadrid to the border fence, where a Border Patrol vehicle collided with the one LaMadrid was driving, Cochise County sheriff's reports show.

LaMadrid and a passenger began climbing a ladder friends had put against the fence, and at the same time someone atop the fence began throwing rocks at the agent. The agent fired and killed LaMadrid as he climbed the ladder. The rock throwers escaped into Mexico.

Cochise County Attorney Ed Rheinheimer said he has made a decision about whether to prosecute the agent in the LaMadrid case, but he is waiting until federal authorities make their call so as not to influence their decision.

who's in charge?

The FBI, Department of Homeland Security inspector general, the Border Patrol's critical incident team and the Customs and Border Protection Internal Affairs branch all may respond to any shooting by a Border Patrol agent.

The U.S. Attorney's Office oversees the investigation, and local agencies - such as a sheriff's department - may also investigate whether state laws were broken. In Elena Rodriguez's case, the local agency was Sonoran state police, who responded on their side of the border.

Who's in charge, and what happens from there? That's a tougher question. Even Jim Calle, a Tucson attorney whose job is to defend Border Patrol agents involved in shootings or accused of misconduct, can't pinpoint the process.

"I've been doing this for more than a decade, and it's still confusing to me," Calle said. "That's how the federal government operates. They're slow. It's opaque, and they (the investigations) are always difficult."

"There are times when the public never learns about the shooting, never mind the process," he added. "The one thing I am sure of is that every time an agent pulls a trigger, their conduct is critically reviewed, and it is really, really scrubbed hard for all the details to see if they've done anything wrong."

The families of those killed and others find it hard to believe the cases are well-investigated because they can't see it. One of the families stuck in the process is that of Ramses Barron Torres, killed on the Mexican side of the border fence in Nogales, Sonora, by a Border Patrol agent on Jan. 5, 2011.

An FBI spokesman said at the time that Border Patrol agents were trying to arrest drug smugglers when people started throwing rocks at them. Sonoran police said Barron Torres was climbing on the south side of the border fence when shot. It's unclear whether he was a rock thrower.
Now, 23 months later, he FBI says the investigation is ongoing.

Another case has been open even longer: Jorge Solis-Palma was shot on Jan. 4, 2010, after, agents said, he threw rocks at them. The Cochise County Attorney's Office cleared the agent two months later, but the FBI still considers it "an ongoing matter" almost three years later.

In the days after Barron Torres was shot, "there were reporters from here, reporters from over there," his mother, Zelma, said in Spanish. "After a few days, they disappeared. Up till now, I don't know anything."

names are secret

When a Tucson police officer or a Pima County sheriff's deputy shoots and kills somebody, the process is mostly transparent and typically quick.

Both agencies make it a rule to inform the public of the incident quickly and include the officer's name. The Border Patrol keeps the names of agents involved in shootings secret - to the point that LaMadrid's family got a court order to force the federal government to reveal the name of the agent who shot him so they could serve him with legal papers.

On the local level, two investigations of shootings occur.

In one, the local homicide department looks into whether the officer broke the law. Investigators pass their findings to the county attorney's office for a ruling on whether charges should be filed.
In the other investigation, internal affairs decides whether the officer followed department rules and regulations.

Those cases are typically wrapped up in two to six months, attorney Calle said.

The different ways the two levels of government respond is typical, said Klinger, the University of Missouri professor.

"The further away from the populace the seat of power is, the less accountability there is," he said. "For whatever reason, people haven't been making a big stink about federal use of deadly force."
In Border Patrol shooting cases, the investigation may be in an "ongoing" status long after FBI special agents have completed their work, said James Turgal, special agent in charge of the agency's Phoenix division. That may be because prosecutors from the county to the U.S. Attorney's Office to the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., are considering their options.

"Just because the FBI walks down to the U.S. Attorney's Office and presents a case, it doesn't mean we get an answer the next day," he said.

doubtful witnesses

FBI agents enter Border Patrol shooting cases impartially, Turgal said. But the way some cases proceeded left witnesses with doubt.

On June 7, 2010, Border Patrol agents in San Diego killed Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas as they were expelling him from the country into Tijuana. In a press release, San Diego police said agents had uncuffed Hernandez-Rojas and he became violent, causing an agent to use a taser to subdue him.
But witnesses say, and video recordings of the incident show, Hernandez-Rojas's hands were restrained behind his back and he was lying on the ground, screaming for help, as about a dozen agents stood over him, when he was tased and died. The PBS program "Need to Know" revealed the videotapes and some witness accounts in two shows this year.

On June 7, 2010, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed 15-year-old Sergio Hernández-Guereca in a concrete canal that separates Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, from El Paso. In a news release, the FBI said the agent fired when a group "surrounded the agent and continued to throw rocks at him."

Witness accounts and videos show that the agent was not surrounded and that apparently no more than one person threw a rock at him. Nevertheless, the FBI labeled the incident as an "assault on a federal officer."

In some cases, the aftermath of the shootings does not inspire witnesses' confidence in investigators. In both the San Diego and El Paso cases, witnesses who were crossing border bridges when the shootings occurred said they were hustled away and not questioned.

One American woman who watched the agent shoot Hernández-Guereca said in a deposition that she refused to leave the bridge despite a security guard shouting at her, and she spoke to investigators only after she insisted on calling 911 and later called the FBI.

"No one approached me and said, 'Listen, can you tell us what happened?'" Bobbie James McDow said in a sworn deposition taken as part of a civil lawsuit. "It was basically, 'Get off the bridge, get off the bridge, get out of here.' "

More recently, a Nogales, Ariz., resident whose 911 call started chain of events that led to the killing of Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez across the border, said no one has interviewed him.

Marco Gonzalez, a radio announcer who lives along the border, called 911 the night of Oct. 10 to tell police that people had jumped the border fence and were moving through his yard and a neighboring street. Soon after, he saw border agents drive by, then heard gunshots.

Neither Nogales police nor Border Patrol agents nor the FBI contacted him.

Sanctions unlikely

An agent who shoots somebody is unlikely to face prosecution or even internal discipline.
The Border Patrol declined to say whether the agents in any of the six recent Southern Arizona shooting cases were reprimanded. "Administrative and disciplinary actions of our employees are not made public," agency spokesman Brooks said in an email.

Calle, the Border Patrol union's lawyer, said in shootings it's "exceedingly rare that an agent faces disciplinary consequences for their conduct."

That's partly because most shootings are legally justified, agents and attorneys said. They argue there are more shootings now largely because more border jumpers resist arrest.

Also, they say, agents enjoy an assumption that they're in the right, and they face a higher threshold for prosecution than the average citizen.

"Law enforcement officers are given the benefit of the doubt, not only by juries and American citizens, but inside DAs' and U.S. attorneys' offices," said Johnny Sutton, who was U.S. attorney for the western district of Texas from 2001 to 2009. "You're always loath to prosecute a cop because you understand they're putting their lives on the line every day."

As U.S. attorney, Sutton ruled many shootings by agents justified and denied prosecution, he said, but his office also put two Border Patrol agents in prison. In 2005, agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean shot an unarmed drug trafficker who was running away. Their conviction and sentencing prompted a nationwide outcry led by television personalities. President Bush commuted their sentences on his last day in office.

Beyond the benefit of the doubt officers receive, their jobs make them less likely to be charged in the first place. Prosecutors must consider the likelihood of winning a conviction when taking on a case, and it's simply harder to win a case against a cop.

Cochise County Attorney Rheinheimer brought a second-degree murder case against Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Corbett in 2008, arguing Corbett's January 2007 killing of an illegal immigrant was unjustified and a crime. There were two trials, two hung juries and finally Rheinheimer dropped the case.

The Border Patrol agents union lambasted Rheinheimer for prosecuting, saying "he let undue influence from the Mexican government and the radical special-interest groups taint his decision-making ability."

Longtime Tucson civil-rights activist Isabel Garcia, an attorney, laid the blame for the loss on the public's misconception of the border area as a war zone.

"Even when we get what we should get - full prosecution - it's really hard to break that impunity," she said. "The public is very ignorant. They believe all the ugly stuff, so of course they give the agents full immunity."

If there's a next time, Rheinheimer said, he would factor in his failure to convict Corbett when deciding whether it's worth bringing charges against another agent.

That reality, he said, "is balanced against doing whatever is the right thing to do."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Border Patrol agent suspected of smuggling drugs

PHOENIX (AP) -- A U.S. Border Patrol agent has been arrested after authorities say he used his patrol vehicle to smuggle drugs while on duty in southwest Arizona, according to a federal complaint.

Aaron Anaya was on patrol Sunday evening when he stopped along the international border, then loaded up several bundles of marijuana that had been dropped over the fence from Mexico, according to the complaint filed this week in federal court in Arizona.

Agents assigned to the Southwest Border Corruption Task Force had been conducting aerial surveillance in the area between Yuma and Wellton, about 185 miles southwest of Phoenix, when they spotted Anaya stop along the fence and retrieve the bundles, the complaint states. It does not say whether Anaya was the target of the initial surveillance or merely observed during the overall operation.

Authorities say the task force continued to track Anaya for several hours as he appeared to return to normal patrol duties.

The complaint says the agent was later arrested with nearly 147 pounds of marijuana found in three black duffel bags in his Border Patrol vehicle.

He is charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and carrying a firearm - his service weapons - while committing the crime.

Asked if he was willing to speak to investigators, Anaya responded with an expletive, then said, "You guys got me on video," before asking for an attorney, according to the complaint.

Anaya's federal public defender didn't immediately return a telephone message Tuesday. His telephone number wasn't listed. Union representatives for the Border Patrol's Yuma sector didn't respond to emails.

The FBI, which was part of the task force, declined to discuss the case.

Yuma Sector Chief Border Patrol Agent Stephen S. Martin said the agency will fully cooperate with investigators.

"While I am sorely disappointed by the alleged conduct of one of our own, I appreciate the efforts by our law enforcement partners and our own agents to uncover those that violate their oath of office, and hold them accountable for their actions," Martin said in a statement Tuesday.

Border agent wounds man near Gila Bend: 2nd such incident this week, at least 9th since Jan. '10

A U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and injured a man Tuesday evening south of Gila Bend.

It was the latest in a series of shootings by border agents in Arizona - the second this week, the fourth since Oct. 2 and at least the ninth since January 2010.

In this case, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported, Yuma Sector agents responded to possible bandit activity near a checkpoint on Arizona 85.

The agents came across two armed men about 14 miles southwest of Gila Bend, and at least one of the agents fired, hitting one of the armed men, the agency said in a news release.

That man was flown to a Phoenix hospital and is in stable condition; the other man, a Mexican national illegally in the country, was arrested. Agents found a handgun and an assault rifle at the scene, the news release said.

The FBI is investigating.

On Sunday at midday, an agent working in the southern Baboquivari Mountains on the Tohono O'odham Nation shot and killed a man whom the agency described as getting into an altercation with the agent.

Neither Mexican consular officials nor the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office knew the identities of either man shot in this week's incidents.

National Guard troops' southwest border mission extended

PHOENIX - National Guard troops will be staying on the Southwest border, at least for a while longer.

Matt Chandler, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the Department of Defense has agreed to a one-year extension of the agreement to provide - and pay for - soldiers to help. The mission had been scheduled to end at the end of the year.

The soldiers, first deployed in 2010, have been in support roles. Many of those stationed in Arizona have been part of "entry identification teams," posted along the border to report illegal crossings to the Border Patrol.

This extended mission is smaller, involving just 300 soldiers along the border compared with the 1,200 who were first authorized as spotters and to help in Border Patrol and Customs Enforcement offices. But the effort to find border crossers this time continues to shift from the ground to the air.
"The National Guard's aerial support, which includes both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, significantly enhances our ability to detect and deter illegal activity at the border," Chandler said. He said that is the kind of support needed by Border Patrol agents on the ground.

This shift also means lower costs.

The original deployment cost $140 million. A Department of Defense spokesman said the price tag for the current mission going forward will be $60 million.

Chandler said having soldiers as eyes and ears is paying off. He said that since March this support has resulted in Border Patrol apprehending nearly 20,000 people crossing the Southwest border illegally and seizing more than 100,000 pounds of marijuana.

The move met with approval from Gov. Jan Brewer, who has been openly critical of efforts by the Obama administration to secure the border. Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson called it "a step in the right direction."

"Until you get properly staffed up with Border Patrol, it's important that we keep a National Guard presence along the border," he said.

The most recent figures from Customs and Border Protection show there are about 21,400 Border Patrol officers, with close to 18,500 of them on the Southwest border. That compares with fewer than 10,000 nationwide in 2001.

Benson said he cannot say how many agents would be enough. But he said the decision to extend the program a full year, versus in three-month commitments, shows that the administration recognizes the need.

Friday, October 19, 2012

68th anti-immigrant workplace raid in Maricopa County

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Maricopa County sheriff's deputies served a search warrant on a Glendale business Thursday morning in yet another raid to catch people who allegedly used false identification to get their jobs.

Deputies converged on the Sonoran Concrete Company just south of where 67th, Northern and Grand avenues intersect at 4:30 a.m. They wrapped up by 8 a.m.

Investigations believe more than 20 employees used fake or stolen IDs to get hired, according to Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spokesman Jeff Sprong.

Although video from the scene showed investigators talking to several people, it's not yet known how many were taken into custody.

Sonoran Concrete Company employs about 75 people, Sprong said.

"Illegal immigration continues to be a serious problem here in Arizona and the United States, especially those here illegally stealing people's identity," Sheriff Joe Arpaio said after his last ID theft raid nearly a month ago. "These individuals indirectly open up employee opportunities for businesses and help increase employment for those in the country legally."

Thursday morning's operation was the 68th of its kind.

Not including this latest raid, a total of 647 suspects have been arrested during the operations, 460 of which were apprehended for identity theft. All of the suspects arrested for identity theft were eventually found to have been in the country illegally.

Details about Thursday morning's operation will be updated as they become available.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Family of teen killed in border shooting alleges excessive force, will sue

PHOENIX -- The family of a teenager shot and killed in an incident at the border last week says they will file a lawsuit alleging excessive force.

According to Nogales Mayor Ramon Guzman Munoz, Jose Rodriguez, 16, died in "a hail of bullets." He said the teen was hit seven times. Another Mexican official said Rodriguez, pictured above in a photo taken several years ago, was shot in the back.

It happened Wednesday after the Border Patrol received reports of suspected drug smugglers. Agents reportedly saw two people abandon a load of drugs and dart back across the border into Mexico.

Those people then began throwing rocks at the agents, ignoring orders to stop.

That's when an agent opened fire.

Police found Rodriguez' body on a sidewalk near the border barrier.

While a Mexican official told The Associated Press the teen was shot by the Border Patrol agent, the Border Patrol has said only that shots were fired that night. The agency has not identified the agent who fired and is not commenting pending the outcome of the investigation.

Rodriguez' family has not said exactly when they will file suit.

Border agents are generally allowed to use lethal force against rock throwers, and there are several ongoing investigations into similar shootings in Arizona and Texas.

U.S. Border Patrol Fires at Rock Throwers in Mexico, and Three Have Died

 Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, a stocky 16-year-old Mexican boy died face down on a pitted concrete sidewalk in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. José Antonio Elena Rodriguez had been shot seven times. His alleged killer, a U.S. Border Patrol agent, had gunned him down from the Arizona side of the border.

The Border Patrol, in a statement to The Daily Beast, claims the FBI is investigating the shooting, which began when Border Patrol agents came upon smugglers dropping loads of narcotics in Nogales, Ariz. As the smugglers hightailed it back into Mexico, the agents were “assaulted” with rocks from the Mexican side, the statement says. The agents ordered the rock throwers to “cease.” When the rocks kept coming in from Mexico, an agent “discharged his service weapon.” The Border Patrol did not say an agent killed the boy, but said instead “one of the subjects appeared to have been hit.”

The unlikely scenario of Border Patrol agents in the United States gunning down Mexican rock throwers in Mexico has played out several times in the last two years, outraging the Mexican government, raising questions about the Border Patrol’s use of force, and causing diplomatic huddles between the two countries.
“This is happening with a disturbing frequency,” a high-placed Mexican official who is very familiar with the Rodriguez shooting investigation tells The Daily Beast.  “It’s about use of force. How much of a threat is a rock compared to a firearm?”
Not counting the Rodriguez case, in the last two years, Border Patrol agents in the United States have reportedly shot and killed at least three Mexicans in Mexico, and injured at least one other, according to press reports. In each case, rocks were allegedly thrown from Mexico into the United States either as a way to divert agents from arresting Mexicans or as a mean-spirited taunt.
At least one other killing may have occurred in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. On Jan. 5, 2011, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed 17-year-old Ramses Barron Torres when he and others on the Mexican side of the fence allegedly began throwing rocks at Border Patrol agents making a drug bust in the United States, according to Nogales International newspaper.
A year before, a Mexican teen was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. The agent claimed the boys were running into the United States, then running back into Mexico. When he grabbed one of the boys, the agent said, the others began throwing rocks at him. He fired. The family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the agent in the United States, but it was dismissed, according to the El Paso Times, because the shooting occurred in Mexico.
Nogales Border Shooting
A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle keeps watch along the border fence in Nogales, Ariz. (Ross Franklin / AP Photo)
Another fatal shooting occurred in September. A Mexican man on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande near Nuevo Laredo was shot by a Border Patrol agent aboard a boat in U.S. waters, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The family said the man was picnicking; the Border Patrol said the victim was pelting the agent with rocks.

The Mexican official familiar with all the investigations tells The Daily Beast that in addition to the shootings in Mexico, in the last six years, more than two dozen Mexicans have been “shot, Tazered, or otherwise abused” by Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement officials on the American side of the border. Very often, rock throwing is part of the scenario. Since the shootings are found to be justifiable by U.S. officials, the message to Border Patrol agents is, “it’s fair game for a Border Patrol agent to shoot a Mexican,” he says.

“What would happen,” the official asks, “if the tables were turned?  What would happen if an American teenager threw rocks at a Mexican agent and the Mexican agent shot the American? This is the question we always ask Americans.”
Mexican leaders met Friday in Mexico City to discuss the Rodriguez killing, according to The Arizona Republic, and the shooting has been roundly condemned by all levels of Mexican government. In Washington on Thursday, the Mexican Embassy issued a blistering statement saying preliminary information about the Rodriguez shooting raises “serious doubts about the use of lethal force by U.S. Border Patrol agents, something that both the Mexican Government and Mexican society strongly deplore and condemn.”

The shootings have sparked “conversations” between the United States and Mexico, says Christopher Wilson, an expert on Border Patrol issues and associate in the Mexico Institute Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. No one wants to deprive the Border Patrol of the use of weapons to deter and defend, says Wilson. But the shootings “have happened several times” and bear similarities—young victims, rock throwing, and a debate over whether the victims were really rock throwers, narco-traffickers, or innocent bystanders.
‘What would happen if an American teenager threw rocks at a Mexican agent and the Mexican agent shot the American? This is the question we always ask Americans.’

“There’s a lot of space for conversations on creative ways” for the United States to manage Border Patrol “protocols,” Wilson says, so such incidents don’t occur in the future.

At least one method—shooting things other than bullets—seems to work. Last year, a Nogales-based Border Patrol agent “used a pepper ball launcher to repel a rock-throwing smuggling suspect and seize $12,500 worth of marijuana,” the Nogales International reported.
No one was injured.

Unaccompanied migrant youth in U.S. detention centers rises 50%

Gang violence in Central America has led to a startling increase in the number of children who make the dangerous journey across the Mexican border alone in search of asylum in the United States, according to a report by the Women's Refugee Commission, a nonprofit that advocates for displaced women and children.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. detention centers grew nearly 50%, from 6,854 in fiscal 2011 to more than 10,000 in the nine-month period ended June 30, according to federal statistics cited in the report, titled "Forced From Home: The Lost Boys and Girls of Central America." With three months left in the latest reporting period, the fiscal 2012 figures are expected to rise further.

Most of the growth came from three countries: El Salvador, with 68% more unaccompanied minors; Guatemala, with 72% more; and Honduras, with the number more than doubling, from 1,201 to 2,477. The number of Mexican children crossing the border alone fell in the same period.

In interviews conducted with 151 children in federal holding facilities, nearly 80% told researchers that violence was the main reason they set out for the U.S. by themselves, traveling with paid guides on buses or chancing the desert trek as stowaways on top of trains.

One 16-year-old from Honduras told the report's authors that he was threatened with physical violence after refusing to be recruited by a gang. He could no longer attend school safely, so he came to the U.S. to continue his studies.

The children travel on their own because their parents are already in the U.S., because they are fleeing domestic violence or because the family cannot undertake the journey together, said advocates who work with them.

"What they said is, 'If I stayed, I definitely would die.' They knew it would be a dangerous journey, but at least there's a chance," said Michelle Brane, director of the Women's Refugee Commission's detention and asylum program.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, were criticized in the report for operating substandard detention facilities. Officials from the two agencies were unavailable for comment.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, an anti-immigration group, blamed the influx of Central American children on a new federal program granting a two-year reprieve from deportation to some young immigrants.

"The Obama administration has made it very clear — if you get your kids to the U.S. and keep them here for a while, they can stay," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the group. "That's the unmistakable message he's sent around the world. Not surprisingly, you have parents who say, 'Let's do that.'"

Other countries are responsible for ensuring the safety of their own citizens, Mehlman added. Asylum should be reserved for a select few cases, or "the potential is you could have billions of people qualifying for political asylum in the U.S."

Most of the young border-crossers will end up going back to the countries they fled, immigrant advocates said.

The children have no right to a court-appointed attorney in asylum proceedings. Even with legal counsel, cases based on the threat of gang violence have proved difficult to win. Most successful cases have involved children who have lost their parents because of abandonment, abuse or neglect, said Judy London, directing attorney of the Immigrants' Rights Project at the pro bono law firm Public Counsel.

"It's all dependent on getting an experienced lawyer," London said. "The vast majority aren't going to get the legal representation they need, or they're going to get it too late."

Emergency "surge" shelters to house young migrants arriving without parents have been built, said the report.

The report likened conditions in the surge facilities, opened after October 2011 by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, to those in an emergency hurricane shelter. The children received basic medical care, four hours of school and some recreation but not the full slate of education and case management offered in regular detention centers.

Because the new centers sprung up so quickly, they often neglected to provide the "Know Your Rights" legal orientations that are standard in detention facilities, leaving the children clueless about their options, the report said.

The massive increase also resulted in detainees spending longer periods in temporary holding cells, nicknamed "freezers" operated by Customs and Border Protection. The children described the cells' conditions to the report's authors as having inadequate food and water and lights on 24 hours a day, and lacking blankets in frigid temperatures, showers and enough room to lie down.,0,6904349.story

Monday, August 27, 2012

Border deaths at historic highs even as crossings plunge

Historically low numbers of people are crossing the border illegally into Southern Arizona this year, but they're still dying at historically high rates.

In the 10 months through July 31, remains of 161 suspected illegal immigrants have been found in Southern Arizona from New Mexico to the Yuma County line.

That puts this year's death toll on pace to end up at about the annual average for the last decade - 197 - even though that period includes years when there were three to four times as many attempted crossings.

That means the rate of border deaths so far this year - the number of deaths per 100,000 apprehensions - is at about the record high set last year, 154. Illegally crossing the border into Arizona is riskier than it's ever been.

Experts point to a few factors keeping the death rate up.

With the border harder to cross, "smugglers will guide illegal aliens through more remote, harsh terrain to avoid detection by law enforcement, which increases risk of death," U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Brent Cagen said in a written response to questions.

Another possible factor: Central Americans seem to be a growing proportion of those crossing the border illegally. They may arrive at the U.S. border already in greater distress than Mexicans who are just leaving their home country, said Geoff Boyce, spokesman for No More Deaths, a group that patrols areas southwest of Tucson to help migrants.

Also, not every set of remains may be from a recently deceased person.

Joe Adams and his crew have found at least two sets of remains in the last couple of months. Adams, a St. Louis private investigator who leads a border-watch team in the area south of Three Points, reported a woman's decomposing body in early May.

Mariana Chaverri Piña had died in the previous few days. But they also found the bones of at least one person in July, and it was unclear how long that body had been there.

"In 2011, nearly half of all discoveries of deceased individuals were those of skeletal remains," wrote Cagen of the Border Patrol.

frantic phone call
Just last week, a family in Waukegan, Ill., was urgently calling authorities in Arizona, begging them to search for their lost loved one. It's a phenomenon that happens here all summer as the heat takes crossers down.

Jaime Pasillas, 42, a father of four American-citizen children, had returned to Mexico earlier this summer to renew a 10-year visa, his family said through announcements from the League of United Latin American Citizens. But his renewal was rejected, and he decided to return illegally.

On July 30, Pasillas called his family to tell them he was crossing from Sonora into Arizona with a "coyote," or smuggler, and would arrive in three to five days, but then they heard nothing. On Aug. 9, family members spoke with the last person known to have seen Pasillas alive.

The picture he painted was painful: Pasillas' feet were wounded in the crossing, and he was lagging behind the group. On Aug. 6, the guides left Pasillas in the desert around Santa Rosa in the northern Tohono O'odham Nation, with a gallon of water. The high temperature that day in Ajo and Tucson was 106 degrees.

Family members came to Southern Arizona to try to help find him, and Julie Contreras of LULAC urged tribal authorities and the Border Patrol to search. The patrol did prepare to launch a search early Aug. 13, but then they found out the O'odham police had found a body three days before.
While final identification has not occurred, the family has identified Pasillas by a tattoo. Now they are working to get his body returned to Waukegan.

At border, in distress
Some crossers are arriving at the border already in medical distress.

Tucson-based Humane Borders is setting up water stations in Mexico, in cooperation with Mexican authorities, because some migrants have walked so far before even crossing the border into the U.S.
"Many people that are trying to cross are going to points extremely far east or west of the main crossing areas while still on Mexican soil," said Bob Feinman, a board member of Humane Borders. "By foot these can be a couple or three days."

Indeed, agents in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector are on pace to carry out about 13 percent more rescues this year than last, when they recorded 500.

No More Deaths members, who work in the broad area around Arivaca, have seen the same trend, Boyce said. Migrants walk west from Nogales for a day or two to get into the better-hidden canyons and washes before cutting north into the United States.

"By the time people get to where we're going to see them in our work," he said, "it adds that much more strain and environmental exposure."

Rate of death rises
The number of people trying to cross the border into Southern Arizona illegally has been plummeting, but the number of people dying in the process is not. The reason: It's more risky to cross. This chart shows the number of bodies found in the Tucson Sector per 100,000 Border Patrol apprehensions. While apprehensions aren't a direct measure of crossings, other measures have also shown migration is extremely low.

Year Number of deaths per 100,000 apprehensions
2004 39
2005 52
2006 46
2007 59
2008 57
2009 88
2010 119
2011 154
2012* 153
* Through July 31