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Blanca Hernandez Rivera, 23, prays before breakfast in the Kino Border Initiative's Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico. Hernandez was repatriated to Mexico after being caught by U.S. Border Patrol agents as she was trying to enter the U.S. to reunite with her daughter. (CNS photo/David Maung)
Kino Border Initiative Study Reveals Rampant Migrant Abuse During Deportations at U.S.-Mexico Border

September 15, 2015 — The stories of migrants are not often heard, like that of Roberto, 33, who tried crossing into the U.S. from Mexico in 2014 and was kneed and spit upon while being apprehended by Border Patrol agents, resulting in two broken ribs. But a new study brings to light the abuse migrants like Roberto often endure during apprehension, detention and deportation back to Mexico.

“Our Values on the Line: Migrant Abuse and Family Separation at the Border” revealed that more than one-third of deported migrants experienced some type of abuse or mistreatment at the hands of U.S. immigration authorities, including theft, physical abuse, verbal abuse and inhumane detention conditions.

Commissioned by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States and the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a bi-national organization in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, which works to promote humane U.S.-Mexico border and immigration policies, the report details the results of an in-depth survey of 358 Mexican migrants deported from the United States to the border city of Nogales, Mexico. The survey was conducted between July 2014 and March 2015, and the chief findings were corroborated by a short-form survey of 7,507 migrants. Both surveys were conducted in Nogales, Mexico, at the Kino Border Initiative.

“The church recognizes the urgency of this issue and the suffering that men, women and children go through because they're forced to leave their places of origin, either because of economic need, violence or family separation,” said Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director of the KBI. “These experiences really harm and undermine their God-given human dignity, and so the church recognizes the need to be present to these people and to change the structures that cause their deep suffering and pain.

“Our study found that Border Patrol is increasingly using their discretionary prosecution powers through a so-called ‘Consequence Delivery System’ in a way intended to cause hardship and suffering, rather than positively using their discretion to preserve family unity and to ensure humane treatment of apprehended migrants.”

Fr. Carroll (right) walks with Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe in the Arizona desert in 2014. Fr. Carroll took a group of bishops on a hike north of Nogales where migrants often cross into the United States. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

The study showed that family members apprehended together by the Border Patrol were systematically separated from each other and were deported to different ports of entry or were deported days, weeks or months apart. Two out of three migrants surveyed who crossed into the U.S. with immediate family members were separated from at least one of those family members by the Border Patrol during the process of detention and deportation.

Alonso, a 30-year-old migrant who was surveyed, was placed in a different cell from his nephews and cousins, who were minors, after they were apprehended and detained by Border Patrol. Alonso was deported through Mexicali the next day, and when he arrived at the Mexican consulate there, they had no information about Alonso’s family members. Through his sister, he later discovered that his young nephews and cousin had been deported through Nogales.

The report also found that the practice of nighttime deportation is common: 28 percent of migrants surveyed were deported at night, and one of every seven women (15.8 percent) was placed in this vulnerable position.

Although the study found that abuse and mistreatment of migrants by Border Patrol agents is a common occurrence, migrants alleging abuse were unlikely to file a formal complaint. Less than one out of every 12 deported migrants who reported some type of abuse filed a complaint with U.S. immigration authorities.

For those migrants who do file complaints, they often encounter a confusing process that lacks transparency. When Alma, 42, and her daughter Lizbeth, 24, were apprehended by Border Patrol agents in March 2015, a male officer sexually harassed Lizbeth while patting her down. When they arrived at the holding cell, they filed a complaint about the agent’s actions and signed various papers, but the officials at the short-term detention facility said they couldn’t receive the complaint. The next day, a lawyer came to speak with both women about their treatment but neither was sure if that was a formal complaint. A few hours later they were both deported, not knowing what came of their efforts to denounce the abuse.

Sister Maria Engracia Robles, a member of the Missionaries of the Eucharist, talk to migrants about human rights in the KBI’s Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico. (CNS photo/David Maung)

To protect the civil and human rights of migrants, the study points to several key areas for reform to help limit abuse by Border Patrol Agents. These include stronger independent and internal oversight mechanisms to tackle misconduct and abuse at Customs and Border Protection (CBP); an accessible and accountable complaint process; an overhaul of CBP agent and officer training; equipping CBP agents with body-worn cameras; and improving CBP short-term detention conditions.

The study also recommends that deportations to Mexican border towns occur only during daylight hours and that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security put in place a process to identify familial relationships and preserve family unity upon deportation.

These reforms would begin to address the most pressing problems faced by migrants and their families and help CBP to do its job more humanely, more efficiently and with greater accountability.

As Pope Francis said in his message for the 2015 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, “It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions for migrants more humane.”

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