SAN DIEGO.- Two documentaries broadcasted nationally by PBS on its “Need to Know” TV show, have shined light on cases of authority abuse by the Border Patrol (BP) gaining, for the first time, the attention of the US congressmen.
One of them presents the case of Anastasio Hernández, a Mexican worker murdered back in 2010 by immigration agents at the San Ysidro crossing port, including a never before seen video in which a dozen agents can be seen brutally beating the man even though he was not resisting.
Media attention gained by the broadcast back in April was so strong that it even managed for a grand jury to start investigating the case which, in turn, could mean that the government will file charges against the agents involved.
Key witnesses were called to testify.
This would be “unprecedented” since there is no official record of immigration officers ever being tried by the murder of illegal immigrants, this according to Christian Ramírez, Director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), adding that at least 14 similar deaths have been reported in the last 2 years.
A second part to the documentary was transmitted on July 20; the film gathers the testimony of immigrants who claim to have been abused by Border Patrol elements as well as a declaration by a former Border Patrol agent identified as Ephraim Cruz, who now lives in New York.
One of the most controversial points in the episode is a video showing the BP agents kicking water bottles left in the desert for the immigrants in the Tucson, Arizona area by the “No More Deaths” voluntary organization.
According to the BP itself, the number of illegal immigrants’ deaths in the desert has gone up from 96 last year to 114 this year.
Arizona’s desert is considered a death trap for immigrants due to its high temperatures which can reach 100°F in summer.
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has defined its position through a press release shown in the film, stating that they “take every misconduct complaint very seriously and will fully cooperate in the investigation of said claims”.
For that reason, a group of activists left for Washington last week, where they met with congressmen as well as Office of the Inspector General Representatives and the Commissioner of the CBP, David Aguilar.
On his part, Pedro Ríos, President of the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego considers the broadcast on national TV did have a bearing on the congressmen willingness to listen to them; while the subject is much talked about on the border area, it is not well known at the US capital.
“It did move them to take action, the videos and testimonies have had an impact and we can see that they are listening for the first time” said Ríos.
He also said that, even if it hasn’t been decided yet, a third installment of these series could be in store.
A few days after the activists’ visit, legislators emitted their opinion regarding the PBS investigation and demanded answers as well.
“The PBS report paints a worrying scene of cruelty and corruption” said Lucille Roybal Allard, from the Democratic Party of California. “When evidence points to agents being responsible of an abuse pattern, the agency’s leaders have to take action”.
Democrat congressmen Luis Gutiérrez, from Illinois, agrees with her.
“The result of our tough ‘Law and Order’ in the border’s security is clearly less law and less order with an uncontainable agency, renegade agents, unrestrained abuse and acrimony”.
His fellow democrat from Arizona, Raúl Grijalva demanded “immediate action”.
“Numerous men and women protecting our borders really define courage and honor, those who betray the trust set upon them by Americans must be accountable for their actions, not just to provide closure to the victims but to maintain the respect to our agencies gained by their more honorable colleagues”.
Interviewed upon his return from Washington, Christian Ramírez considered the visit to have been contrasting: on one side, 16 congressmen reasserted their interest in demanding answers from immigration authorities, but on the other, the CBP commissioner did not accept that “a problem inside the agency” existed.
“There is a serious problem inside the corporation, the PBS documentaries show that”, expressed the local activist.
To Ramírez, this situation only proves the agency’s lack of accountability mechanisms, something that incites the abuse cases towards immigrants.
“There is no control and that is enough reason to worry”, he added.
If the investigations on Anastasio Hernández’s case as well as other abuse incidents in the border area go through, an essential precedent would be set, Ramírez stressed.
First, it would mean that denouncing and social pressure do make a difference, also, that the government’s attention can be called into action; at the same time, it tells the officers that their bad conducts will have consequences and, if they commit an offense, they will have to face justice.
Original text: Alexandra Mendoza; Alexandra.Mendoza@sandiegored.com
Translation: Karen B. Licea; Karen.Balderas@sandiegored.com