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U.S. Border Patrol’s Use of Excessive Force Continues to Go Unpunished

Promised change has been slow to come to the allegedly dysfunctional federal law enforcement agency.

US- Mexico border separating Tijuana and San Diego. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Many people, including the President, say that the U.S. immigration system is broken. Last year, the Obama administration promised to crack down on Border Patrol agents who use excessive force; however, “no shooting cases have been resolved, no agents have been disciplined, a review panel has yet to issue recommendations, and the top two jobs in internal affairs are vacant,” according to the Los Angeles Times.


Despite criticism from Congress and advocacy groups, as well as complaints by families affected, the United States’ largest federal law enforcement force has been unable to make significant reform, highlighting the extreme difficulty of the task at hand. Border Patrol critics maintain that in the last five years the agency has illegally shot and killed more than 20 people on the Southwest border and none of the agents have undergone criminal prosecution or disciplinary action.

Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told the Los Angeles Times that he was currently reviewing 14 shooting cases for possible violations of agency rules on use of force.

“I’m not sure we will reach a level of satisfaction with the public on every one of those cases,” Kerlikowske said. “But we will be much more thorough, much more accountable, and we will be much more transparent … going forward.”

Kerlikowske, upon seeing how frequently fatal shootings were occurring and the lack of accountability, created new limitations for agents to fire their weapons and stressed the importance of seeking alternatives to shooting. Despite these changes in department protocol, lethal shootings still occurred in 2014. The Los Angeles Times reports that in May a border agent shot and killed a U.S. citizen who was allegedly smuggling marijuana, and in October, a different agent shot and killed a Mexican man following an altercation near Tucson.

One of the most disturbing incidents of agent misconduct occurred in March 2014, when Border Patrol agent Esteban Manzanares kidnapped three Honduran women who surrendered to him, raped them, and attempted to kill them before turning his gun to himself. Politico published a an investigative report of this crime and the internal Border Patrol culture that facilitated it titled “The Green Monster,” referring to the agency’s green uniforms, in November 2014.

In fact, between 2005 and 2012, nearly one CBP officer was arrested for misconduct every single day—part of a pattern that Ronald Hosko, former assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigation division, calls “shocking.”

During Obama’s first term, the sheer number of allegations was so glaring that, according to two CBP officials, DHS under Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered Customs and Border Protection to change its definition of corruption to downplay to Congress the breadth of the problem.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Kerlikowske created an internal affairs panel to review allegations of excessive force back in September, but it took three months for the panel to meet and there have been no public recommendations for changes in procedure: training, rules, or discipline.

And justice for the families of those gunned down by Border Patrol looks unlikely, as well.

“We are concerned that there isn’t a sense of urgency at revisiting the cases that weren't properly investigated,” Chris Rickerd, a border security expert for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Los Angeles Times.

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