Immigration Council Sues Border Patrol for Agent Abuse Complaint Info
The American Immigration Council sued Customs and Border Protection Monday to compel a long overdue response to its inquiry on agent abuse.
Immigration Council, a nonprofit research and legal organization represented by Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, says Customs and Border Protection, a branch of the co-defendant Department of Homeland Security, have yet to respond to the outstanding Freedom of Information Act request it submitted in October last year.
The FOIA request asked for documents pertaining to complaints made against CBP agents since 2012, and the process by which CBP investigates and resolves such complaints.
"CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the United States and over the years, there have been numerous reports of abuse or misconduct by USBP agents, but CBP historically has not been held accountable for the misconduct of its agents and has often tried to shield such misconduct from public scrutiny,” said Mary Kenney, Senior Staff Attorney at the American Immigration Council.
A previous FOIA request by Immigration Council uncovered data on 809 abuse complaints by CBP agents from 2009 to 2012. With that data, Immigration Council published a report entitled, "No Action Taken: Lack of CBP Accountability in Responding to Complaints of Abuse," in which they revealed CBP took no action in response to 97 percent of the abuse reports.
Of these complaints, "physical abuse" was the most commonly cited, found in 40 percent of cases, followed by "excessive use of force," in 38 percent of the cases. Thus, the Immigration Council’s Monday lawsuit is an attempt to garner updated information to understand if and how CBP has improved its practices for dealing with such complaints.
"CBP's failure to produce the requested records violates FOIA and is impeding the Immigration Council's efforts to assess and inform the public about CBP's progress, or lack thereof, in developing meaningful and transparent procedures for investigating and resolving complaints of abuse of USBP agents," the June 6 complaint states.
In May, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed an administrative complaint on behalf of 13 border residents, urging CBP and Homeland Security officials to investigate abusive treatment by officers at ports of entry in El Paso, Texas and southern New Mexico.
The complaint outlines officers' use of excessive force, verbal abuse, humiliating searches and intimidation to coerce people into surrendering their legal rights, according to the ACLU. In multiple cases, border residents complained that officers discouraged or failed to inform them of how to file a complaint.
"The trends we identified in our last report revealed a stunning lack of oversight and accountability on behalf of the agency," said Guillermo Cantor, Ph.D., deputy director of research at the American Immigration Council. "It's important that the public have the opportunity to see whether any progress has been made with respect to how CBP responds to complaints and holds its officers accountable."
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