By J. E. Relly LAURA MENDOZA'S citizenship document provided little security on a Thursday morning recently. The 20-year-old Pueblo High School graduate had just finished her shower and wrapped on a robe when she heard the word "Migra!" as her boyfriend's brother Jesus rushed down the hall of her apartment and into the back bedroom. By the time she made it into the living room, seven male Border Patrol agents were staring in from doors on both sides of her South 25th Avenue apartment. According to Mendoza, one of the four agents at the sliding glass door demanded that she let them in. There was no search warrant. "They said Jesus was running from them," says Mendoza, an act considered suspicious behavior by the agency. "They said, 'If you don't let us in, we're still coming in.' "I knew they didn't have the right. Even though I have my papers, I was nervous. They said they'd take me if I didn't cooperate." Eventually Mendoza allowed the agents inside. But the Border Patrol's behavior in this incident was nothing short of intimidation. "We're not in the habit of breaking down doors," says Border Patrol spokesman Rob Daniels. "We have to have permission to go into a home. We don't arbitrarily enter." Mendoza says once the agents had handcuffed Jesus, who is undocumented, he told them he hadn't been running as they contended. "One of (the agents) told him, 'Shut up, I wasn't talking to you,' " she recounts. Then, as with many of the 27,188 people apprehended during the past year in Tucson, the agents loaded Jesus up in a government mini van and drove him down to the Border Patrol station for processing. Like numerous other people reporting questionable incidents with the Border Patrol, Mendoza will not be filing a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General. Guadalupe Castillo, a community activist with the human rights group Derechos Humanos, says investigators for the Inspector General's office are former Border Patrol agents. The Border Patrol has broad enforcement powers and little accountability, she charges. "We have never seen any (effectual) response to anyone in the community (filing complaints). The fact there is no effective system for reporting makes it easier for the violations to persist." Civil rights attorney Jesus Romo adds, "We now have people who are shot (by the Border Patrol) and nothing happens. It's seldom that the Border Patrol punishes officers. It lowers moral." Romo says civil rights violations by the Border Patrol are rampant in Tucson. But given the limited resources available, community activists like himself pursue only the most egregious cases, such as beatings, rapes and shootings. Derechos Humanos now reports all incidents of civil rights violations to America's Watch and the American Friends Service Committee, which monitor and publish accounts of human rights abuses at the U.S.-Mexico border. Brian Flagg, with the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen, says Border Patrol agents on bicycles often circle the fence surrounding their building as many as three times in a day. The kitchen serves some 250 families and 400 individuals. Flagg often blasts the agents for their browbeating tactics and likens the agents' surveillance of the center to "hunting at the water hole." Just 20 feet from the soup kitchen grounds, a Latino man with a suitcase and box has his breakfast interrupted by two agents on bikes. As the man is frisked in the alley, Flagg encourages several dozen people from the kitchen to stand witness. "This is a sanctuary. You're not welcome here," he yells in the agent's face. "He came here to eat. You're intimidating families from eating here." Such vigilante behavior toward the Border Patrol is scarce in Tucson, where dark-skinned people with Spanish accents are questioned without cause regardless of their citizenship status. Many remain unaware of their rights. Anglos traveling with Latinos are also targets of Border Patrol probes, says Castillo. A June 1994 study published by the University of Arizona Mexican American Studies and Research Center found the typical victim of mistreatment by U.S. immigration authorities in South Tucson is a Mexican-American citizen who is bilingual, employed and a voter. Of those respondents reporting mistreatment by immigration authorities (the majority are Border Patrol agents), more than 75 percent of the cases involved verbal mistreatment, including the use of insulting words such as "pinche mojado" (fucking wetback) and "dogs." Border Patrol agents have broad power to stop and search their victims if they have "reasonable suspicion" that an individual is illegally in the U.S. Under the Fourth Amendment, "reasonable suspicion" can't be based on skin color or a person's accent, says Romo. But the law on the books often varies from the law on the streets. Border Patrol spokeswoman Andrea Privette says the federal agents can work anywhere in public domain. Documented and undocumented Tucson residents tell The Weekly they are questioned by agents as far north as Flowing Wells and Oracle Roads. In Tucson, an average of 75 people are apprehended every day, and numerous others are stopped outside Mexican and fast-food restaurants, leaving the rodeo grounds, Target, Southwest and Fry's supermarkets. Privette says the agency does not have quotas. While activists cite an increase in Border Patrol agents on bikes, Daniels says there are less than one dozen on the streets of Tucson. He touts the success of the bike unit, saying agents can access people more quickly and an agent on bike tends to be less threatening in appearance, maintaining "a more positive type of image." "We know they go into people's houses without warrants all the time," says Castillo. "They go into people's yards. They intrude into people's possessions and cars. The Tucson Police also cooperate." Meanwhile, as the Border Patrol continues adding to the number of agents locally, a coalition of community activists, the "Migra Patrol," arm themselves with a shotgun mike, scanner and video camera to document agents in action. Jeff Imig, with Pan Left Productions, says initially agents insisted the Miagra Patrol cut their footage and stop handing out "Know Your Rights" hand cards, which outline in Spanish the right to remain silent and retain an attorney. But Border Patrol bullying hasn't stopped the Miagra Patrol, whose members know their rights. "We also warn people to use their own discretion," says Castillo. "Just because these are your rights, doesn't mean you won't be trampled on." Laura Mendoza's name was changed, for obvious reasons. Tucson Weekly's Currents Forum Political Links Search the Currents Section © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth
(New York, September 30, 1998) -- Human Rights Watch today expressed serious concern over fatal shootings by U.S. Border Patrol agents stationed along the southern borders of California and Arizona. During the past three weeks, three border-crossers have been fatally shot after allegedly holding rocks in a threatening manner, according to the Border Patrol. "Three deaths in three weeks is an alarming development," said Allyson Collins, who tracks U.S. issues at Human Rights Watch. "While agents are allowed to use necessary force to protect themselves and others, there are ways to minimize the use of deadly force. Protective gear should be issued to agents who patrol border areas and agents should have better training in when to use weapons," said Collins. One of the shootings occurred near Imperial Beach, California; another near the San Ysidro port of entry in California; and the third near San Luis in Arizona. During the past week, there have also been non-fatal shootings by Border Patrol agents in more remote areas east of San Diego. And since early June, agents in southern Arizona reportedly have opened fire six times on border-crossers allegedly holding or throwing rocks. Although it is not clear from news reports how long the agents involved in the fatal shootings had been on the force, Human Rights Watch expressed concern over the Border Patrol's hiring surge in recent years; the number of agents has grown from approximately 3,400 agents in 1993 to approximately 7,700 as of August 1998. "Hiring pushes tend to overwhelm an agency's ability to provide thorough screening, training or oversight of new recruits," said Collins. Human Rights Watch called on the FBI, the Office of the Inspector General, the Border Patrol, and local officials to carry out thorough and prompt investigations into the fatalities and the other shootings. Since 1992, Human Rights Watch has researched human rights violations committed by U.S. Border Patrol agents and has written four reports on the subject, which are available by contacting 212-216-1832. For more information: Allyson Collins (202) 371-6599 x 133 Carroll Bogert (212) 216-124
Jami Stump Kansas State Collegian It is time to restore immigrant human rights in America at the borders, said Maritza Broce, community coordinator for the Coalition de Derechos Humanos/Arizona Border Rights in Tucson, Ariz. In conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month, sponsored by Hispanic American Leadership Organization, Broce spoke Friday in the Union Big 12 Room. She said an increase of immigrant deaths to 1,300 people in three years is a result of beatings and border patrol brutality. "What gives me hope is that people will speak out and break the silence about immigrant human rights," Broce said. Derechos Humanos works to fight discrimination, law-enforcement harassment and the abuse of authority at the border and in urban areas. Broce said the group promotes human and civil rights of all immigrants. HALO President Carlos Contreras said HALO chose Broce as speaker for Hispanic Heritage Month because Midwesterners don't always hear about what is going on at the borders. "We wanted to have someone speak about what is actually going on out there and talk about issues concerning immigration policy," Contreras said. Broce said immigration legislation is more restrictive today. "What amazes me is that when I have children I will have to tell them that the regulations that are set right now are more oppressive then they have ever been," Broce said. She said there has been a 75-percent increase of border enforcement. This includes 8,000 border patrol agents and $260 million in military hardware at the border. Broce said the current border patrol budget is $3.8 billion. All of this results in the increase of immigrant abuses by border patrol, Broce said. "People are dying in order to live," Broce said. "The border patrol is forcing people out to bad places to cross in order to live. Hunger will always conquer fear so people will risk their lives to get across." Leo Prieto, senior in pre-medicine and Speaker Committee chairman of Hispanic Heritage Month for HALO, said Broce had good points during her presentation. "In the Midwest, we don't have a clue that these situations exist," Prieto said. "Human rights is a concern for everyone. It is one thing to be aware, but you must understand that polices are affecting people and taking away their human rights."
This item was published on Monday, October 26, 1998
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