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US Border Patrol Insists on Secrecy for Agents Who Kill People on Mexican Side of Border

“It is suspected that in many vehicle shooting cases, the subject driver was attempting to flee from the agents who intentionally put themselves into the exit path of the vehicle, thereby exposing themselves to additional risk and creating justification for the use of deadly force.”

A review by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) of violence by US Border Patrol Agents responsible for more than forty “border-related deaths” was completed after Congress ordered US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to examine its “use of force policies and practices.” However, the result of this PERF review is being kept secret by the government.

The Los Angeles Times managed to obtain a leaked copy of the review, as well as CBP’s internal response. The media organization reported last week that it found “Border Patrol agents have deliberately stepped in the path of cars apparently to justify shooting at the drivers.” Out of “frustration,” agents have fired at people on the Mexican side of the border who have thrown rocks.

Border Patrol case files from sixty-seven “shooting incidents” between January 2010 and October 2012 were examined.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the report states, “It is suspected that in many vehicle shooting cases, the subject driver was attempting to flee from the agents who intentionally put themselves into the exit path of the vehicle, thereby exposing themselves to additional risk and creating justification for the use of deadly force.” Passengers were struck by gunfire in some cases.

“It should be recognized that a half-ounce (200-grain) bullet is unlikely to stop a 4,000-pound moving vehicle,” the report adds. “And if the driver…is disabled by a bullet, the vehicle will become a totally unguided threat.”

“Obviously, shooting at a moving vehicle can pose a risk to bystanders including other agents,” the report points out.

The report apparently features some common sense advice like agents should “get out of the way” instead of “intentionally assuming a position in the path of such vehicles,” which puts them at risk.

One can imagine the only way an agent could put his or her self in more danger is if they were to actually run full speed at the vehicle they were trying to stop as it was barreling toward them.

The report goes on to recommend that Border Patrol possibly adopt a policy barring agents from shooting at moving vehicles unless deadly force other than the moving vehicle is being employed against agents (i.e. a passenger firing a weapon at them).

But all of this must be kept secret at the behest of CBP because Border Patrol agents demand the ability to experience the adrenaline rush of action movie scenarios created by their own macho and uber patriotic foolishness.

The CBP’s internal response rejected two key recommendations: a prohibition on agents shooting vehicles unless those inside the vehicle are “trying to kill them” and a bar against agents “shooting people who throw things that can’t cause serious physical injury.”

This review commissioned by CBP additionally concluded that the agency does not do a good enough job of investigating agents who fire their weapon.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Border Patrol Chief Michael J. Fisher, who argued, “In a lot of cases, Border Patrol agents find themselves in an area where they don’t have communications, they don’t have immediate backup and often don’t have the cover and concealment that urban areas provide when you are dealing with an escalation of force.”

The vice president of the Border Patrol union, Shawn P. Moran, applauded CBP’s rejection of proposed restrictions. Moran contended if agents are not able to defend themselves more rock attacks and assaults with vehicles trying to run down agents would occur. Of course, that statement is only reasonable if one pretends PERF didn’t find it is the agents who are responsible for creating many of these incidents.

The Associated Press actually reported on the general outcome of PERF’s review on November 5 of last year. Multiple months later, CBP still insists on secrecy to prevent the public from seeing the review’s conclusions, recommendations and why CBP find it so unsuitable for Border Patrol agents to face more limits on who they can shoot and kill at the border.

The San Diego Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to the Los Angeles Times story:

Since January 2010, at least 28 people have died in encounters with CBP agents. At least ten of these people were U.S. citizens and six of them were in Mexico when fatally shot. In none of these cases has an agent or officer faced any public consequences. Just one week ago, a U.S. Border Patrol agent fatally shot a migrant near Otay Mesa; the agent alleged that the migrant had thrown rocks. According to the Los Angeles Times article, the PERF report suggests that border agents deliberately provoked confrontations that led to avoidable violence.


It is troubling that CBP, which commissioned PERF’s review of the agency’s use-of-force policies, is now crying foul because it does not like the findings. This is a further indication of how important transparency and oversight within the agency is. It does not serve public safety or our democratic principles when abuses of authority are swept under the rug. The public has a right to read the PERF report and better understand the use-of-force policies and procedures used by the nation’s largest law enforcement agency.

The need for transparency is further compounded by the fact that the Department of Homeland Security has apparently awarded a $145 million contract to an Israeli based firm for the construction of surveillance towers along the Arizona-Mexico border.  (Israeli firms are, of course, adept at developing surveillance directed at Palestinians.)

What has been proposed is an Integrated Fixed Tower Project (IFT), which involves “plans to see security posts equipped with radars and cameras that can detect human movement” as such movement “springs up” along the southern frontier of Arizona. US subsidiary, Elbit Systems of America, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, will construct and develop the towers.

Back in May, Defense News reported “the IFT program is an ambitious attempt to install a series of surveillance towers along the US/Mexico border. The idea is to deploy a series of networked, integrated fixed towers equipped with radar and cameras that will ‘be able to detect a single, walking, average- sized adult’ at a range of 5 miles [8 km.] to 7.5 miles [12 km.] during day or night, while sending close to real-time video footage back to agents manning a command post.”

In fact, there are already 23 working towers “in the Ajo and Tucson-1 sectors in the Arizona desert, all of which have been operating very successfully since March 2011,” according to Defense News. Boeing was involved in their construction.

This new network of surveillance towers will give Border Patrol agents even more time to plant themselves in the paths of vehicles so that they can try to get the vehicles to stop before killing people because they don’t want to get run over.

The construction and development of this border surveillance will be kept mostly secret with the government refusing to disclose what is being done with taxpayer dollars or how these towers might conduct surveillance of the Arizona side of the border as well as the Mexican side.

Comparatively, Amnesty International published a report on Israel’s use of “excessive force” in the West Bank against Palestinians. Since 1987, “the Israeli army and Border Police have engaged in “a pattern of excessive force” that has resulted in “hundreds of deaths” and injured thousands. Those involved have enjoyed impunity for their actions.

Israeli soldiers believe they have the right to shoot at the legs of “suspects” and, if that is not possible to do with accuracy without “severely injuring or killing the suspect,” then the soldier should not fire at the “suspect.” According to Amnesty International, that “contradicts the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, which require that law enforcement officials must not use firearms against persons resisting authority unless to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve that objective.”

Like Israeli security forces which have shot a large number of Palestinians, what the Border Patrol wants to maintain is broad authority to shoot and kill without having to face restrictions or abide by UN Basic Principles. Agents want to be able to fire weapons in secrecy without being scrutinized by human rights or immigrant advocacy organizations. They do not want an open debate on whether agents should be able to use force recklessly against people at the border. They simply want carte blanche to secretly militarize the US border and pay out hundreds of taxpayer dollars to contractors at the same time.

And, if any firm can assist in this endeavor, it is an Israeli contractor.

Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, public domain

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."