The U.S. Border Patrol's Units Are Out In Numbers Befitting A Nazi Jew-Bashing Extravaganza.
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."
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