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Biden Says Border Agents Will Be Held Accountable For Misconduct. A Critic Has Doubts

A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering in Del Rio, Texas. The Department of Homeland Security pledged an investigation into the incident.
A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering in Del Rio, Texas. The Department of Homeland Security pledged an investigation into the incident.

When photographs emerged of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing down migrants at the southern border, President Biden promised accountability.

"I promise you: Those people will pay," he said. "They will be investigated. There will be consequences."

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol, has pledged an investigation and placed the agents on administrative duty.

Andrea Guerrero is skeptical.

"Unfortunately, the accountability system at Customs and Border Protection, which is the mother agency for Border Patrol, [is] broken, which leads to impunity," said Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, a social justice nonprofit that provides immigrant services.

Alliance San Diego represents the family of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, whose beating and death at the hands of U.S. border agents in 2010 was ruled a homicide. The Department of Justice declined to bring charges against the agents in his death. The alliance is now helping the family bring the case to an international tribunal called the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and it filed new testimony in February.

"There were no agents ever held accountable, no agents who ever lost a day of work," Guerrero said in an interview with NPR's Ari Shapiro. "No agents who were ever prosecuted. There was no apology given to the family [of Hernández Rojas], and that is simply unacceptable. ... As far as we are aware, no one suffered any repercussions."

Interview Highlights

On the avenues available for legal action against border agents

There are very few mechanisms, right? One is to file complaints with the federal government. Those go nowhere. The other is to attempt to get into the court system using a constitutional claim. And the other is to turn to local police departments and bring charges against agents for their actions when they're not on duty. So, for example, in Arizona, there are currently several agents who are facing sexual assault charges because of local law enforcement.

On why Guerrero's group is pursuing Hernández Rojas' case

Border Patrol is part of CBP, the largest law enforcement agency in the country. It has more resources, more agents, more jurisdiction and more power than any other law enforcement agency in the country. And the case of Anastasio is our opportunity to bring all of that to the fore in an international trial — to put on trial the impunity of the United States agents at the border.

On the nature of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

It is not a criminal tribunal — it is an international human rights tribunal, and it is unique in its role and its ability to render a judgment of whether the United States has violated its obligations in international treaties to protect human rights. And we've laid out a very strong case of how it has done that — not just in the killing of Anastasio but in the cover-up. And that's what we're really concerned about in that case and in every other case. And, you know, moving all the way into last week with the Haitian migrants.

When President Biden says they're going to pay and Secretary [of Homeland Security Alejandro] Mayorkas says we know how to maintain integrity in an investigation, my answer to that is: You never have. You, the U.S. government, have never maintained the integrity of an investigation. And structurally you're not set up to do that, because you are asking an entity of the agency itself to investigate the agents. And that is not what we expect in 21st century policing standards. We expect an external and independent investigations which must come from a different entity — in this instance, the Department of Justice.

Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted this interview for the web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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