Published   October 25, 2012

ACLU to Testify at the United Nations On Human Rights Abuses at the U.S.–Mexico Border

The American Civil Liberties Union is slated to present testimony today at the United Nations on human rights violations at the U.S.-Mexico border, including deaths as a result of the U.S. government’s border enforcement policy.

The testimony will include details of lethal shootings and excessive force by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the U.S.-Mexico border. Since January 2010, 20 individuals have died or were seriously injured by CBP officials in use-of-force incidents. Of these, eight cases involve agents responding to individuals alleged to be throwing rocks and six involve individuals killed while standing on the Mexican side of the border. Six of those killed were under the age of 21 and five were U.S. citizens. A federal investigation has been concluded in only one of these cases, without corrective action, and these abuses are subject to minimal oversight and accountability.

“The frequency and regularity of CBP’s lethal use of force is alarming and demands a comprehensive, independent investigation of CBP policies and practices,” says Brian Erickson, policy advocate at the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights, who will testify on behalf of the ACLU. “We look forward to the results of the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General’s pending investigation into CBP’s use-of-force protocols and practices.”

This summer, 16 members of Congress, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Southern Border Communities Coalition of 60 non-governmental organizations, including the ACLU, condemned these deaths.

The ACLU’s testimony will also highlight other abuses by CBP agents, including sexual abuse, unwarranted and invasive personal searches, unjustified and repeated detention based on misidentification, and the use of coercion to force individuals to surrender their legal rights, citizenship documents, or property. The testimony also raises the criminalization of immigrants and the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We are deeply concerned by these systematic abuses,” said Jennifer Turner, ACLU human rights researcher. “It is essential that the United States launch a comprehensive external investigation in addition to the Department of Homeland Security’s internal review. These reviews must examine CBP’s policies and practices in order to bring the United States in compliance with its human rights obligations to conduct thorough, impartial and transparent investigations and hold perpetrators accountable for human rights abuses.”

At the event, which is convened by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations, the ACLU will urge the U.S. government to implement the following reforms:

• CBP should adopt a zero-tolerance policy for abuses and conduct publicly-released investigations with disciplinary actions for agents who commit abuse.

• CBP should reform its use-of-force training and policies, including the incorporation of de-escalation techniques commonly used as best practices by U.S. police departments.

• Congress should establish a permanent external, independent oversight commission to investigate and respond to complaints about CBP abuses.

• DHS should record encounters between CBP agents and individuals in short-term custody or in secondary inspection areas at ports-of-entry and interior checkpoints. Dashboard cameras also should be installed on installed on CBP’s roving patrol vehicles and unmarked cars (including BP), as well as officer-mounted cameras for recording away from vehicles.

• Victims of CBP abuse should be ensured access to information about investigations and the right to judicial and administrative remedies to recover damages, especially in deadly-force incidents.

The event, including the ACLU’s testimony, will be webcast live at 1:15 p.m. ET at www.un.org/webcast.