By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
As CBP continues to grow, officials contend they are committed to fostering a culture of integrity among agents.
But Pedro Rios, a border activist with American Friends Service Committee, said a big part of the agency's problem is that there is little top-down monitoring of agents' hiring and behavior on the job.
The limited polygraph testing is a serious problem, he and other activists stress.
James Tomsheck, of the CBP's Office of Internal Affairs, admitted to lawmakers during the congressional hearing "that many of those persons hired during CBP's hiring initiatives . . . may very well have entered into our workforce despite the fact that they were unsuitable."
In other words, many agents responsible for protecting America's borders would not have made it past the polygraph — which is standard for recruits at reputable law enforcement agencies across the country.
Border Patrol brochures tout starting pay for agents of up to $50,000 a year, health coverage for which the federal government picks up 75 percent of premiums, and a retirement plan. In return, the agency requires that prospective employees be U.S. citizens, have a driver's license, and pass vision, hearing, and physical-agility tests.
Jumping into higher-paid posts requires a college degree or general work experience — including experience as seemingly unrelated to law enforcement as "customer-service representative."
L.A. Weekly could not measure how Border Patrol agents' meager qualifications and training may have translated into abuses of immigrants.
Customs and Border Protection spokesman Steve Cribby in Washington would not provide — despite a barrage of requests — information about the number or nature of complaints filed against agents, or about how many were disciplined for mistreating immigrants.
And though agents' jobs are defined by their encounters with illegal immigrants, Cribby said Border Patrol officials do not "track whether the source of a complaint is an illegal alien."
Attempting to extract public information from the agency is a maddening endeavor, but once a serious instance of abuse by an agent surfaces in, say, the news media, federal officials are quick to publicly repudiate the behavior.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez said in a June press release that he and federal leaders "place a great deal of trust in our federal law enforcement officials, and . . . will aggressively prosecute any officer who violates the rights of others and abuses the power they are given."
Perez's statement came after Border Patrol Agent Eduardo Moreno pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tucson to an unprovoked attack on Alfredo Becerra Sanchez in 2006 at an immigration-processing center in Nogales, Arizona.
Moreno initially lied to investigators, telling them it was Sanchez who attacked, punched, and grabbed him. The agent said he fought back, but only in self-defense.
Unfortunately for Moreno, a surveillance camera captured the brutal beat-down, and Moreno's actions were made public.
After agents had searched Sanchez, they walked him to a fenced-in area of the Border Patrol facility where Moreno was working. Walking behind the deportee, Moreno escorted him past the enclosure to a holding cell. Along the way, he ordered Sanchez to put his hands behind his head. Although the prisoner obeyed, Moreno kicked the back of his left knee. Sanchez spun around and faced Moreno but kept his hands on the back of his head.
Sanchez stood still — even as Moreno pulled a collapsible baton from his utility belt. With a swift motion, Moreno slammed it into Sanchez's abdomen, forcing his body to buckle forward as he stumbled backwards.
The agent moved toward Sanchez and pointed in the direction he wanted Sanchez to walk. Again, the immigrant obeyed. With his hands at his side, Sanchez walked at a normal pace in front of the agent. In the video, Sanchez appeared to turn his head slightly toward the agent as if to say something to Moreno.
"Suddenly and without physical provocation, [Moreno] strikes the victim in the back, throws him to the ground . . . stands over the victim and begins to punch him," investigative records detail.
Sanchez starts "swinging and flailing his arms" and Moreno falls on top of him. Immediately after Moreno goes down, six or seven agents rush the scene to separate the two men and apprehend the victim.
Court records note that "from the time that [Moreno] took control of the victim to the beginning of their struggle on the ground, no other . ... agents are visible on the video."
It is hard to believe that Sanchez didn't cry out in pain sometime during the series of events, when Moreno kicked the back of his knee, slammed him in the stomach with a baton, struck him in the back, knocked him to the ground, or stood over him and punched him repeatedly.
Sanchez suffered a gash to the back of his head, and his face was covered in bruises. He was taken to Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales, where doctors used staples to close his head wound.
Apparently unaware that the surveillance cameras had captured his every move — or under the impression that his actions would never become public — Moreno told investigators, according to an incident report:
"[Sanchez] grabbed me and struck me behind the right ear . . . He continued to grab me, and we both fell to the floor. Upon landing on the floor, [he] sustained a cut on the back of his head."A year later, according to court records, Moreno changed his story again. He told FBI agents that Sanchez was looking right at him with his hands in a "ready position" and refused to put them behind his head. He said he might have grabbed the man's wrists to force him to put his hands behind his back