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Defending human rights in border communities

An interview with Pedro Rios, director of AFSC’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program

Q: For years, AFSC has worked to expose widespread abuse by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Could you tell us more about the problem?

A: CBP uses militarized enforcement strategies. Their actions are harmful, sometimes even leading to migrant deaths. They have violated the rights of migrants and border community members with impunity. The Border Patrol, which is part of CBP, is charged with enforcement between ports of entry. It has an egregious history of responding with violence.

Q: As part of the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), you recently helped expose cover-up units within Border Patrol. What was happening?

A: Since at least 1987, the Border Patrol has been using secre­tive units to mitigate civil liabilities in cases of misconduct or excessive force. These unsanctioned units have been known to conceal, obstruct, and destroy evidence.

SBCC learned about the units after researching the death of Anastasio Rojas in San Diego. In 2010, Anastasio— a 42-year-old father of five—was brutally beaten by over a dozen border agents, leading to his death. In that case, secret units withheld and corrupted evidence and falsified govern­ment documents.

Our coalition discovered this mishandling of cases wasn’t limited to Anastasio’s death. It was systemic and ma­liciously done to prevent accountability for malfeasance and abuse by Border Patrol. There are countless other cases where these units kept families from seeking justice after agents vio­lently took the lives of their loved ones.

Q: What actions did the coalition take?

A: We contacted members of Congress to alert them that Border Patrol’s secretive units were working outside the law, without a congressional mandate to investigate cases. Elected officials re­sponded to our concerns. Our efforts moved the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to act. He announced that the secretive units would be disbanded this fall.

That was a positive step. But we continue to call for Congress to reopen cases where Border Patrol obstructed justice through these unlawful units. It’s one piece in our ongoing work to stop CBP abuses and ensure that migrants’ rights and dignity are respected.

Q: What else is AFSC doing?

A: AFSC directly supports people harmed by border enforcement agencies. We help individuals fle complaints when they experi­ence abusive treatment. We also lead human rights leadership workshops so community members can advocate on their own behalf and exercise their collective power through community organizing.

Together, we address the lack of accountability and trans­parency within CBP agencies. We advocate for more oversight. We also urge Congress to cut funding for CBP. Congress should not continue funding an agency that mistreats migrants and abuses its authority