Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents are trying to kill migrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border. There’s no other conclusion to draw from a video, released by humanitarian group No More Deaths, of border patrol officers tampering with and destroying jugs of water left for border crossers in the desert.
From 2001 to 2014, at least 2,100 migrants died of exposure in the searing desert heat, where temperatures can go anywhere from 110 degrees and up. Over the years, as humanitarian workers have placed tens of thousands of one-gallon jugs along this area to save lives, workers have also reported that jugs have been routinely destroyed and tampered with by human hands.
While racist border vigilante extremists have eagerly confessed to some of the destruction, human rights groups have long suspected border patrol agents of being participants as well. Now, No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos have released a report and footage confirming it:
The report … said wildlife—as well as hunters, hikers and border militia members —also damaged aid drops. But it said the main culprits were agents from border patrol, a branch of Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
“The practice of destruction of and interference with aid is not the deviant behavior of a few rogue border patrol agents, it is a systemic feature of enforcement practices in the borderlands.”
Steve Passament, a border patrol spokesman in the Tucson sector, said the agency did not condone the destruction of or tampering with water or food caches. “We don’t want to see anyone out there die. We have to do our enforcement job and we do it as humanely as possible. We want to save lives.”
Except Border Patrol allegedly violated an Obama-era agreement in order to raid No More Death’s lifesaving medical camp along the border last summer, arresting a number of immigrants in a sweep that resembled a war movie. The organization said “30 armed agents entered camp with at least 15 trucks, 2 quads and helicopter to apprehend four patients receiving care.”
No More Deaths says that of the nearly 32,000 gallon jugs volunteers have left on trails, nearly 3,600 were destroyed by humans—and, specifically, border patrol agents. In a video released by No More Deaths, a border patrol agent smiles at the camera as he pours out jugs one-by-one, saying “make sure you get a nice shot … picking up this trash that somebody left on the trail.” In other footage, agents also appear to be smiling as one kicks over jug after jug:
Hunters, militia members and other actors were partly to blame but statistical analysis of the different land jurisdictions – national forest, state trust land and private land – identified border patrol as the only group with regular access and consistent presence in all three jurisdictions.
The report also cited anecdotal evidence from volunteers and an unnamed former border patrol agent interviewed last year who was quoted saying: “I remember people smashing and stepping on water bottles, I remember that being imparted on to us in one way or another.”
The report also quoted a 37-year-old Mexican border crosser named Miguel: “They break the bottles so you can’t even use them to fill up in the tanks. I needed water, some of the other people in the group needed water, but we found them destroyed. [I felt] helplessness, rage. They [the US border patrol] must hate us.”
Data suggests that more than 8,000 migrants have died crossing the border since the 1990s, with people taking more and more dangerous and isolated routes as the U.S. government has militarized the border with more agents, more high-tech surveillance, and less legal routes for families to stay together. No More Deaths estimates deaths to be as high as 10,000, with hundreds of unidentified bodies—with no way for them to be claimed—buried in graves in California, Arizona, and Texas:
In this crisis, body counts fail: there is no way to know the true number of the dead in the borderlands. With foot traffic moving through uninhabited and roadless areas, it is common for days, weeks, months, and even years to pass before human remains are discovered—if they are ever found at all. The hot sun and hard winds scour the landscape, and scavenging by animals contributes to the rapid deterioration of bodies. Within weeks, someone may be reduced to bone fragments or a partial skeleton. As a result, the ability to locate a person’s remains and the success of postmortem identification dwindle. In effect, we cannot know the total number of lives lost in the borderlands; the region has been transformed into a vast graveyard of the missing.
Steve Passament, border patrol spokesman in the Tucson sector, told the Guardian that “if the groups which published the report had evidence of agents sabotaging humanitarian supplies they should ‘immediately bring it to our attention’ because agents would be disciplined, he said.”
But it’s right there on video, federal immigration agents, paid with U.S. tax dollars, destroying humanitarian aid for no reasons other than to see migrants suffer and die. Remember, this is the same agency that stalked and detained a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy last year. These aren’t isolated incidents. These aren’t rogue agents. This is exactly who they are.