This is monumental: The Biden administration announced on Friday that it is eliminating the corrupt units that have for years colluded to cover up horrific abuses committed by Border Patrol agents.
The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), which sounded the alarm about these cover-up units in a letter to lawmakers last year, said that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a memo fully moving tasks that Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs) had given to themselves over to CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
SBCC Director Vicki Gaubeca called the decision “an important first step towards addressing the longstanding problem of Border Patrol impunity,” noting that “not a single on-duty agent has been held accountable for taking the lives of hundreds since 2010.” She said independent investigators must now “consider reopening these cases to ensure that families harmed find closure and justice.”
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Some of those family members made this call for justice in recent days. Doña Taide, the grandmother of a 16-year-old boy shot and killed by Border Patrol a decade ago, blamed the inconsistencies in his case on the cover-up units.
The teenager, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, was shot 10 times through border fencing for allegedly throwing rocks. The agent shot at the boy a total of 16 times. “At trial, it was revealed that the BPCIT collected all the evidence for the FBI, including the gun used, the shell casings, the photos of the scene, and the rocks allegedly thrown,” SBCC said. The shooter, Lonnie Swartz, was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2018.
SBCC had previously noted that not only have these cover-up units been operating in relative secret for years, they’ve been in existence without congressional authority. Lawmakers acknowledged this in a January letter. But while CBP the next month issued a memo limiting the power of BPCITs, it didn’t eliminate them completely.
SBCC on Friday said it acknowledged “the leadership of Commissioner Magnus, who was responsive to community concerns about BPCITs. It is no easy feat to change a longstanding and problematic practice within the agency, and the Commissioner has taken an important step.”
“The next step will be to fully account for the harm done by BPCITs over the three decades that they have operated and to assess where they have engaged in criminal acts of obstruction of justice,” SBCC continued. “This includes the agents, supervisors and chiefs who have been involved in the BPCITs and their many permutations. To that end, we call on the Commissioner to ensure that all records of BPCIT activities are preserved so that they can be reviewed independently by external law enforcement investigators, congressional oversight committees, and prosecutors.”
SBCC said that “under no circumstances” should anyone from these units be allowed to be moved over to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which probes misconduct by agents. Remember, BPCITs had one goal: to get agents off the hook. SBCC also urged lawmakers to continue their investigations into the cover-up units.
Many families and victims are in need of justice and accountability, like 37-year-old Marisol García Alcántara, who survived being shot in the head by Border Patrol while riding a car last summer. As noted this week, as if that brutality weren’t enough, she was deported shortly after her hospitalization. “I still have parts of the bullet in my brain and my life has changed forever,” García Alcántara said.
“Although the Nogales police had the authority to investigate the use of force, it was the Border Patrol agents who got involved and interfered with the Nogales police investigation,” she continued. She has since filed a legal claim against the United States. “Border agents tried to deport away the problem, but I won’t stay silent. These cover-up teams must be brought to justice.”
Taide said this week that when her grandson’s “death was being investigated, the Border Patrol agents disappeared video evidence, and they picked up the biggest rocks lying nearby and claimed that Jose had thrown them at the border agent without any evidence to back their claim.” Border officials made this same claim after an agent shot and killed Claudia Patricia Gómez González in 2018, then retracted it. They lied. They continue to lie, and BPCITs help them cover it up. “Jose Antonio’s case must be reexamined and reopened,” Taide continued.
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