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Report Says Migrants Mistreated by Border Patrol

September 22, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. - Denial of food and water, sleep deprivation and physical abuse of immigrants in custody. Those are some of the charges leveled at the U.S. Border Patrol in a new report from the Tucson-based humanitarian group No More Deaths. The report analyzes some 13,000 interviews of deported immigrants conducted in Mexican border towns over the past three years.

Study co-author Hannah Hafter says the most common complaint was that little or no food or water was provided to migrants being detained.

"In the cases of people who were held for more than two days, 80 percent of them never got a full meal. They would get things like crackers. Sometimes people would literally get burritos that were frozen thrown on the floor of their cell. We called that 'no food,' because that's really not something that's edible for people."

The Border Patrol issued a statement saying the agency does not tolerate mistreatment of immigrants, and that any complaints will be thoroughly investigated.

Tucson Border Patrol spokesman Mario Escalante says snacks are provided every four hours and full meals for detainees held more than eight hours.

"We have food that we can feed them if they're going to be there past the eight-hour mark. Within that time frame, though, if they ask, say that they're hungry, say that they haven't eaten anything, we provide some sort of meal. There's always water for them in the water fountains that are inside the cells."

Escalante says the Border Patrol takes immediate action when any report of mistreatment is received, whether from an individual or from a consulate office.

The report also cites claims that agents kicked and hit migrants, shoved them into cactuses and leveled racial and ethnic slurs. Hafter says such behavior is the result of an anti-immigrant culture both within the agency and across the nation.

"You have agents saying to migrants very often, 'You are illegal and you don't have any rights.' That's not actually a legal truth in this country, but that is so prevalent, not just on the border but throughout the United States, that it allows this kind of thing to happen."

Hafter says the migrant mistreatment problems identified in the report are so serious and pervasive that new, independent oversight of the Border Patrol is needed.

"We need oversight that is community-based, includes human rights observers and isn't funded through or housed in the Department of Homeland Security."

No More Deaths provides food, water and medical care to illegal border crossers in an effort to prevent migrant deaths.

The full report is available at

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ