For years, drivers stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents near Mexico have filed complaints alleging excessive force, intimidation, and other civil rights violations. But according to a report released Thursday by the ACLU, many either went ignored or glossed over, allowing agents to act with a sense of impunity.
Among the complaints, a woman recalled being pulled over by two agents at night "in the middle of nowhere" after crossing into California with her 4-year-old daughter in 2012. When they appeared flustered during the ensuing search and interrogation, the agents reportedly said, "Only criminals and people trying to hide things get nervous."
Another man filed a complaint in 2012 alleging agents followed him and his family 75 miles from the border to a restaurant in Blythe, California. There, he said they were interrogated about their legal status and arrest history before the agents left without explanation.
The complaints were included in a report by the ACLU, which highlighted multiple instances of alleged racial profiling, unwarranted stops and searches, and other abuses.
The ACLU of Arizona's findings, which focused on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's enforcement operations inside the states, were published in a report that arose out of a lawsuit filed against the Department of Homeland Security. The authors found that most complaints aren't investigated and even fewer lead to disciplinary action.
The Border Patrol didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
James Lyall, staff attorney at ACLU of Arizona and one of the authors of the report, told BuzzFeed News that agents can't be disciplined for violating someone's rights if oversight agencies don't investigate complaints.
"Agents can, and do, violate people's rights and they know they won't face any consequences," Lyall said. "It really impacts how agents go about their jobs."
The report cited an inquiry by the American Immigration Council which found that no actions were taken in about 97% of Border Patrol abuse complaints.
And of the records the ACLU obtained, only one complaint appears to have resulted in discipline of any kind. An agent was suspended for one day for conducting an unjustified vehicle stop. The person who filed the complaint is believed to have been a government employee and the son of a retired Border Patrol agent.
The report also accuses the Border Patrol of inadequate data collection and lack of transparency for failing to keep any records of vehicle stops and searches that don't result in an arrest.
"The fact that they don't collect data leads to racial profiling," Lyall told BuzzFeed News. "There's no information, so there can be no investigation, and so there are no consequences for agents accused of violating people's rights."
The report also found that for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, apprehensions for 23 Tucson and eight Yuma-area interior checkpoints accounted for just 0.74% of total arrests in those regions.
"If you made all of the information available the public would be able to assess whether all of the civil rights abuses and other harms were worth it for a relatively small number of apprehensions," Lyall said.
Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego — one of several groups that make up the Southern Border Communities Coalition — said the findings in the ACLU report mirror complaints his organization has heard.
"This is something that for many years border communities have been dealing with," Rios told BuzzFeed News. "Border Patrol needs to conduct an audit of these checkpoints and ask how necessary they are and whether they're creating more problems than solving them."