An unauthorized immigrant complained that a Border Patrol agent hit his head against a rock, causing a hematoma.
A minor said an agent physically forced him to sign a document.
Another border crosser complained agents denied him water and touched female immigrants inappropriately.
Those were among the 279 complaints filed in the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector between January 2009 and January 2012.
Only the first resulted in counseling for the agent — one of 13 complaints where a disciplinary action was taken out of 809 cases reviewed by the American Immigration Council, a D.C.–based immigrant advocacy group.
Many complaints were pending, but among the cases in which a formal decision was made, 97 percent resulted in “no action taken,” the researchers found.
Through a Freedom of Information Request, the group reviewed complaints filed against Border Patrol agents and supervisors from the three-year period.
Since there is no unified system through which the agency receives complaints, the report provides only a snapshot of those that were passed along to Customs and Border Protection’s office of internal affairs.
The agency released this statement Tuesday: “CBP is committed to ensuring that the agency is able to execute its challenging missions while preserving the human rights and dignity of those with whom we come in contact.
“The men and women of CBP strive to treat each of the over 1 million people we come into contact with each day with the respect they deserve. All allegations of misconduct are taken seriously, and if warranted, referred for appropriate investigative and/or disciplinary action to be taken.”
Mike Nicley, retired chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, said the agency had issues with the level of experience in the past when it went through a hiring surge, and agents make mistakes. But overall, the number of complaints filed are a small percentage of total apprehensions and many are not substantiated.
It might be that the agent’s action is justified, he said, but the person involved doesn’t see it that way.
When Tucsonan Tina Springer was a skinny 10-year-old in South Bend, Ind., she remembers sitting on her bed, reading an article in the August 1956 National Geographic about Africa.
She was fascinated with a land so far away, so strange, so intriguing. The article filled her with thoughts of safaris, acacia trees in the sunset and tribal living.
Forty-eight years later she booked a flight and a safari tour to the Maasai Mara, a national reserve in southwestern Kenya known for its lions, cheetahs and leopards, as well as the annual migration of more than a million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras.
“I knew as soon as I was in the plane back to America that I would return to Kenya,” she said.
And she did. Once a year for the past 10 years she has made the 9,500-mile trip. Eventually, three-week outings became three-month stays. In Kenya she would help buy goats for villagers and deliver books bought with money raised in Tucson.
These days Springer is no longer a tourist or a volunteer in Africa. She’s just a 68-year-old muzungu (Swahili for white person), with cropped blond hair and chronic arthritis in her feet, who finds the city of Nairobi exciting, crazy and somewhat frightening, but full of happy people who have won her heart.
Each day there she buys a newspaper, cell phone credit and fresh fruit from locals who sell on corners. She goes down to the bar to watch her favorite team, Manchester United, play soccer. She takes the colorful matatus (buses) to nearby towns. She knows the names of Maasai tour guides and taxi drivers, now her friends, who give her special rates.
Springer’s connection to Africa is palpable when she speaks of her home away from home. It is also visible. Three tattoos adorn her skin: the word Rafiki, which means “friend” in Swahili, wraps around her wrist; Akinyi, her name in Luo, runs down her inner forearm; and a Maasai shield rests on her back.
But after going back every year for the past decade, Springer is not sure she can continue traveling to the East African country she has come to love.
Nearly 80 percent of Arizona deportations last fiscal year came from people caught at the border — higher than the 64 percent nationwide, data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement show.
While the number of people being deported after being picked up by ICE inside the country is falling, the share of those caught at the border and formally removed continues to rise.
The Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute attributes the rise to sweeping legislation in 1996 that led to quicker and more formal deportations, more resources and policy changes that represent a new historical reality where more than 400,000 people can get removed in a year.
While the Obama administration is getting close to deporting 2 million people, agents use prosecutorial discretion to prioritize who gets removed.
Immigration authorities in Arizona declined to show up 13 percent of the time that a Department of Public Safety officer called regarding someone they suspected was in the country illegally. They most often cited a manpower shortage, a child in the vehicle or the absence of a criminal record for declining such a call. The DPS data were reviewed by the Arizona Daily Star as part of an investigation of the state’s immigration law, SB 1070.
What this shows is a dichotomy of a system at the border where there’s a near zero tolerance, with immigrants increasingly subject to formal removal and criminal charges, and greater flexibility with priorities in the interior, said a Migration Policy Institute report about deportations released Tuesday.
When it comes to identifying the remains of border crossers, there’s no centralized database that lets experts search missing-persons reports from various states.
It sounds minor, said Robin Reineke, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Arizona. But without it, it’s extremely difficult to identify the hundreds of people who die each year — the Border Patrol recorded 445 deaths in the Southwest in the last fiscal year.
More than 2,000 people have died while crossing the border in Southern Arizona, and about 900 of their remains have not been identified, in part because many are skeletons when they are found or are greatly decomposed due to the harsh desert conditions.
Identification is also tough because families often don’t report a missing loved one to the police for fear of deportation or because they are outside of the United States. Instead, they contact consulates, medical examiners, humanitarian organizations and the media.
The problem with that, Reineke said, is that the data don’t end up in a place where they can be compared with those of the unidentified remains.
A Salvadoran brother and sister were trekking through the Southern Arizona desert when he had to stay behind because he couldn’t keep up.
The smuggler said another group was on its way and would pick up the 18-year-old, encouraging his younger sister to go on.
That was three months ago, and the Salvadoran Consulate in Tucson has not been able to find him, Consul Ludmila Aguirre said during the Border Patrol Border Safety Initiative Wednesday morning while standing next to a 30-foot rescue beacon the agency uses to help migrants in distress.
While the number of apprehensions has decreased in the Border Patrol Tucson Sector, the rate of people dying has remained constant. Since fiscal year 2011, there have been 16 border crosser remains found for every 10,000 apprehensions — only falling slightly to 15 in 2012.
“Addressing this issue of border deaths in the desert is everyone’s business,” Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief Manuel Padilla told a group of humanitarian organization members, consuls and journalists before the Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue demonstrated a rope technical extraction with a Black Hawk helicopter in Brown Canyon, just east of Baboquivari Peak.
Recently I spoke with Abdirahman Chirango, a 29-year-Somali native, about the current situation for refugees in Kenya.
In the article, I briefly touch upon how as a 6-year-old, Chirango had to flee on foot from his home country of Somalia to the Kenyan border. His village in lower Juba was raided and his mother was killed in front of him and his siblings by four masked men because she refused to be raped. There was nothing they could do but run.
There is much more to his story than what I could include in the article. His is a story about determination and perseverance. Of finding refuge and hope in education.
Chirango and his family walked for about 15 days to get to the Kenyan border. His aunt and uncle carrying his siblings, then 3 and 1 years old, in their arms. Back then he assumed his father was dead (he found out he was still alive many years later, when he was already in the United States).
“It the end only some survived,” he said inside the University of Arizona library, wearing a crisp white shirt, dress pants and pointy shoes. “Some people got tired and couldn’t walk anymore.”
Their feet would swell and even though their mind was telling them to go, he said, they just couldn’t walk.
They were so thirsty some would drink their own urine. In some cases, friends or relatives would offer their urine to another under the promise that they return the favor later on.
From 100 families traveling together, Chirango estimates only 20 made it.
“It was sad,” he said.
Even fathers gave up on their children.
Chirango lived as a refugee for 13 years in Kenya’s two camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, before coming to Tucson, Arizona, in 2005.
When asked about life in the camp, he repeatedly said it was “really, really hard.”
“I had to go to school during the day, then come back home and find ways to provide for me and for my grandma,” he said.
His grandmother used to fetch wood and weave baskets, fans and mats to sell, but Chirango had to assume the responsibility of providing for the family when he was about 12 years old, when his grandma could no longer work.
He would offer his services to other refugees in the camp. At one point he fetched water for a family for an entire month, earning a little more than $1.
Sometimes they would only have boiled beans and corn to eat, but they were lucky, he said, some families didn’t even have that.
“A lot of my peers left the refugee camp to go to neighboring towns in Kenya, but for me, inside my heart I know life is hard, but I can’t just walk away like this,” he said. “For me, I thought, no matter what happens I don’t want to give up my education because it’s the only way out.”
Chirango speaks with immense pride of his accomplishments in school.
He was always No. 1, he said. He might not have had clothes, shoes or books, but he was always No. 1.
Kenya taught him how to be a strong person, he said, to not walk away from his problems, but to instead find long-term solutions.
As a Bantu Somali, he said he was discriminated against by other Somalis. He was beaten until he bled. Forced to sit on the floor. Made to beg to borrow a classmate’s books. Robbed of his awards. Called slave. Dog.
But none of that mattered if he could continue learning to speak English, to write the ABCs.
“I had to learn to adapt,” he said. “If they told me to go and sit down on the floor, I did. If they beat me, I took it like a man.”
When he transferred from primary to secondary school, he had 805 points – 32 more points than the student who had held the previous record.
How does he remember the precise number, so many years later? “It was a very glorious moment in my life,” he said.
Today Chirango is working towards a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Arizona. After that he wants to earn a master’s degree (he still doesn’t know in what, though). All while helping run Tork’s Café and Grocery and, together with his wife, raising four young children.
To say I was impressed by what he has accomplished despite all the challenges he has faced would be an understatement. It definitely gave me something to think about. It was a great reminder of what we can do if we set our minds to it.
Abdirahman Chirango recently returned to Kenya for the first time in nearly a decade. He does not see himself visiting again any time soon.
During the month he was in Kenya, there was an explosion in the predominantly Somali neighborhood were he was staying in Nairobi; he was stopped from visiting the refugee camp he called home for 11 years because a car bomb exploded a few days before his planned trip; and he was harassed by police on his way to the airport.
“Now in Kenya you can’t tell who is bad and who is good. I was always on guard,” said the 29-year-old business co-owner and political science student at the University of Arizona.
Chirango arrived in Tucson in 2005 after spending 13 years as a refugee in Kenya. He was born in neighboring Somalia, but had to flee when he was 6 years old after his village was raided. His mother was shot dead in front of him and his siblings because she refused to let militiamen rape her.
While in Kenya earlier this year, Chirango said he was afraid of being framed as an extremist or getting caught in the middle of a police raid and sent back to Somalia, even though he is now a U.S. citizen.
“The Kenyan government is not looking at IDs anymore,” he said. “If you are Somali you are coming along.”