Two U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in California attempted to force a visibly injured and disoriented man to cross the border into Mexico after deciding he looked Mexican, according to a video obtained by NBC News.
The video was captured by an unnamed videographer at the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico, California, in March 2017 and published by NBC on Wednesday.
The clip shows two U.S. Border Patrol agents accompanying a handcuffed man, who was barefoot and appeared to have an injured leg, to the border so he could go “back to his country” — but they were stopped by Mexican border agents who insisted the man would have to be processed through the Mexican consulate on the U.S. side before he could be repatriated.
As NBC News noted, a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Mexico mandates that repatriation is done through the consulate, where unauthorized immigrants are fingerprinted and their identities are verified.
“You know you can’t take him out through here,” a Mexican agent is seen telling the two U.S. officers before directing them to take the man to a Mexican consulate.
“Why would I have to call the consulate?” one of the U.S. agents responded. “He’s not in my custody.”
Even as the other officer removed the handcuffs from the man, the first agent continued to insist that he was not in their custody. “He’s not with me,” the agent said, insisting that he was doing the man “a favor.”
It soon becomes clear in the clip that the U.S. agents did not know for certain whether the man, described by NBC as “mentally unstable,” was in fact from Mexico.
“I think he’s Mexican. He’s going back to his country … He looks [Mexican],” the same U.S. agent said, identifying himself as a 20-year Border Patrol veteran.
According to NBC News, the U.S. agents later left the man “at a park” on the U.S. side of the border and “lost track of his whereabouts.” A month later, border agents reportedly apprehended the same man as he attempted to enter the U.S. from Mexico. This time, the man was taken to a Mexican consulate, where officials confirmed that he was a Mexican citizen who’d been arrested multiple times for unauthorized entry into the U.S.
A Customs and Border Protection official told HuffPost on Wednesday that the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility had investigated the incident shown in the video after the agency was notified of the clip’s existence by the Mexican consulate.
The office then “addressed the agents’ actions,” the official said, without elaborating. NBC News reported that the two agents were “reprimanded” over the incident but remain on the job.
“CBP is committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect while enforcing the laws of the United States,” the official told HuffPost. “CBP takes all allegations of mistreatment seriously, and does not tolerate actions that are not consistent with our core values of Vigilance, Service to Country and Integrity.”
Immigrants’ rights activists reacted to the video with horror this week. Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, called the action of the agents in the clip “reprehensible.”
CBP has characterized the incident in the video as an “isolated” case, but a recent survey by the American Immigration Council suggested otherwise.
According to the survey, which documented the responses of 600 immigrants who were deported back to Mexico between August 2016 and April 2017, almost 60 percent of respondents said they were not given repatriation documents even though officials are required, under CBP policy, to provide them. Many respondents also accused U.S. agents of not advising them of their right to seek asylum and of using coercive tactics to get them to sign deportation documents.
“Mexican migrants suffer a host of violations, abuses, and ill-treatment while in the custody of U.S. immigration authorities,” the American Immigration Council concluded in their report. “Without being fully advised of their rights or having the opportunity to freely exercise them, migrants may face unjust deportation and lose the ability to ever seek legal admission or apply for asylum in the future.”
Activists have expressed concerns that the rights of immigrants will be further impinged upon as President Donald Trump’s crackdown on unauthorized immigration intensifies. On Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center renounced the Justice Department’s decision to temporarily halt a program that provides legal information to detained immigrants.
“Keeping immigrants uninformed and in the dark about their options serves no one except an administration with an agenda to railroad vulnerable individuals out of our country by refusing to provide them with basic information and access to the legal process that is a cornerstone of our democracy,” the advocacy group wrote.