By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
"We're not animals!" she screamed at the agent in English, when he stopped and opened the truck's door so a fellow agent could toss in another migrant.
The agents mocked them, she related, saying they were animals that deserved such treatment.
Human rights volunteers often hear similar stories from immigrants. Some say Border Patrol agents turn on heat in the summer or air conditioning in the winter to torture immigrants packed in the back of such trucks.
No More Deaths continues to gather accounts of abuse from recently deported immigrants in Mexico, in the hope of soon releasing another report.
Just days after Anastasio Hernandez Rojas died in agents' custody, Border Patrol agents in El Paso shot and killed Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereca, a Mexican teen who was among a crowd of people throwing rocks at agents.
One agent shot the unarmed 15-year-old, who reportedly had been arrested at least four times since 2008 on suspicion of human smuggling but was never charged with a crime.
A criminal history alone is no justification for killing someone who isn't posing an immediate threat to an officer, say critics like Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels.
Law enforcement officials in Texas are reviewing the death of 18-year-old Juan Mendez, a drug smuggler shot by a Border Patrol agent in early October. After a brief struggle, the unarmed man broke free of the agent's hold, and the agent shot him twice.
As already stated, it is impossible to know exactly how many border agents abuse their power, and there has been no ruling as to whether these did.
Immigrant rights activists argue that this is the way U.S. Customs and Border Protection wants it — that the agency is bent on ensuring that as few abusive agents as possible are exposed publicly.
Tucson nurse Sarah Roberts sees living examples of mistreated and neglected migrants each time she travels to Mexico to provide basic medical care at migrant-aid stations, shelters, and the comedor in Nogales, Sonora.
Sometimes migrants need something stronger than her healing hands. During a September visit to Nogales, she sat inside a worn trailer with Juana, comforting her through the anguish of losing her mother, being separated from her children, and getting stuck in Nogales, more than 3,000 miles from her home and family in New York City.
A rough encounter with the Border Patrol when she was nabbed in the Sonoran Desert only aggravated her pain.
Juana had returned to Mexico about a month earlier because her mother was dying. She knew the risks of leaving her home, husband, and 3-year-old son behind in the States. Even her ailing mother pleaded with her not to return.
Juana had been living in New York for nearly 20 years. She needed to see her mom one last time.
Her mother died shortly after falling into a diabetic coma. After the funeral, Juana made plans to return home. She came across the border with a small group of immigrants, but they were spotted by roving Border Patrol agents.
Juana didn't run. She told New Times she hunkered down in fear when the agent pulled so close to her in his Chevy Suburban that she could feel heat radiating from the truck's tires. He jumped out, grabbed her, squeezed her arm tightly, and dragged her to his transport vehicle.
"Please, you're hurting me," she said, which elicited no mercy from her captor.
When told this story, Border Patrol Agent Eric Cantu, spokesman for the agency's Tucson sector, said agents have to approach every suspect as a potential threat.
There is no room, he said, for niceties in a desert where armed drug smugglers hide under the cover of darkness and where bajadores, bold enough to rob from murderous drug smugglers, roam in search of victims. There is little time to distinguish between immigrants who will submit to arrest peacefully, he said, and those who will lunge for an agent's weapon.
"Just getting to where [agents] need to be is full of danger," Cantu said. "And once you get there, you have a group of strangers willing to risk everything to get into the U.S. — and you're standing in their way."
Cantu, a former Marine with almost four years on the job, concedes that there are bad agents but that most carry out their duties with integrity:
"We're noble men and women. And we're dedicated to our jobs. We don't do it to crush dreams. We don't do it to humiliate. We do it for our country."
Juan Carlos Diaz Romero has a much different perspective after years of tending to deported migrants who arrive with signs of abuse at the No More Deaths migrant-aid station. He routinely hears stories that immigrants were denied food, water, or medical attention while in custody.
The full-time volunteer, who lives nearby, says he suffered Border Patrol abuse when he tried to cross into Arizona.
"I've suffered just like they have," he said. "I want to help, so I just stay here."
Of the deportees he encounters, Diaz Romero says, "Many people who arrive here have been beaten, have gone days without food.