Letter to Congress sounds alarm over Border Patrol “shadow units”

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Speaker 1: (00:01)

Calls for an investigation into border patrol and their shadow police units.

Speaker 2: (00:06)

Their job is to keep the agency or agents from being liable for things that happen.

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Congressional leaders were delivered a bombshell yesterday when an open letter to lawmakers raised caution over the border patrol’s critical incident teams. According to the letter, these teams work to mitigate the culpability of agents that have either killed someone or use a problematic use of force in the field. The letter pinned by the Southern border communities, coalition and Alliance. San Diego indicates that these shadow police units have been operating since the late eighties, all without any actual authority under federal law. Joining me now with more is San Diego union Tribune reporter Kate Morrissey, Kate, welcome back to the program. Thanks

Speaker 2: (01:42)

For having me.

Speaker 1: (01:43)

So start off by telling us about these shadow units. What purpose do they serve?

Speaker 2: (01:48)

So according to this PowerPoint presentation that was obtained by a journalist and an included incited in the letter, they are to mitigate liability. That is, that is quoted from the presentation about what they are meant to do. And so when you think about what that, what that means, you know, their, their job is to keep the agency or agents from being liable for, for things that happen. And can you tell,

Speaker 1: (02:14)

Oh, it’s about the letter and the call to investigate this, and also how they found out about these shadow units.

Speaker 2: (02:21)

The way that they found out about these units actually comes from a San Diego case. So there was a man who, um, was killed at the San Ysidro port of entry by, um, a combination of CBP officers and border patrol agents. Uh, back in 2010, um, her, his name was unassessed Hernandez Rojas, and his case has actually gone to an international human rights commission where, um, human rights attorneys are sort of arguing that there was obstruction of justice in, in the case. And that, and that charges should have been brought against the officials who participated in killing him. And so I’ve been, I’ve been reporting on that case for a little bit, which is, which is how this sort of came to me is that the attorneys working on that case began to notice these mentions of these units. And so they said to themselves, what are these units and, and started to find mentions of them in other places, um, which was difficult because there are not a lot of mentions of, of them in public documents. They’re not listed in, you know, the traditional sort of definitions documents where the department of Homeland security explains what the different sort of elements of the department are. And so they were able to in, you know, different court transcripts from cases and, and places like that to find bits and pieces of information about them and piece together what these units are and how they operate. So

Speaker 1: (03:48)

These units there, they’re not mentioned in public documents, who’s in these units.

Speaker 2: (03:53)

So they are agents who are employed by the particular border patrol sector. So their boss is the border patrol chief. And that’s really important because that is sort of a distinguishing feature as compared with people who work for the office of, uh, that is responsible for investigations, the CVP OPR, uh, which is separate from any of the sectors, right? So in this case, the people who are, who are doing these investigations and in, in gathering evidence in many cases are answering to the chief of the sector whose, whose interests in the case would be very different from someone whose, whose job is to do the investigation as a, as a third party, if that makes sense. So

Speaker 1: (04:38)

They are border patrol agents, they’re just acting in this sort of clandestine unit,

Speaker 2: (04:43)

Right? And I, and so what’s significant about them is that they’re, they’re doing investigative work and gathering evidence in cases involving border patrol agents in their sector. So instead of having somebody else come in, who is a more neutral entity, they’re gathering it themselves. And that’s where this question of sort of conflict of interest and the potential for bad behavior comes about.

Speaker 1: (05:09)

And what’s been the reaction from border community groups to the revelation of these units.

Speaker 2: (05:14)

There’s been a good bit of outcry since the letter came out. Um, a lot of people who are working in this space have expressed sort of a mixture of shock, but also lack of surprise. Um, and so I would, I would say that’s probably what I’ve heard the most is sort of that, that combination of feelings and you write that

Speaker 1: (05:37)

These units have existed since the eighties. Why are we only hearing about them now?

Speaker 2: (05:42)

That’s a good question. And I think that goes back to how secretive these units have been. Um, the letter points out that there was an audit at one point of some, um, you know, internal border patrol and, um, handbook that was not available to the public. Um, and the audit suggested that the agency needed to explain what these units were because there was a very small mention of them in this handbook and rather than explaining what they were and developing that in the handbook, the agency chose to remove the mention all together. There, there seems to be a deliberate, um, lack of transparency about who they are and what they do in the public record.

Speaker 1: (06:30)

You had any kind of response from border patrol themselves on what the purpose of these units are.

Speaker 2: (06:36)

Yes. Um, they sent me a statement saying that, you know, these units are meant to, um, you know, assist investigators that sometimes, um, the incidents that they’re investigating for example, happen in rural areas that are difficult for these entities to reach. And so these teams would go, would have easier access to some of those places in order to gather the evidence, but that they’re acting under under supervision of these other entities, even though hierarchically speaking, those aren’t actually their bosses.

Speaker 1: (07:14)

I have been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, immigration reporter, Kate Morrissey, Kate, thanks for joining

Speaker 2: (07:20)

Us. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 4: (07:23)

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