By Alex Wagner
ACLU of Texas Legal Intern
|Test your knowledge about over-incarceration in Texas|
The University of San Francisco Law School and the Center for Law and Global Justice recently published a report comparing the American criminal justice system with that of other countries. The results were not flattering.
Compared to the rest of the world, the United States incarcerates for longer periods of time for less serious offenses. That’s why the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, despite the fact that several European countries actually exceed the United States in prison admissions per capita per year. According to the report, the sentencing practices of the United States are not only out-of-step with the rest of the world and fail to address rehabilitation.
Drug offenders in America are incarcerated for much longer than their international counterparts. Possession of one kilogram of cocaine could earn an American offender a decade in prison, while an offender in Britain would only receive a six-month sentence for the same offense.
And America has many more prisoners serving life sentences without the possibility of parole than any other country in the world. There are about 42,000 prisoners in the US serving life sentences, compared to 59 prisoners serving life in Australia and 41 in England. In most countries life sentences are reserved for extremely heinous crimes such as multiple homicide, whereas in America life sentences can be meted out for much less. Thanks to habitual offender statutes (California’s “three strikes law” being an infamous example), Americans can receive decades in prison for stealing a pair of shoes if the infraction is the third strike.
The report also blames our high incarceration rates on lack of judicial discretion and mandatory minimum sentencing, the frequent use of consecutive sentencing, and the rise in prison privatization. Private prisons hold about 6 percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of federal prisoners. Private prisons benefit financially from laws that require longer sentences, and the industry therefore lobbies against shorter sentences.
The report makes several recommendations to shorten prison terms and bring our sentencing practices more in-line with the rest of the world:
• Abolishing mandatory minimum sentences in favor of more flexible sentencing guidelines;
• Reserve life without parole sentences for only the most extreme cases;
• Retroactively applying new sentencing laws when the new law would reduce the sentence of an offender; and
• Consider international legal standards when codifying sentencing laws.
The ACLU has worked to address over-incarceration nationwide by promoting the passage of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. Several states, including Texas, are also starting to address the issue and have passed bipartisan reforms to reduce incarceration rates.
Purchase tickets to see Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness in Houston October 2nd.
By Elora Mukherjee
Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program
Originally posted on the ACLU Blog of Rights
On Friday, the ACLU settled a class action lawsuit, pending court approval, against officials in the East Texas town of Tenaha and Shelby County over the rampant practice of stopping and searching drivers, almost always Black or Latino, and often seizing their cash and other valuable property. The money seized by officers during these stops went directly into department coffers. It was highway robbery, targeting those who could least afford to challenge the officers’ abuse of power, under the guise of a so-called “drug interdiction” program and made possible by Texas’s permissive civil asset forfeiture laws.
Hundreds, if not more than a thousand, people have been stopped under the interdiction program. From 2006 to 2008, police seized approximately $3 million from at least 140 people as part of the program. None of the ACLU’s clients were ever arrested or charged with a crime after being stopped and shaken down.
Officers who are defendants in the case testified that there were no limits on the searches and seizures conducted under the interdiction program. One of the defendants, Barry Washington, testified that he considered the ethnicity and religion of the motorists to be factors relevant to establishing reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Under oath, when asked what indicators of criminal activity might be, Washington testified:
Well, there could be several things. There could even be indicators on the vehicle. The number one thing is you have two guys stopped, and these two guys are from New York. They’re two Puerto Ricans. They’re driving a car that has a Baptist Church symbol on the back, says First Baptist Church of New York.
The plaintiffs in the ACLU’s lawsuit lost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the defendant officers. If they refused to part with their money, officers threatened to arrest them on false money laundering charges and other serious felonies. The consequences for parents of color were even worse: officers threatened mothers like Jennifer Boatwright that if they did not part with their cash and valuables, their children would be taken away from them and put in foster care. This was not an empty threat; when Dale Agostini, a successful restaurant owner, refused to hand over $50,000 in business earnings he was carrying to buy new restaurant equipment, police seized both his money and his 16-month-old son. When Agostini pleaded to keep his son or at least kiss him goodbye, the officers refused and simply continued counting the money they had seized from him.
Thankfully, pending court approval of the ACLU’s settlement, police will now be required to observe rigorous rules that will govern traffic stops in Tenaha and Shelby County. All stops will now be videotaped, and the officer must state the reason for the stop and the basis for suspecting criminal activity. Motorists pulled over during a traffic stop must be advised orally and in writing that they can refuse a search. In addition, officers are no longer using dogs in conducting traffic stops. No property may be seized during a search unless the officer first gives the driver a reason for why it should be taken. All property improperly taken must be returned within 30 business days. And any asset forfeiture revenue seized during a traffic stop must be donated to non-profit organizations or used for the audio and video equipment or training required by the settlement.
To the best of our knowledge, this settlement is unprecedented in not only strictly monitoring traffic stops for racial profiling and other abuses, but also removing the incentives that can lead law enforcement to engage in highway robbery.
While Tenaha represents some of the most egregious abuses in racial profiling and civil asset forfeiture, the facts are far from unique. The ACLU is investigating similar abuses in states across the nation. In the meantime, the settlement in Tenaha should send a message to law enforcement departments across the nation: officers should focus on protecting the communities they serve, not on policing for profit.
By Gislaine Williams
Statewide Advocacy Coordinator
Community advocates gathered in vigils across the state yesterday as Texas carried out the controversial execution of Marvin Wilson Tuesday evening. The United States Supreme Court refused to stop the execution, despite significant evidence that Mr. Wilson was intellectually disabled. In its 2002 case Atkins v Virginia, the Court ruled that executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
With an IQ of 61, Mr. Wilson was declared intellectually disabled by a board-certified neuropsychologist. Texas argued that Wilson was not intellectually disabled using its own standards, known as the “Briseño factors” – standards that are not used by medical professionals and that the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities called “fundamentally incompatible with the scientific and clinical understanding of intellectual disability.”
The family of author John Steinbeck also issued an appeal to stop the execution. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals used Lennie Small, a mentally handicapped character in Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men, as a benchmark in the case establishing the Briseño factors. Thomas Steinbeck wrote that his father’s “work was certainly not meant to be scientific, and the character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability.”
Lee Kovarsky, attorney for Mr. Wilson, released this statement once the US Supreme Court denied a stay of execution:
We are gravely disappointed and profoundly saddened that the United States Supreme Court has refused to intervene to prevent tonight’s scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson, who has an I.Q. of 61, placing him below the first percentile of human intelligence. Ten years ago, this Court categorically barred states from executing people with mental retardation. Yet, tonight Texas will end the life of a man who was diagnosed with mental retardation by a court-appointed, board certified specialist. Read the full statement.
Mr. Wilson, 54, was sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of Jerry Williams. His execution marks the 484th execution in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. It is the 245th execution under Governor Rick Perry. There are currently nine more executions scheduled for 2012.
Learn more about the Texas death penalty at the Criminal Law Reform campaign website.
Tell Texas to stop executions: Take action here
Find a vigil near you: Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty vigil schedule
By Nimrah Siddiqui
Texas is once again set to execute a man who may be mentally disabled.
Marvin Wilson is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on Tuesday, August 7th for the murder of Jerry Robert Williams. Mr. Wilson’s lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of his execution because he has been declared intellectually disabled. The United States Supreme Court, in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), declared that executing persons with diminished intellectual ability is cruel and unusual punishment because, as most states recognize, their mental impairments make them less culpable.
Mr. Wilson, now 54, is a native of Beaumont, Texas. His intellectual disabilities have prevented him from achieving in school, keeping jobs, and sometimes even taking care of himself. A court-appointed neuropsychologist submitted a report in 2004 that diagnosed him with mental disabilities, measured his I.Q. at 61 (less than 70 signifies “significant impairment”), and noted that he had demonstrated impaired skills before the age of 18. Despite all the signs of Mr. Wilson’s intellectual disabilities and the diagnosis of the court-appointed neuropsychologist, the District Court of Jefferson County concluded that Mr. Wilson is not mentally retarded.
In Atkins v Virginia, the Supreme Court defined intellectual disability using clinical criteria from the American Association on Mental Retardation (now known as the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities or “AAIDD”). The Court, however, did not lay down specific standards that states have to use to determine intellectual disability. As a result, states can come up with their own standards identifying whether offenders qualify as mentally disabled and what punishments may be used against them.
Texas, known for its aggressive use of the death penalty, adopted its own set of criteria called the Briseño factors, to address and interpret Atkins. These factors, however, are not supported by the AAIDD and are not used in the scientific community. In fact, the AAIDD criticized the Briseño factors in another case (Chester v. Thaler), stating that the test is “impressionistic,” and uses criteria “based on false stereotypes about mental retardation that effectively exclude all but the most severely incapacitated.”
Mr. Wilson’s case highlights the problems with Texas’ use of the death penalty for defendants with intellectual disabilities. Does the state of Texas have any scientific basis for using the Briseño factors?
Mr. Wilson’s lawyers have filed a petition with the US Supreme Court to stop the execution, questioning the use of the Briseño factors. The AAIDD has also spoken out about the case and has asked the State of Texas to stop the execution.
Learn more about the case: Amnesty International Fact Sheet Marvin Wilson (PDF)
Tell the State of Texas to stop the execution: Take Action Here
Tell Texas legislators to end the death penalty: View a sample letter.
Find out what the law says about praying in school, punishment at school for saying something on Facebook, and handling police encounters.
Take the quiz to test your knowledge. Then, as you go through the answers, find out what the ACLU of Texas is doing to educate youth about their rights.
1. A school district that allows for corporal punishment cannot discipline a student in that manner without a parent’s written consent.
b. False – If a school district agrees to allow corporal punishment, a school within that district is permitted to physically discipline a student unless that student’s parent or guardian expressly opts out in writing before the beginning of each school year.
2. School administrative staff and police officers must receive training about student mental health and suicide prevention.
a.True – Thanks to a new law in Texas, all school districts must provide for training of all teachers, administrators, counselors, nurses, social workers, law enforcement officers, and all other staff on how to recognize signs of mental health issues and intervene early and appropriately.
3. When a student is the victim of bullying, a school:
a. Must notify the parents of the bullying victim
b. Must notify the parents of the bully
c. May handle the matter internally
d. Both a. & b. – House Bill 1942, which will go into effect as law this fall, requires school officials to provide for the timely notification of both students’ parents.
4. Can the school punish a student for something he or she says on Facebook?
c. Maybe – Students have a First Amendment right of free speech, but it has certain limits. Schools may be able to censor or punish students for cyberspeech if it is part of a school project, uses school computers, is accessed from a school computer lab, or if it is materially disruptive, vulgar, threatening, or advocates illegal drug use. However, the Supreme Court has said that political speech is “at the core of what the First Amendment is designed to protect,” and students generally have the right to state their political opinions in a non-disruptive manner.
5. When addressing an incident of bullying that results in school disruption, a school is required to consider whether a victim was acting in self-defense when determining the appropriate punishment for those involved.
A. True – House Bill 1942 also prohibits a student from being punished if he or she was reacting in self-defense to an act of bullying.
6. Do students have the right to pray in school?
a. No, because the ACLU will file a lawsuit to stop them.
b. Yes, in most circumstances. – Students have the right to pray at school, whatever their religion or religious denomination, as long as they do not disrupt the instructional or other activities of the school. A valedictorian or salutatorian may even include a prayer or religious message in their graduation speech. The school cannot compel or sponsor student prayer, however, or set aside time for prayer during the course of any school event or activity. Prayer is an individual right, and it may not be restricted or coerced by the school or any school official.
7. Can school officials search a student’s locker without the student or parent’s consent?
a. Yes, any time they want and for any reason.
b. No, they are never permitted to search a student’s locker without that student’s consent.
c. Yes, but the search must be reasonable and related to a suspected violation of the school code or the penal law. – Under Texas law, students do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in their lockers. The school technically owns each locker and does not need a student’s consent before conducting a search. At the same time, the search must be reasonable and related to the suspected disciplinary violation that led to the search. For example, in Shoemaker v. State, the Beaumont Court of Appeals found that when a student was suspected of stealing credit cards, a nonconsensual, warrantless search of her locker for evidence of the theft was reasonable. In contrast, in Coronado v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that when a student was suspected of skipping school, a search of his locker for contraband was unreasonable under the circumstances.
8. Can minors obtain contraception without the consent of a parent or guardian?
a. Yes. A student has the right to obtain any over-the-counter or prescription contraception available to adults.
b. Yes, but with some limitations. – As a general rule, minors over the age of 16 do not need consent to buy any over-the-counter form of birth control. Prescription contraception, however, normally requires the consent of a parent or guardian.
c. No. Students do not have any right to contraception without parental consent.
9. If a school administrator wants to question a student about a crime or a violation of school rules, she must first recite the student’s Miranda rights (i.e., that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law, etc.).
b. False – Unless the police are involved in a student’s questioning or detention, a student is not “in custody” so as to trigger his or her Miranda rights. As long as the administrator is acting within the scope of his official duties in questioning the student, he is not legally obligated to “Mirandize” the student.
10. Do minors have fewer rights than adults when they are stopped by the police?
b. No - While school administrators have greater leeway than law enforcement to question and search students on campus, police are held to the same legal standards when stopping minors and adults. This is true whether the stop occurs on- or off-campus.
Is patient care – or profits – the priority at privatized Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility in Conroe?
By Ryan Meltzer
ACLU of Texas Intern
Last week, we ran a post that mentioned the grand jury investigation into the construction of the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility in Conroe. Apparently, the County didn’t publish any legal notices requesting bids from construction companies, as required by law, nor was there any evidence that the commissioners chose the “winning” company from a list of recommended, qualified developers. As it turns out, the facility’s problems didn’t end with the whiffs of corruption surrounding its construction.
Now, the Austin American-Statesman and the Houston Chronicle are reporting that the Texas Department of Health Services has recommended levying over $100,000 in fines against the facility, stemming from severe shortcomings in the patient care provided by—you guessed it—GEO Care, a subsidiary of private prison operator GEO Group. The Department has tentatively reduced the fine to $53,000, but its decision is not final—and when you read the laundry list of violations, you’ll understand why. Since March 2011, the Department has inspected the facility three times, and each visit has turned up serious problems, ranging from unauthorized restraint and seclusion of patients to inadequate recordkeeping and failure to report grave patient injuries to the state. Some lowlights:
- Half of 50 incidents of patient restraint or seclusion were not supported by an “appropriate” physician’s order. The Department determined that there was a “significant lack of compliance with physician orders for initiating restraint.”
- The director of psychiatric nursing had only an associate’s degree, rather than the required master’s degree in psychiatric mental health.
- Classes designed to help patients recover were described as “bedlam,” leading patients to refuse attendance. (Echoes of the New York Times’ story on the halfway houses operated by Community Education Centers. For our previous coverage on CEC, see here and here)
- The hospital kept patients for months after they had been found competent to stand trial, and maintained excessively restrictive policies on phone use and personal property.
- While being held in seclusion for four hours, one patient threatened staff and repeatedly banged his head against his room’s walls, causing lacerations to both eyes and a bruise to his head. Staff did not attempt to help the patient—for instance, by employing mechanical restraints—out of fear.
- One patient seriously injured himself and then consumed fecal matter, but the incident was not reported to the state or addressed through the patient’s treatment plan.
The most disturbing part: Despite these deeply troubling findings, the Department is moving forward with its plans to privatize one of the 10 public psychiatric hospitals it oversees. Admittedly, the Department’s hands appear to be tied—the Chronicle reports that state lawmakers attached a rider to last year’s budget bill, ordering officials to privatize one state psychiatric hospital and generate at least 10 percent cost savings to the state. Laws like this elevate fiscal savings over human welfare, and evince a callous indifference to the care of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Actually, no. Scratch that. The most disturbing part: As of last Thursday, the only company to bid for the contract was—that’s right—GEO Care.
Tell your lawmakers that there are better ways to cut state costs than farming out prison and mental health care operations to profit-driven companies. Join our Community Action Network today!
By Kali Cohn
ACLU of Texas Intern
On Friday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay for Marcus Druery, who was being readied for execution in Huntsville this Wednesday. Mr. Druery’s faces execution for his 2002 murder of Skyyler Browne, who he shot repeatedly and whose body he subsequently burned. Skyyler’s death was a tragic loss to his family and friends, as well as an injustice to the community.
While Mr. Druery’s acts were heinous and tragic, his execution would layer another injustice on this tragedy. He suffers from schizophrenia and, because of his mental illness, he does not believe that his execution date applies to him or that he will be executed because of a crime that he has committed.
Since the 1980s, the Supreme Court has prohibited the government from executing prisoners that are insane – but it left the states to decide how to define insanity. And although a 2007 Supreme Court ruling clarified that an inmate lacking some “rational understanding” of the reason for his or her execution cannot be executed, the determination of an inmate’s “rational understanding” is at the court’s discretion to decide.
The stay follows the Brazos County District Court’s denial of a motion to hold a full hearing on Mr. Druery’s claims of competency last week – a decision which, in effect, refused Mr. Druery’s lawyers the opportunity to show that he is not competent enough to understand his execution, despite his state-diagnosed schizophrenia.
But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has made a move toward justice, and we wait to find out whether it will permit a full and fair hearing on Mr. Druery’s competence.
As we await the Court’s decision, we hope that we need not bear witness to a 484th cruel and unusual miscarriage of justice in the name of Marcus Druery.
Behind the numbers
In many ways, news about the death penalty in Texas this year has been heartening. 2011 saw the lowest level of Texas executions in the last 15 years. It matched 2010 with the lowest number of new death sentences since Texas’s death penalty was reinstated in 1974. It even reduced the number of counties sentencing inmates to the death penalty to only 6 of Texas’s 254.
In sum: support for the death penalty in Texas is waning – and those numbers reflect that.
But those numbers also mean that Texas is still putting to death 30 percent of all of the inmates executed in the United States, including individuals suffering from mental disabilities and mental illness.
News Reports Document Bad Management and Financial Concerns; States Like Texas Lead the Way in Finding Alternatives to Incarceration
By Ryan Meltzer
ACLU of Texas Intern
Back in June, we published a post detailing the Christian Broadcasting Network’s critical coverage of the private prison industry. A little over a week ago, CBN rebroadcast its investigative report, titled Selling Prisons “for Profit,” exploring the miserable conditions in private prisons as well as the ethical implications of treating prisoners as dollar signs.
Although our previous post quoted at length from the accompanying CBN print story, the television broadcast (available for streaming here) includes some compelling footage:
- Prison security cameras capture a brutal inmate-on-inmate fight while a guard watches from the security of an enclosed room.
- An investor presentation by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) boasts of corrections as a “recession resistant” industry, with high recidivism rates making for a good investment.
- Jesus Cardenas, a former inmate at Texas’s own Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, recounts a handful of the horrors he witnessed while in custody.
Texas Prison Bid’ness, Grits for Breakfast, and the Private Corrections Working Group have extensive coverage of the problems that have plagued Mineral Wells over the years, but suffice it to say that CCA, the private company that operates the facility, has been ineffective at preventing escapes, disturbances, and contraband smuggling. Cardenas’s testimony certainly doesn’t help CCA’s image: Describing the stark difference in security between Mineral Wells and the public prison where he was first held, Cardenas recalls “at least one or three [inmate fights] a day” and reports that known gang members routinely stored cell phones, drugs, and weapons in their cells.
If it wasn’t bad enough for the image of the private prison industry for CBN anchor Pat Robertson to lead the story with a comparison of the U.S. to jail-happy China and Russia, CBN’s rebroadcast coincided with a raft of bad news for private prisons and their investors.
First, the Conroe Courier reported that a federal grand jury is investigating the construction of two privately run facilities, the Joe Corley Detention Center and the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility, based on allegations of corruption. The article explains that Montgomery County is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status on the $45 million in bonds it issued to finance the Joe Corley Detention Center, as the facility is currently housing only federal prisoners. If the county loses its tax-exempt status, County Judge Alan Sadler is quoted as remarking, “the tax implications would be huge.”
Next, the Brownsville Herald covered the dispute between Willacy County District Attorney Bernard Ammerman and Willacy County Judge John Gonzales over the county’s debt from the Willacy County Regional Detention Center. While Judge Gonzales maintains that the county has insulated itself from creditors by financing the prison through a public facility corporation, Ammerman counters that Willacy County will be liable to bondholders if the center fails. By any estimate, the county’s debt is between $75 and $189 million, so in the event of a default, the county could potentially see a sharp drop in its bond status—a catastrophic economic turn of events for the County’s 22,000 residents.
Most recently, the New York Times continued its investigation of Community Education Centers (CEC), the New Jersey-based corrections company that operates a number of penal institutions in Texas. Having exposed chronic problems with violence, escapes, contraband, and poor rehabilitative services at CEC facilities, the Times has turned its attention to CEC’s tumultuous finances. According to records filed in a lawsuit against CEC by its former chief financial officer, the corporation has faced such severe financial turmoil over the last four years that it considered filing for bankruptcy in 2010. What, you might wonder, could have so shaken a supposedly “recession resistant” industry that a company like CEC is at risk of bankruptcy? Simple: When your business is dependent on high incarceration rates, sensible policies that reduce prison populations are going to hurt your bottom line. Indeed, CEC’s financial problems didn’t come from their New Jersey contracts, which have grown over the past decade; rather, the Times writes, “Community Education has . . . run into trouble after an aggressive expansion foundered in states like Alabama and Texas.”
Arguably more troubling than the possibility that CEC has been on the brink of financial ruin for years, though, is the fact that in Texas, government entities are expected to scrutinize the qualifications of corporate bidders before awarding a private prison contract. (For a sample jail-related Request for Proposal issued by Harris County, see here.) Because CEC has apparently received new and renewed contracts in Texas during the time frame examined by the Times, this suggests one of two things: Either CEC was less than honest in its financial accounting, or Texas officials enamored of corrections privatization chose to ignore the grim truth behind the numbers. In light of such reports, it’s clear that the CBN story has only just scratched the surface of prison privatization.
Stand with the ACLU against prison privatization and join our Community Action Network today!
Most of us have all been on the receiving end of bullying at least once, but that doesn’t mean we should let today’s youth continue to be bullied, and the Texas Legislature agrees!
State lawmakers passed a law creating new guidelines concerning bullying which school districts must implement by the time school starts this fall.
The new law requires school boards to adopt policies that:
- prohibit bullying
- stop retaliation against any person including a victim, witness, or another person, who in good faith, provides information concerning a bullying incident.
The new law requires schools to:
- notify a parent or guardian of a student who is bullying or bullied within a reasonable amount of time after the incident
- provide steps students should take to obtain assistance and intervention in response to bullying
- make available counseling options for a student who is victim of or a witness to bullying or who engages in bullying
- establish procedures for reporting bullying, investigating reports of bullying, and determining whether bullying occurred
- prohibit punishment of a student who, after an investigation is found to have been a victim of bullying, use reasonable self-defense in response to the bullying
- develop a process for bullying cases involving special education students in accordance with the Disabilities Education Act.
Parents and guardians no longer have to worry about being in the dark if bullying happens or students being punished for self-defense against bullies!
Help us protect youth rights by joining the ACLU of Texas CAN (Community Action Network). We need people like you to raise awareness in your town!
By Vicki B. Gaubeca, ACLU of New Mexico and Krystal Gómez, ACLU of Texas
A year ago this week , a young woman working with the ACLU of New Mexico arrived at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offices at the Ysleta-Zaragoza port of entry in El Paso/Ciudad Juárez. She was there to meet with a New Mexico State Police sergeant investigating her allegations of sexual assault by a Border Patrol agent that occurred while she was detained at a fixed checkpoint in NM. The meeting had been arranged in advance with CBP officials at the port of entry by the NM State Police, and CBP was made aware of the nature of the meeting.
What happened next frightened the young woman so much that she dropped the investigation. This story, along with other stories of CBP abuse, will be featured tonight in a PBS special report on the program Need to Know. (Please see local listings for air times.)
This case is only one of many stories of abuse and impunity at the hands of CBP officers. The ACLU recently documented eleven cases of abuse at official ports of entry in a letter to the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The cases come from ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, and most involve U.S. citizens. The letter calls for an investigation into the cases and increased oversight of DHS Customs and Border Protection, an agency that has swelled in size to become the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country.
This PBS Need to Know documentary is the second installment in the series, “Crossing the Line,” that aired April 20 and focused on deaths and serious injuries caused by CBP officials. The April 20th segment told the story of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas, a 42-year-old father of five who, in May 2010, died after a group of CBP officers beat him and shocked him with tasers at the San Ysidro port of entry near San Diego. Live videotape of the beating shows bystanders calling on the officers to stop beating Hernandez-Rojas, hogtied and lying prostrate on the ground, as he screamed in pain and pled for his life.
On July 24-26, 2012, a delegation that includes members from ACLU-San Diego and Imperial Counties, ACLU-New Mexico and ACLU-Texas will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with White House staff members, top officials at DHS and CBP, and congressional members to demand more accountability and oversight of Border Patrol agents.
Congress should create an external, independent oversight commission with investigatory, auditing, and subpoena power to respond to complaints from whistleblowers and the general public about CBP abuses, while protecting the identity and status of complainants. The oversight commission, which should include non-governmental organizations among its members, should be required to issue public reports on its activity and have the authority to make legislative, regulatory, or policy recommendations.
The time has come to create a mechanism for holding CBP accountable and to check the rising trend of abuse and deaths.