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Sunday, May 23, 2004

Welcome to the Tucson Citizen

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Border agent claims detainees mistreated in Douglas

A probe is under way into allegations that illegal immigrants in custody go up to 24 hours without food.

LUKE TURF
Tucson Citizen

A recent complaint of mistreatment of illegal immigrants in U.S. custody is under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General, a Border Patrol spokesman said yesterday.
Illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol in Douglas are going up to 24 hours without food and are crowded into cells while neighboring cells are empty, a Douglas agent wrote in an internal memorandum obtained by the Tucson Citizen.

In the March 21 memo, Ephraim Cruz also alleges immigrants aren't being thoroughly searched before they're placed in cells, compounding dangers for immigrants and agents.

Another memo from Cruz, dated nine days later, states that a pocket knife and cigarette lighter were among items found on immigrants in detention.

The memorandum's allegations are being investigated by the Office of the Inspector General, Tucson Border Patrol spokesman Andy Adame said.

"They will determine the validity of that memorandum," Adame said.

Officials with the Office of the Inspector General would not discuss any ongoing investigations involving the Border Patrol.

Since October, about 70,000 illegal immigrants have been caught by agents working at the Douglas station, according to Border Patrol spokesman Rob Daniels.

"As far as the feeding, everybody in that facility gets fed at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.," Adame said.

He didn't know how many meals were served to immigrants since October because the contract, which recently expired, is managed by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Crackers and juice are always available for immigrants, Adame said, though the memorandum claims the stock of juice and crackers gets depleted and it can be weeks before new stocks arrive.

The Border Patrol transports and processes immigrants as quickly as possible to avoid filling the cells, Adame said. If capacity is reached, immigrants would be moved back to the border or to other stations.

"We just don't allow it to get to full capacity," Adame said. "We never overflow the cells."

Immigrants are searched in the field when they are caught, again before being put in vans and a third time before they enter the facility, he said.

The memos follow a complaint filed in February in Douglas by Mark Adams, a member of the international, faith-based group Healing Our Borders, on behalf of 17 illegal immigrants dropped off at the port Jan. 26 who claim they were abused.

In that complaint, an illegal immigrant said he was hit in the leg with a billy club, and another migrant said he was punched in the ribs while they were being loaded into a van.

The Border Patrol's local union's second vice president, Maurice Gill, would rather have management deal with the issues outlined in the memos as opposed to bringing in a third party.

"Every employee who does the work knows the problems there, and more importantly they know the solutions," Gill said. "Small problems like this will lead to larger problems in the end."

Border Patrol officials marked the opening of the Douglas station, the nation's biggest Border Patrol facility, in August.

"Right in the middle of this transition, I would have to say they're failing to address issues as adequately or as quickly as we'd like them to," Gill said. "A lot of these things fester until they become a fire."


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