Page 7 of 13
Volunteer Sally Meisenhelder has encountered someone like Armando each time she has traveled from her New Mexico home to work at the aid station at the Nogales port of entry.
"Every day I have been at the port, I have met someone who was physically abused by Border Patrol, sometimes in a sadistic manner," she wrote in a signed affidavit included in the "Crossing the Line" report. "The injuries I have personally seen have been fractures of feet, after being run over by vehicles, pulmonary contusions caused by beating to the chest wall, lacerations caused by being pushed down on the ground, [and] bruises and sprains."
Sarah Roberts provided medical care to one man who told her a Border Patrol agent in Douglas, Arizona, kicked him in the head after he asked for food for a child. The man said the agent also swung his foot at a woman who asked for food. Another migrant warded off the kick intended for the woman with his hand, absorbing a blow so strong that it broke his wristwatch.
Roberts did her best to console Juana before they walked about a half-mile to the comedor.
While they ate, Roberts told the group at the soup kitchen that she was there to provide first aid and to document accounts of treatment by Border Patrol agents.
After the meal, a few went to Roberts for aspirin, a muscle rub, or something to heal the deep cuts or raw blisters on their feet. Those who needed more attention followed her to Grupo Beta, a Mexican aid station not far from the border.
In a back room, Roberts filled a small tub with water for the deportees to soak their feet. She applied medication and gave them fresh pairs of socks. Her husband helped wrap sprained ankles and handed out Girl Scout cookies and clothes.
No one Roberts saw that day volunteered that he or she had been abused by the Border Patrol. But when questioned about what they ate, the conditions of their holding cells, or how the agents spoke to them, a different picture emerged.
Some said they were given food — a few saltine crackers — and water in a dirty bucket. They said agents did not hit or manhandle them, only mocked or berated them.
Almost none of the immigrants were aware that while they were in the United States, they were entitled to the most of the same constitutional rights as Americans — rights that are supposed to protect them from mistreatment.
For example, federal law (18 USC 242) decrees that law enforcement officers cannot subject illegal immigrants to "different punishments, pains, or penalties" than those they can use legally against U.S. citizens.
Further, the Fourth Amendment affords immigrants protection from excessive and unreasonable force by law enforcement, and the Fifth Amendment decrees that they cannot be harmed while in custody or lose their liberty without due process of law.
"When we're talking about the U.S. Constitution, about civil rights and human rights, we need to apply these to all people in this country, regardless of their immigration status. Otherwise, we're jeopardizing our very basic constitutional rights," said Victoria Lopez, immigrant rights advocate with the ACLU of Arizona.
"We all have a responsibility to defend these rights that we cherish, that we think are so important as Americans. If we don't, then we erode our own system of protection."