Human rights attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights filed on Friday a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on behalf of the humanitarian organization No More Deaths seeking documents regarding Border Patrol’s (BP) role in responding to requests for emergency assistance along the U.S.-Mexico border, an area infamous for its migrant death toll.
The request seeks documents and data relating to CBP’s Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC) and how it processes requests for emergency assistance, and Border Patrol’s BORSTAR unit, which is charged with conducting search and rescue missions in the area.
The FOIA request notes that many southern Arizona counties transfer 911 calls from migrants to JIOC, rather than handling the requests for assistance in-house or transferring them to county rescue services.
According to the filing, between 1998, when BORSTAR was created, and 2015, more than 6,500 migrants died on the U.S. side of the border, mostly from environmental heat exposure. Many more individuals remain uncounted.
“The United States has militarized the border and virtually shuttered its ports of entry. As a result, it has forced thousands of people to seek safe haven through more dangerous means,” said Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney Angelo Guisado. “This is a small but important step to advocate for and vindicate those brave individuals who did not survive the brutal journey to seek safe haven and refuge, for which the U.S. bears responsibility. This is about accountability.”
Attorneys say they seek information on policies, procedures, and protocols that will help explain the causes and effects of the crisis. The request also specifically seeks to uncover potential information about Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) interference with—and even sabotage—of humanitarian efforts. It notes that four members of No More Deaths were recently prosecuted for allegedly leaving jugs of water and canned food for at-risk individuals potentially stranded in the desert. Water jugs are often vandalized, and recent media coverage has shown Border Patrol agents dumping out jugs left for dehydrated migrants.
“We have seen in our work how Border Patrol policy intentionally pushes people into remote terrain, where agents then chase groups so they become lost, and destroy life-preserving humanitarian aid. This same agency is tasked with responding to thousands of emergency requests for medical assistance,” said No More Deaths volunteer Alicia Dinsmore. “The public has a right to know how Border Patrol functions as the de facto emergency services provider along the border.”
Human rights attorneys say that the CBP- and BP-initiated policies and practices may actually have forced migrants into the situations that BORSTAR was designed to combat, such as restricting access to the asylum process at official ports of entry, thereby forcing individuals to cross between ports of entry travelling through more dangerous terrain.