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U.S. Border Agents Seen On Video Trying To Deport A Man Who 'Looks Mexican'

A screenshot of a video showing U.S. Border Patrol agents attempting to instruct an injured man to cross the U.S. border into Mexico, apparently violating international laws.
NBC News
Screenshot by NPR
A screenshot of a video showing U.S. Border Patrol agents attempting to instruct an injured man to cross the U.S. border into Mexico, apparently violating international laws.

U.S. Border Patrol agents were caught on camera trying to ditch an injured and apparently incoherent man across the Mexican border because they said he "looks" Mexican, according to NBC News.

In the nearly eight-minute video, spoken entirely in Spanish, the unidentified agents can be heard claiming the handcuffed man is not in their custody and that they are not required to process him through the Mexican Consulate where he could be identified and fingerprinted.

Under a U.S.-Mexico agreement, Mexican citizens being deported must be processed at the Mexican Consulate on the U.S. side of the border.

When informed by Mexican border guards that the Americans are obligated by existing bilateral agreements between the two countries to formally process the man through the consulate, one of the agents refuses and the other remains silent.

One Mexican border guard then asks one of the Americans — the one doing the talking — if he is new on the job. "No, I've been doing this for 20 years," he responds.

The Mexican guard insists again that the two Americans are not following the laws outlined by the nations' repatriation agreements; that the site is not a legal entrance into Mexico for anyone who has been apprehended; and that the consulate in the U.S. should call for an ambulance. But the American agents continue to disagree.

Meanwhile the man, who is shirtless and on the ground at this point, lifts his right pant leg to reveal an injury on his knee. He appears not to fully understand the conversation happening around him and is heard grunting, seemingly unable to form words.

"I think he's Mexican. ... He's going to return to his country," the U.S. agent says.

"You don't know if he's Mexican or not?" the Mexican agent asks.

"He looks like it," the U.S. agent says.

Non-Mexican nationals who are not granted asylum must be deported by plane back to their country of origin.

In the end, the U.S. agents remove the man's handcuffs and allow him to wander off, after which it looks like he is questioned by more U.S. agents.

NBC explained it received a copy of the video from U.S. Customs and Border Protection after a "whistleblower" first alerted the news company to the existence of the footage. NBC said that particular location, at the Calexico Border Patrol station, has been identified to the network as a place where American agents frequently tried to deport migrants covertly.

A spokesperson for the CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility told NPR the agency has "initiated an investigation into an incident depicted in a video that NBC News recently provided the agency."

According to the spokesperson, the Mexican Consulate notified the U.S. Border Patrol's El Centro Sector about the confrontation at the time, which was March 17, 2017.

"After a review of the incident based on the information available, the Sector's leadership addressed the agents' actions," the spokesperson said in an email.

The agency did not clarify exactly how it addressed the agents' actions, saying only, "CBP takes all allegations of mistreatment seriously, and does not tolerate actions that are not consistent with our core values of Vigilance, Service to Country and Integrity."

NBC News reported the man was eventually released at a local park and agents lost track of him for about a month, until he was again taken into custody by U.S. border agents. Apparently, he was trying to re-enter the U.S. from Mexico. Only then was the man formally processed at the Mexican Consulate, where officials discovered he is a Mexican citizen with 16 prior crossings.

Lindsay Harris, assistant law professor at the University of the District of Columbia and co-founder of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, told NPR that Border Patrol agents are supposed to follow a specific script every time a migrant is detained. And even in cases of an " expedited removal" agents are required to inform a detainee about his or her rights.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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