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Special Border Patrol Teams Flagged for Evidence Tampering

Ten members of Congress have requested an investigation into the Border Patrol’s evidence collection teams, the latest development into the handling of the 2010 killing of Anastasio Hernández Rojas.

(TNS) — Members of Congress from both the House and Senate on Monday called for an investigation into the workings of special Border Patrol teams after human rights advocates raised concerns about evidence tampering.

In a letter sent to the Government Accountability Office, the chairs of the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees, House and Senate Judiciary Committees, and House Oversight Committee asked for information related to the legal authority, activities, training, funding and oversight of Border Patrol's evidence collection teams, also known as Critical Incident Teams or Critical Incident Investigative Teams, depending on the region.

The move by members of Congress is the latest development after human rights attorneys investigating the 2010 killing of Anastasio Hernández Rojas at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego, Calif., raised concerns publicly last year. Hernández Rojas died at a hospital after border officials beat him and shot him with a Taser. Attorneys looking at the case last year found indications that Border Patrol's San Diego team had worked to cover up what happened to protect the Customs and Border Protection officers and Border Patrol agents involved in his death.

Those advocates also found evidence that the teams exist more generally in order to mitigate liability for the agency and that the teams have been involved in several recent investigations in which agents or officers used fatal force with a member of the public.

Ten members of Congress signed the request for an investigation into the units.

They are Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, D-Calif., Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

"The committees are concerned by reports indicating that Critical Incident Teams may have obstructed appropriate investigations by law enforcement," Thompson and Maloney wrote in a separate statement from the letter. "Our committees are seeking to more fully understand the role of Critical Incident Teams following potential misconduct by Border Patrol agents, whether these teams have obstructed criminal, civil, or administrative investigations or prevented accountability for agents' misconduct, and the steps CBP is taking to ensure these teams are being used appropriately."

Thompson and Maloney noted that the legislature hasn't given these units the power to conduct the kinds of investigations that they have carried out. They said they were concerned about a lack of transparency from the agency as well as that the special Border Patrol teams are not mentioned in the most recently updated use of force handbook for the agency.

CBP did not respond to a request for comment. The agency has previously said that the teams collect evidence to support other investigative bodies such as the FBI in cases when a CBP official has used force.

"Public trust and support of the government depends on investigative integrity," said Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego and co-counsel for the family of Hernández Rojas. "Border Patrol agents involved in these cover-up teams have no business investigating their colleagues. They are not authorized to do so by Congress and this is a flagrant conflict of interest. These teams must be fully investigated and shut down."

Guerrero is part of a legal team that has brought the Hernández Rojas case before an international human rights tribunal. It was through the team's work on that case that they noticed details in the police report that led them to questions about the special Border Patrol units.

"There are real people, real families and whole communities that are under continuous threat for their safety as long as these units can operate without accountability and oversight," said Lilian Serrano, co-director of Universidad Popular and co-chair of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, an organization that has been raising awareness about the teams since information about them surfaced in October. "The case of Anastasio Hernández Rojas in San Diego reminds us that none of us is safe as long as these units exist."

Southern Border Communities Coalition and Alliance San Diego have also pushed the San Diego district attorney to bring charges against the Border Patrol agents involved in the alleged cover up.

©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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