A Rise in Deadly Border Patrol Chases Renews Accountability Concerns About

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The expanding fig of deaths adds urgency to questions astir erstwhile and however agents should prosecute successful high-speed chases arsenic they prosecute smugglers and migrants.

Angie Simms, right, and Shaw Drake, a lawyer   with the American Civil Liberties Union, astatine  the clang  tract  adjacent   Las Cruces, N.M., wherever  an S.U.V. driven by Ms. Simms’s lad   rolled implicit    during a pursuit by the Border Patrol.
Credit...Sharon Chischilly for The New York Times

Eileen Sullivan

Jan. 9, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Angie Simms had been searching for her 25-year-old lad for a week, filing a missing persons study and calling anyone who mightiness person seen him, erstwhile the telephone came past August. Her son, Erik A. Molix, was successful a infirmary successful El Paso, Texas, wherever helium was strapped to his bed, connected a ventilator and successful a medically induced coma.

Mr. Molix had suffered caput trauma aft the S.U.V. helium was driving with 9 undocumented immigrants wrong rolled implicit adjacent Las Cruces, N.M., portion Border Patrol agents pursued him astatine speeds of up to 73 miles per hour. He died Aug. 15, astir 2 weeks aft the crash; adjacent by then, nary 1 from the Border Patrol oregon immoderate different instrumentality enforcement oregon authorities bureau had contacted his family.

The fig of migrants crossing the borderline illegally has soared, with the Border Patrol signaling the highest fig of encounters successful much than six decades successful the fiscal twelvemonth that ended Sept. 30. With the surge has travel an summation successful deaths and injuries from high-speed chases by the Border Patrol, a inclination that Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, attributes to a emergence successful brazen smugglers trying to fly its agents.

From 2010 to 2019, high-speed chases by the Border Patrol resulted successful an mean of 3.5 deaths a year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2020, determination were 14 specified deaths; successful 2021, determination were 21, the past connected Christmas.

The bureau recorded much than 700 “use of force” incidents connected oregon adjacent the confederate borderline successful the past fiscal year. Customs and Border Protection does not disclose however galore of those ended successful death, oregon however galore high-speed chases instrumentality spot each year.

Crossing the borderline without documentation oregon helping radical bash truthful is afloat of hazard careless of the circumstances, and stopping specified crossings — and the transgression enactment of smugglers — is cardinal to the Border Patrol’s job. But the rising deaths rise questions astir however acold the bureau should spell with pursuits of smugglers and migrants, and erstwhile and however agents should prosecute successful high-speed chases.

Customs and Border Protection has yet to supply Ms. Simms, a fifth-grade teacher successful San Diego, with an mentation of what happened to her son. She saw a news release it issued 2 weeks aft the crash; officials accidental it is not the agency’s work to explain. She said she understood that officials suspected her lad was progressive successful amerciable activity, transporting undocumented immigrants.

“But that doesn’t mean you person to dice for it,” she said.


Credit...Paul Ratje/Agence France-Presse, via Getty Images

Customs and Border Protection, which is portion of the Department of Homeland Security, has a policy stating that agents and officers tin behaviour high-speed chases erstwhile they find “that the instrumentality enforcement payment and request for exigency driving outweighs the contiguous and imaginable information created by specified exigency driving.” The A.C.L.U. argues that the policy, which the bureau publically disclosed for the archetypal clip past month, gives agents excessively overmuch discretion successful determining the hazard to nationalist safety.

In a connection to The New York Times, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the caput of homeland security, said that portion “C.B.P. agents and officers hazard their lives each time to support our communities safe,” the Homeland Security Department “owes the nationalist the fair, nonsubjective and transparent probe of use-of-force incidents to guarantee that our highest standards are maintained and enforced.”

But antecedently unreported documents and details of the clang that killed Mr. Molix shed airy connected what critics say is simply a troubling signifier successful which the Border Patrol keeps its operations opaque, contempt the rising quality toll of assertive enforcement actions.

Early connected Aug. 3, a Border Patrol cause saw an S.U.V. traveling dilatory conscionable northbound of Las Cruces with what appeared to beryllium a dense load, according to a study from the New Mexico State Police.

When the S.U.V. swerved to debar a Border Patrol checkpoint, connected a lonely agelong of roadworthy astir 70 miles northbound of the border, the cause and a workfellow successful a abstracted car started chasing it. They pursued it for astir a mile earlier 1 of them “clipped the conveyance and it rolled,” according to section exigency dispatch records. Eight of the 10 passengers — migrants from Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — were ejected. An Ecuadorean antheral aboriginal died.

The New Mexico State Police was among the agencies that responded to the crash. Body camera footage from a authorities constabulary serviceman captured 1 of the Border Patrol agents saying: “Our captious incidental squad is coming out. They’ll bash each the transgression country worldly — well, not transgression scene, but captious incidental scene.”

The cause said that helium and his workfellow would springiness statements to the team, which it would stock with the police.

Critical incidental teams are seldom mentioned by Customs and Border Protection oregon the Border Patrol. There is nary nationalist statement of the scope of their authority.


Credit...Sharon Chischilly for The New York Times


Credit...Sharon Chischilly for The New York Times

Luis Miranda, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection, said the teams dwell of “highly trained grounds postulation experts” who stitchery and process grounds for investigations, including inquiries into quality smuggling and cause trafficking. He besides said the teams assistance successful investigations conducted by the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which looks into claims of cause misconduct and is akin to interior affairs divisions of constabulary departments.

Another Homeland Security official, who was authorized to talk to a newsman astir the teams connected the information that the official’s sanction was not used, confirmed different relation they have: collecting grounds that could beryllium utilized to support a Border Patrol cause and “help woody with imaginable liability issues,” specified arsenic a aboriginal civilian suit.

Andrea Guerrero, who leads a assemblage radical successful San Diego and has spent the past twelvemonth looking into captious incidental teams and their work, said it was “an outright struggle of interest” for the part charged with investigating imaginable Border Patrol misconduct to trust connected assistance from Border Patrol agents connected the teams. She has called connected Congress to analyse and filed a ailment with the Homeland Security Department.

Customs and Border Protection officials said the El Paso sector’s captious incidental squad simply helped with measurements for a reconstruction of the clang extracurricular Las Cruces; the Office of Professional Responsibility, they said, is investigating the incident. Yet a subordinate of the El Paso captious incidental squad reached retired to the authorities constabulary successful the days aft the clang seeking the department’s afloat study for its ain Border Patrol administrative review, according to an email released by the authorities police.

Border Patrol encounters that effect successful wounded oregon decease tin beryllium investigated by aggregate entities: the F.B.I., authorities and section instrumentality enforcement, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector wide oregon Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the Office of Professional Responsibility, wherever astir specified incidents onshore for review. But the findings connected idiosyncratic cases are seldom disclosed; specified investigations thin to output fewer nationalist details beyond full numbers, which amusement lone a fraction effect successful immoderate benignant of discipline.

An incident successful 2010 drew planetary attraction and calls for change. A 42-year-old Mexican caught entering the state illegally died aft helium was hogtied, beaten and shocked with a Taser by Border Patrol agents. The Justice Department declined to investigate, but much than a decennary later, the lawsuit volition beryllium heard this twelvemonth by the Inter-American Commission connected Human Rights tribunal — an evident archetypal for a idiosyncratic killed by a U.S. instrumentality enforcement officer.

After the man’s death, the Obama medication made changes to code a litany of excessive unit complaints against Border Patrol agents and bring much transparency and accountability to Customs and Border Protection. An outer reappraisal of Customs and Border Protection’s use-of-force argumentation recommended defining the authorization and relation of captious incidental teams.

Chuck Wexler, the enforcement manager of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit argumentation and probe enactment that conducted the outer review, said that if his enactment had known much astatine the clip astir the team’s purpose, it would person “raised reddish flags.” But alternatively of explaining what the teams did, the bureau chopped immoderate notation of them retired of the use-of-force policy.


Credit...Marco Ugarte/Associated Press

In different lawsuit brimming with questions, a Border Patrol cause successful Nogales, Ariz., changeable an undocumented pistillate who was unarmed, Marisol García Alcántara, successful the caput past June portion she sat successful the backmost spot of a car. A Nogales Police Department study noted that the Border Patrol supervisor astatine the country refused to supply accusation to officers astir what had happened successful the lead-up to the crash. The study besides noted that a captious incidental squad arrived connected the scene.

Ms. García Alcántara, a parent of three, was taken to a infirmary successful Tucson, wherever doctors removed astir of the slug from her head. Three days later, she was discharged and sent to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, wherever she remained for 22 days earlier being deported to Mexico. She said she was ne'er interviewed by instrumentality enforcement; a Customs and Border Protection authoritative said the F.B.I. was investigating.

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, a Democrat who represents Tucson, said Ms. García Alcántara’s lawsuit raised questions astir the “illegal practice” of the captious incidental teams which, helium said, person nary ineligible authorization and flight the oversight of Congress. Other lawmakers, too, are demanding answers.

Answers person not travel easy for Ms. Simms, who had overheard whispers astir a car clang and the Border Patrol portion she sat by her lad successful the hospital.

Three days aft Mr. Molix died, Ms. Simms heard from Customs and Border Protection for the archetypal time. “We wanted to springiness our condolences to you and your family,” an researcher with the Office of Professional Responsibility texted. “We besides needed to spot if we could conscionable you to motion a aesculapian merchandise signifier for Mr. Erik Anthony Molix.”

An A.C.L.U. lawyer, Shaw Drake, pieced unneurotic the details of the clang utilizing constabulary reports, assemblage camera footage and records of exigency dispatch calls that helium obtained done nationalist records requests.

Details of the probe into what Mr. Molix was doing that time stay nether wraps. Customs and Border Protection said that due to the fact that Mr. Molix was not successful Border Patrol custody aft helium was admitted to the hospital, it was not obliged to notify his household astir his injuries.

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