How Border Control Agents Get Away With Murder – Part 1

13 mins read

There is a little-known saying within law enforcement circles: If you are looking to commit rape, sexual assault on minors, or murder, and you want to be a cop, join the U.S. Border Patrol. This is not to say that all or even most agents are committing such heinous crimes. They are not. 

Cops say this about the Border Patrol because it is still the one law enforcement agency that works out in the middle of nowhere, literally. There is little supervision of agents in their day-to-day activities, and there is even less oversight once criminal agents are discovered. The why and how this occurs varies from case to case, but in general, known crimes by agents occur at five times the national average of other law enforcement agencies because the agency has intentionally designed systems to help agents get away with murder. 

Since 2010, over 130 people have lost their lives at the hands of my former agency. Rarely are agents ever brought to trial, and those who are, like the murderer of José Antonio Elena Rodríguez (pictured above) who was shot 10 times (8 in the back and 2 in the head) while he walked on a sidewalk in Mexico, see their convictions overturned. Not one agent has lost their job or been held accountable by any court of law after 130 deaths that include United States citizens as well as migrants. Statistically speaking, this is implausible. 

And yet it continues. 

Just recently, the Department of Justice declined to prosecute the Border Patrol agent who shot and killed Claudia Patricia Gómez González, an Indigenous 20-year-old woman from Guatemala who had crossed the border with a group in Texas. According to the first press release from the Border Patrol, Claudia’s group picked up sticks and attacked agent Romualdo Barrera when he encountered the group in an old shack. It wasn’t until the agency learned that a resident next door had cellphone footage that they retracted that statement and released another press release stating that nobody in the group was armed. Agent Barrera claimed that the five-foot-tall, barely a hundred pounds Claudia had run at him and made him fear for his life, which then forced him to shoot her in the head. 

As a former agent, the absurdity of this statement is beyond comprehension for me. The situation of encountering migrants in a building who rush an agent happens every single day in the Border Patrol. I cannot tell you how many times this occurred to me personally. Migrants run when they see the green uniform. After all, La Migra, as they call us, has a reputation for killing them and getting away with it. They always run! And if you’re blocking their only exit, they will be running past you to get away. Additionally, any Border Patrol agent who claims that they fear for their life from a small, unarmed female should simply not be an agent. Period. 

So, how does this happen?

How Border Patrol Is Supposed to Respond

Whenever and however an agent takes a life or uses force on a person that amounts to serious bodily injury, the response from the agency is always the same. The first action is to save the victim’s life and then to secure the scene. This means calling supervisors who are trained to secure use-of-force scenes. A supervisor will arrive and order agents to close off the area. They secure and separate witnesses, secure evidence and notify the union that a representative needs to report to the scene to advise the agent who has used force. Once the scene is secure and the victim is tended to by medical personnel, that supervisor is then required to notify the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the matter. 

Border Patrol does not have the authority to investigate the use of force within its own ranks. Federally, there are different designations for investigations. Agencies like the FBI or the U.S. Marshals have what is called 1811 authority. This means they can have their own internal investigations or internal affairs units. Border Patrol only has 1801 investigative authority, meaning they can only conduct investigations into immigration, narcotics or customs violations. They cannot legally investigate crimes such as murders, rapes, fraud or anything else. They simply do not have that power. 

When a use-of-force incident occurs at the hand of a Border Patrol agent, the responding supervisor is required to notify the agency with jurisdiction to investigate immediately, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Use of Force Policy Handbook. If I, as an agent, shoot and kill a migrant, the responding supervisor is required by policy to notify local authorities immediately. If the shooting occurred in San Diego, the supervisor would call San Diego police. If it occurred in San Diego County, out in the mountains where I used to work, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department would be notified. Additionally, the supervisor is to notify their station command who then notifies the Border Patrol sector who notifies Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Washington, D.C., as well. 

They will then notify local FBI, DHS-OIG and CBP-OPR. OIG is the Office of Inspector General, which every federal department has. It is considered to be an oversight/watchdog agency that conducts criminal investigations into use-of-force incidents and other crimes and is not a part of the Border Patrol or CBP. CBP-OPR is the Office of Professional Responsibility, which is just fancy talk for Internal Affairs. They are separate from Border Patrol but a part of CBP. They can also investigate the use of force and other crimes committed by employees, but DHS-OIG has the first right of refusal. If OIG deems it does not want to investigate, OPR or FBI can, but they can also refuse. Often multiple agencies conduct investigations at the same time. 

This system is all stipulated in the CBP Use of Force Handbook. What is not discussed is what actually happens. 

What Are Critical Incident Investigative Teams?

Once a supervisor learns about a use-of-force incident in their area, they notify sector headquarters, and a special Border Patrol investigation team is rushed to the scene. These teams exist in every sector, and each sector has at least three separate teams that work around the clock to respond to such incidents. Most of these teams are referred to as Critical Incident Investigative Teams, or CIIT (pronounced “set”) teams. I have seen them called Critical Incident Teams or CIT and even Special Investigation Teams or SIT. In my old sector, it was called CIIT until one of the supervisors of that unit was convicted of hiding a camera in the women’s restroom at sector headquarters and selling those videos of female agents using the bathroom on the internet. That’s a story for another time.

The San Diego Sector CIIT unit has since changed names simply because it was used in court documents and in the press once the supervisor was arrested. Why does it matter? It matters because all of these investigative units are illegal. Remember the 1801 designation? These units, commonly referred to as “forensics of the Border Patrol,” are completely illegal. Border Patrol does not have this authority. Yet they exist. The inconsistency of unit titles between sectors is because of this lack of authority and because of the secrecy that surrounds them. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to them as CIIT units.

If you do a Google search of CIIT or CIT units in Border Patrol, you will find only one document referring to them in Border Patrol and CBP literature. That document is the 2010 Use of Force Manual.

Before 2014, this manual was secret. It wasn’t until the murder of Anastacio Hernández-Rojas in 2010 by Border Patrol, CBP and ICE agents that his attorneys were able to get the document released by requesting that an outside group look at it. In their report evaluating CBP’s Use of Force Handbook, the Police Executive Research Forum noted the use of CIIT units and stated the agencies should cite what exactly those units were for. Instead of just making the document available to the public and explaining the CIIT units, the Border Patrol and CBP released the new and improved 2014 Use of Force Handbook and omitted any reference to CIT or CIIT units. 

Why? Because these units are illegal. They were busted!

The only problem was that no one on the outside really understood the CIIT units and what they did. Some agents have served over 20 years and have never heard of them. They are a secret even within the Border Patrol itself. If you are the type of agent we called “station rats,” who sit around doing nothing, then you likely are never involved in or respond to use-of-force incidents. Those who do know about these units and their actual purpose often tend to be the ones doing the shootings and beatings, or they are supervisory agents and above. 

To the investigative agencies, local and federal, CIIT units claim to be assisting those investigators. They are supposed to be a liaison between investigating agencies and the Border Patrol. If they need video, the unit is to obtain it. If they need to talk with an agent, they are supposed to facilitate that. 

Only that’s not all they do.

Look for Part 2 tomorrow …

If you are inclined to support my work, I would appreciate any donations. Click on the donation button here or on my website to help fund my travels, my writing and my truth-telling. 

Reposted from with permission and minor edits. Photo by John Kurc.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Jenn Budd is a former Senior Patrol agent, Senior Intelligence agent and whistleblower in the US Border Patrol. She writes and speaks on the inhumanity, corruption and rape culture of her former agency.

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Para una versión en inglés de este artículo, lea "A Recurring Nightmare."

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