Mixed Messages

By Tommy A. Purvis

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Posted March 14, 2013 in News

Washington talks immigration reform—but the Border Patrol in Murietta is (allegedly) all about abuse and racial profiling

A discarded, unspent Smith and Wesson .40 caliber hollow tip bullet was found in the intersection of the Theodore L. Newton, Jr. and George F. Azrak U.S. Border Patrol Station in Murrieta during an immigrants’ rights protest held Monday, along with allegations of far-reaching misconduct by federal agents behind the fenced compound.

The alleged misconduct? Verbal abuse, racial profiling and going after non-violent illegals, so-called “low-hanging fruit,” instead of focusing on harder-to-catch violent, criminals who are here illegally.

“The Murrieta Border Patrol systemically and habitually targets working immigrants, like day laborers, far from the border and outside of any public security threat,” Suzanne Foster from the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center told the Weekly. “Stopping people solely based on their appearance and with no reasonable suspicion of immigration status, many of these detentions are in violation of our civil rights.”

In response to allegations of misconduct nearly 30 activists from the Justice for Immigrants Coalition of Inland Southern California (JFIC) picketed the station from the southeast corner of Mission Avenue and Azrak Road under observation from Murrieta police. The JFIC—a broad coalition of 20 immigrants’ rights groups that is organizing for humane immigration reform—claims the outpost 75 miles from the Mexican border is responsible for the recent increase in immigration raids in Riverside County and even further north in the San Bernardino Valley.

Protestor Victoria Mena from the group Friends of the Adelanto Detainees—which writes letters to prisoners held at the Immigration and Customs (ICE) Detention Facility in the High Desert—held a sign that read “Deportation 15” with a map that included the cities of Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Perris and Corona.

“At the same time that federal politicians are trying to provide a roadmap to citizenship for millions of immigrants, the Murrieta Border Patrol continues to harass innocent, hard-working people for no other reason than to increase their deportation numbers,” Foster tells the Weekly.  “That is why we must call for an immediate moratorium on deportations so that agencies like Murrieta will not continue deporting people who would very likely be eligible for immigration reform.”

The JFIC unsuccessfully attempted to hand-deliver a formal complaint—that alleges the harassment of at least four Latino laborers that worked in the Avocado Highway section of the I-15 corridor—followed the short March 11 press conference. The complaint was later filed online through the Custom and Border Protection (CBP) website.

The complaint alleges that on Jan. 11 and Feb. 6 “Agents Dominguez” and “Gutierrez” from the Murrieta Border Patrol station racially profiled and harassed several Latino people. In the first episode, a Latino male who was picked up by the agents in a parking lot on Cajalco Road was later a witness to an ICE raid in the nearby working-class community of Home Gardens. The witness claims that inside the Murrieta Border Patrol station he was pressured to sign self-deportation papers and that “Agent Gutierrez” challenged him to a fistfight as a consequence for asking for his cell phone that was never returned.

The witness then claims the agent sang a tune with racists lyrics about “illegals, Mexicans come to steal welfare benefits.” The same agents are also suspected in harassing three men who were painting a fried-chicken restaurant on Clinton Keith Road in Wildomar. The complaint was quickly sent back to the JFIC on a technicality after the CBP determined it was invalid because the group needed to file a “G-28” document, or a “third party authorization form,” in order to file on behalf of the immigrants.

The CBP is in charge of the often-closed Border Patrol checkpoint on the interstate a few miles south of town, along with another checkpoint 30 miles  to the southeast, on Highway 79, in a jurisdiction that covers 3,300 square miles, according to its website.

Information and Communication Agent Jerry Conlin from the San Diego Sector of the Border Patrol told the Weekly via email that “all accusations of misconduct are taken seriously, and are investigated as thoroughly as possible.”

Agent Conlin told the Weekly that the Border Patrol would not comment or account for the discarded hollow point caliber bullet. It as already been widely reported in the media that Department of Homeland Secutiry recently bought 1.6 billion rounds of similar bullets—known for the damage they create entering the core of the body—for training purposes. The Associated Press found the amount of bullets purchased was enough to give each person in the U.S. a five-bullet cartridge.


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