The muckraker and the border patrol
The Good Fight with Ben Winkler, April 10, 2014
Everyone working at the border crossing knew that it was happening: brutal violence and abuses by border patrol agents. Sometimes even lethally. But the US Customs and Border Protection wasn’t talking, and politicians seemed more concerned with increasing its size and military power than in holding it accountable.
Enter John Carlos Frey, muckraker.
An investigative reporter of the old school, he got a tip about a secret videotape of a killing, in which a dozen border patrol agents brutally beat a hogtied migrant. Where thousands of reported abuses hadn’t made a dent in official policy, maybe this video could spark a change. And so the dogged hunt began, leading to an expose that would trigger Congressional outrage, a buried investigation, and finally an official shift that could pave the way to lifesaving changes. On today’s Good Fight, we examine the power of an image to awaken a nation to an outrage—and look at the dark side of the political drive to “secure the border.”
- In 2011, the volunteer organization No More Deaths published A Culture of Cruelty, an expansive report compiled from more than 4,000 interviews with more than 12,000 migrants, discovering and documenting systematic abuse of migrants at the hands of the US Border Patrol.
- In April 2012, John Carlos Frey reports the death Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas’s for the three-part PBS series “Crossing the Line at the Border.”
- The report sparked a national outrage: 16 members of Congress sent a letter in May demanding the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security investigate allegations of excessive force. In July 2012, a grand jury was convened to look into the death of San Diego resident Anastasio Hernandez Rojas.
- In August 2012, six members of Congress released a joint statement condemning the alleged abuses and called for action. Now, as Juan Carlos Frey reports, the in-house oversight arm of the Department of Homeland security has added an investigation of Rojas’ death to its 2013 strategic plan.
- In February 2013, a report by an external organization shows that the US Border Patrol has been abusive; the Customs and Border Protection agency decides to conceal the report from the public.
- John Carlos Frey publishes another story, this time on the Washington Monthly, about Border Patrol abuses.
- In February 2014: Los Angeles Times reporter Brian Bennett obtains the concealed external report criticizing the Border Patrol.
- March 7, 2014: Jeh Johnson, new DHS Secretary, changes policy around use of force by Border Patrol agents.