U.S. checkpoints on highways near the Mexican border, with trained dogs and expensive scanning equipment, are supposed to stop drugs and immigrants without legal status from heading north. The New York Times says newly released complaints against U.S. Customs and Border Protection “paint a disquieting portrait of the interactions between agents and many of those they stopped and searched.” Drivers repeatedly accused border agents of improper gunplay, racial profiling, excessive roughness and verbal abuse. Last year, a military veteran said his children shuddered with fear in the back seat as agents in Arizona repeatedly asked him if the children were really his. A woman at a checkpoint between Phoenix and Tucson said an agent threatened to use a stun gun on her brother after he asked why their vehicle was being searched.
The accounts came from nearly 6,000 pages of complaints, arrest statistics and other records released to the American Civil Liberties Union by the Department of Homeland Security, after the ACLU sued for access. Collectively, the documents, detailing encounters between motorists and border agents from January 2011 to August 2014, portray an agency whose fractured oversight system has enabled some agents working along the southern border to stretch the limits of law and professional courtesy while rarely facing meaningful consequences. Among the 142 complaints the ACLU obtained, only one seems to have resulted in disciplinary action: An agent received a one-day suspension for unjustifiably stopping a vehicle, apparently driven by the son of a retired Border Patrol agent.