McALLEN, March 15 - Civil and immigrant rights groups in South Texas have condemned the rape and attempted murder of three Honduran women by a Border Patrol agent at Abram-Perezville, west of Mission.
Two of the three women were only 14 years of age. The attack was made by an on-duty Border Patrol agent, Esteban Manzanares, who later killed himself. The FBI is investigating the attack.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas wants the victims to be protected, regardless of their immigration status and to receive fair treatment as survivors. ACLU-Texas says the attack is not the first time a Border Patrol agent has physically abused undocumented immigrants.
Astrid Dominguez, of ACLU-Texas in Brownsville, said the incident at Abram-Perezville is one more in a pattern of CBP abuses in border communities. She pointed out that last September the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General released a report on Border Patrol use of force, which identified key problems with training. Dominguez said this followed revelations by the Government Accountability Office of significant incidence of misconduct within CBP.
“We demand that DHS conduct a thorough and transparent investigation of this incident, in parallel to independent review by external investigators and determine what policy and training enhancements are necessary,” Dominguez said.
“The ACLU has made recommendations to DHS regarding CBP oversight and accountability, such as the use of body-worn and dashboard cameras deployed within an appropriate policy framework including strong privacy protections. Cameras should be mandated and funded for all CBP enforcement encounters with the public.”
The RGV Equal Voice Network represents tens of thousands of immigrant families living along the South Texas border region. In a statement, Equal Voice said that through its immigration working group it has “constantly challenged” Border Patrol to public accounting for past actions that have resulted in the loss of life of innocents and the abuse of many others. The group described the attack in Abram-Perezville as “horrific.”
Mike Seifert, network weaver for Equal Voice, said his group has protested the federal government’s militarization of the border region as well as the government’s failure to put into place a functioning oversight mechanism. He said CBP needs to “seize upon this moment” to make the changes necessary to bring an end to “every form of abuse” in our border communities.
“What if the agent had not killed himself? Would the public have even known of the violence done to these women? How many more of these atrocities take place?” Seifert asked. “Will these women, already victimized by a uniformed representative of the U.S. Government, be further humiliated when they are ‘processed’ as people who unlawfully entered the United States?”
Juanita Valdez Cox is director of La Unión del Pueblo Entero, a community group in Hidalgo County that helps immigrant families. LUPE, which is part of the RGV Equal Voice Network, has members living in Abram-Perezville.
“It is shameful that by neglecting the proper training and supervision of their agents, Border Patrol allowed this to happen. While some may say it is an isolated case, there are too many of these isolated cases of abuse by Border Patrol agents and Border Patrol has done too little to address the problem,” Valdez Cox said.
“Now 28 individuals have lost their lives over the last three years following an encounter with U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel. Countless more have suffered abuse varying from denial of water to mental and emotional torture. We are tired of dealing with the consequences of CBP’s reckless disregard for human rights and it needs to stop.”
The Texas Civil Rights Project issued a statement citing law enforcement officials. “A Border Patrol agent found a woman and two teenage girls on March 12 while patrolling near the Rio Grande River in western Hidalgo County. He abducted, raped and attempted to kill at least two of them. Law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation reportedly rescued one of the teenagers from the agent’s home, where they also found him dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the TCRP statement said.
Efrén Olivares, senior staff attorney at the South Texas office of TCRP in Alamo, said the tragedy brings to light some of the “systemic problems plaguing immigration enforcement along the South Texas border.” He said that for the attack to occur while a federal agent was on duty is “extremely alarming” as a federal immigration agency should be capable of, at a minimum, ensuring that its agents do not break the law while on duty. “The agency should be held accountable for any failures that allowed this tragedy to take place,” Olivares said.
Olivares said some will attempt to portray the attack at Abram-Perezville as an isolated incident by a rogue agent. “The reality is that this was the latest example, among many, of excessive use of force, civil and human rights abuses, and outright disregarding for proper immigration enforcement policies.” Olivares said the triple kidnapping and rape by the agent comes less than a week after Border Patrol released a memorandum outlining a policy change regarding the use of lethal force. He said the change was prompted by outrage over an incident in Arizona in which Border Patrol agents fired shots across the border into Mexico killing a teenage boy.
“Events such as these understandably increase our communities’ distrust of federal law enforcement agencies, especially immigration officers. The horrible events of this week reflect a pattern of excessive violence and abuse, for which government officials should be held accountable,” Olivares added.
Jim Harrlington, director of TCRP in Austin, said his group’s thoughts and support go out to the victims and their families. He called on Border Patrol to make any necessary resources available to them so that they may recover physically and emotionally from this brutal attack.
“TCRP demands that the U.S. Border Patrol investigate this disturbing incident thoroughly and determine how it was allowed to happen. Our community is outraged at this tragedy at the hands of a federal agent, and we will closely monitor the investigation to ensure that responsible parties are held accountable and tragedies like these are avoided in the future,” Harrington said.
Gil Kerlikowske is commissioner of the U.S. Border Patrol. He issued this statement on Friday about the attack at Abram-Perezville:
“Early yesterday morning I was notified that one of our agents may have committed a very serious and disturbing crime against three individuals, a woman and two teenage girls, near Abram, Texas. I want you to know that I consider these actions, if true, to be reprehensible and I know they are not representative of the agents of the U.S. Border Patrol. Right now, we are fully cooperating with the FBI who is conducting the investigation into these allegations and working diligently to make sure the victims are receiving the proper care and attention.
“I personally contacted embassy officials from the victims’ country of origin to inform them of the incident and express my deep concern for the well-being of their citizens.
“I want you to know that as concerned as I am about this incident, the men and women at CBP and particularly in McAllen, have my support. We offer a wide range of services to assist employees in coping with difficult personal or professional matters; we are currently making additional counseling available to impacted personnel.
“I am deeply sorry that this incident occurred and am committed to doing everything in my power to prevent incidents like this from occurring again.”