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Customs and Border Protection to remove special units accused of cover-ups

Posted at 12:22 PM, May 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-09 15:22:11-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Customs and Border Protection announced they are getting rid of their special units, which have been accused for decades of covering up crimes committed by the agency.

According to a memorandumreleased Friday, by October 2022, CBP will no longer have any of their secret units and instead rely on the Office of Professional Responsibility to conduct investigations on patrol officers.

The agency says that this ensures accountability.

“When we talk about big picture, we are talking about rouge officers that get away with murder," said Dulce Garcia, who works with the advocacy group Border Angels.

Garcia said these specialized units, sometimes referred to as "shadow units," have been accused of covering up crimes. It has been affecting families on both sides of the border, for decades.

"We are talking about testimony, forensic evidence, anything," explained Garcia. "Videos, all of those things were tampered and withheld in various cases."

One of those cases was the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas in 2010. Rojas was said to have been brutally beaten and then arrested, before dying days later in a hospital.

Hernandez Rojas' family had filed a wrongful death lawsuit, but agents said that Hernandez Rojas resisted arrest and had meth in his system. While the federal government did agree to a million dollar settlement in November, Hernandez Rojas' wife, Maria Pugas, tried to reopen his case.

She shared then that she believed investigations were tampered with.

"What I really want people to know from this story is what really happens at the border," said Pugas' translator. "What happens in border communities, what happens in border patrol. There are countless people who get abused and get hurt by Border Patrol agents."

It is not known how many cases have been impacted by these units. CBP's memo furthers that they plan to re-assign personnel and train special agents. It is not known what training will look like, or what expertise is required.

CBP released this statement to ABC 10News:

“To ensure CBP achieves the highest levels of accountability, Commissioner Magnus issued a memo to CBP leadership that directs the Office of Professional Responsibility to be the CBP entity with full responsibility for responding to critical incidents and ensuring all reviews and investigations are conducted by personnel with appropriate expertise, training, and oversight.

As a result of this direction, by October 1, U.S. Border Patrol will eliminate its Critical Incident Teams, and USBP personnel will no longer conduct evidence processing at critical incidents. USBP will still be able to process evidence from border enforcement seizures.

This change will utilize additional OPR personnel that were funded by the Fiscal Year 2022 DHS appropriation to build on OPR’s existing resources and ensure that CBP’s critical incident response will have the tools, training, and expertise to process these scenes and conduct any potential investigations where appropriate.”

“We are asking for accountability, we are asking for oversight, we are asking for justice," shares Garcia.

Garcia hopes this change ensures fair protection for those at the border.

"What we are seeing are these agencies, are not being held accountable," she said. "There is not oversight over them and therefore we see abuses from agencies that are meant to protect, protecting the country, protecting our people.”

Garcia says she hopes CBP comes out with the exact number of cases impacted, and more guidance as to how they will be vetting potential new hires.