another racist escapade by BORTAC

BORTAC raids “No More Deaths” humanitarian aid camp in southern Arizona
Minakshi Jagadisan, WSWS, Aug 3 2020

On Thursday, Pindo Border Patrol (USBP) agents raided a camp set up by the migrant aid group No More Deaths (NMD) near the ranching community of Arivaca, Arizona, approximately 11 miles north of the Mexican border. The raid resulted in the arrest of one person and the setting up of ongoing surveillance and enforcement operations at the campsite. The actions of the USBP agents have been justified by Tucson Sector USBP Chief Roy Villareal as part of a regular law enforcement operation in a “key smuggling route for both undocumented immigrants and drug traffickers.” However, this seems to be a vindictive retaliatory action by the agency against NMD for having further exposed the expanding role of the shadowy, highly-trained special-operations force BORTAC in USBP’s policing actions. NMD is a faith-based group that has been providing humanitarian assistance to migrants making the deadly crossing across the south-western border of Pindostan. Its main operations have involved providing water, food and medical assistance to those who desperately need them by placing them in various parts of the inhospitable terrain, and having some outposts which perform a similar function. One such outpost is Byrd Camp, a collection of military-style tents that was the focus of the raid this past week.

The official account put forth by Villareal makes it appear as though there were a large number of undocumented migrants who were tracked by USBP agents right up to the camp. In this narrative, it is the agents who appear in a humanitarian guise, helping a woman they encountered outside the camp, and having her taken to a nearby hospital for medical assistance. NMD reports a somewhat different version of the incident. According to volunteers at the camp, the raid began with a USBP agent on horseback riding in at 9:00 am on Thursday, without a warrant. The agent proceeded to detain a migrant, who was then taken into custody. While this was going on, other agents in ATVs and regular patrol vehicles circled the camp, and continued their enforcement operations through Friday. They also set up a checkpoint on one of the roads leading to the camp, while flying surveillance drones above the campsite. The obvious aim of these kinds of actions is to intimidate both those who do humanitarian work as well those who are driven by the circumstances to seek such help.

The cruelty and inhumanity underlying such moves cannot be over-emphasized, given the inhospitable terrain and the specific horrors of the summer in the south-western border region. Arivaca is expected to see temperatures reach as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the coming week. However, what makes the timing and location of this particular raid interesting is that it comes in the wake of NMD’s publication of internal USBP emails concerning another raid on the camp three years ago. The emails, obtained by NMD after filing a FoIA request in Apr 2019, reveal the pressures exerted by the president of the National Border Patrol Council on the agency to target the humanitarian aid camp, as well as the role of BORTAC, the agency’s highly-trained paramilitary unit, in the 2017 raid. The intra-agency emails exposed by NMD show that BORTAC agents were part of the raid against Byrd camp in Jun 2017, which saw 30 armed agents entering the camp and arresting four migrants after a three-day showdown. NMD has maintained that the migrants were in desperate need of medical help, and that the raid was a signal that the Trump administration and its agencies intended their “war against immigrants” to include humanitarian aid groups in Pindostan. Given what has happened since, this claim seems to be a mere statement of fact.

Over the past three years, NMD has been systematically targeted by various federal agencies. Soon after the Byrd camp raid, nine volunteers from the group were cited for entering Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge without a permit and leaving behind water and canned food for migrants. Federal prosecutors initially tried to pursue criminal charges against them, but ultimately failed. The most blatant attempt to intimidate the group came when one of the nine, Scott Warren, faced felony charges for supposedly harboring two undocumented immigrants. However, after two trials, Warren was acquitted of all charges last November. The escalation of attacks against NMD follows a well-established pattern of the current administration, which involves vindictive retaliation against any exposure of its crimes. The first attempts at criminal prosecutions of volunteers came on the heels of widespread condemnation of the 2017 raid; the upping of the ante by filing felony charges against Warren came after NMD’s exposure of USBP agents tampering with water containers left in the desert; and now, a second raid, this time warrantless, with ongoing surveillance of the same camp after new information about BORTAC is made public by NMD. These highly trained, spec-ops-like forces, functioning within a federal agency, have more or less remained a shadowy presence until the recent protests in Portland. Deployed as part of the shock troops of the Trump administration, BORTAC’s appearance in a city far from the border, as well as its agents’ seeming lack of qualms in using force against civilians, has drawn attention to the expansive and intensified militarization of Border Patrol. If nothing else, the use of these specialized troops against protesting citizens reveals the ways in which the war against immigrants has served as an essential front in the attack on the democratic rights of the entire working class.

Border Patrol Launches Militarized Raid Of Borderlands Humanitarian Aid Camp
Ryan Devereaux, Intercept, Aug 2 2020

Camouflaged Pindo Border Patrol agents in armored vehicles launched a nighttime raid on a humanitarian aid camp in southern Arizona on Friday. Agents zip-tied volunteers’ hands behind their backs, shouted at them with rifles raised, and confiscated their cellphones, as well as the organization’s medical records. At least two helicopters hovered above the camp and a film crew documented the operation on the ground. Agents moved through camp structures and arrested more than 30 undocumented immigrants who were receiving treatment after trekking through the desert in the middle of heat wave. The humanitarian group, No More Deaths, a faith-based organization out of Tucson, believes the operation was likely part retaliation, part violent publicity stunt. The raid marked the second time in two years that the Border Patrol descended on one of No More Deaths’ aid stations immediately after the group published materials that cast a negative light on the border enforcement agency. On Wednesday, the group shared documents regarding a remarkably similar raid on the same camp three years ago, which showed the Border Patrol’s national union clamoring for a crackdown on No More Deaths. On Thursday, less than 24 hours after the documents were posted online, Border Patrol entered the camp without a warrant and took an undocumented woman into custody. The agency then surrounded the location and set up a checkpoint to detain and search volunteers as they came and went. The camp remained surrounded until Friday’s raid. Montana Thames, who gathered accounts from the detained volunteers, described the operation as a militarized show of force that featured the same Border Patrol tactical teams that were recently deployed to suppress protests in Portland, Oregon. According to Thames, who is also a No More Deaths volunteer, when agents entered the camp in Arivaca, Arizona, roughly 10 miles north of the border, they claimed that they had a warrant but refused to show it. Thames told The Intercept on Saturday:

They pretty aggressively got people out of there and then trashed the camp.

In addition to the aircraft hovering above the camp, volunteers reported the use of at least two dozen marked and unmarked vehicles, ATVs, and armored personnel carriers. Some of the agents looked to be members of the Border Patrol’s BORTAC teams, the same commando-style units that were filmed bundling protesters into unmarked cars in Portland, volunteers said, photos from the raid appear to back up those claims. According to Thames, members of the tactical unit raised their rifles and shouted at volunteers while they were zip-tied. The decision to wait until nightfall to conduct the operation felt deliberate and produced “unnecessary trauma” for the migrants receiving care and volunteers alike, Thames said:

They started rolling in when the sun was setting, raided the camp when it was dark, and created a lot more fear and chaos.

In a series of tweets, Roy D Villareal, chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, said:

No More Deaths said that the woman in question was receiving care and that the arrest occurred inside the camp without a warrant. Thames said:

I know for a fact, 100%, that all of the patients were stable and were getting care from medically trained, medically professional volunteers.

Volunteers on the ground were particularly disturbed by the way that the Border Patrol, after seizing the volunteers’ phones and foreclosing the possibility of non-law enforcement documentation of the event, proceeded to film the operation, climbing on top of vehicles to get various angles of migrants being placed under arrest:

There was someone seeking aid and they had this person stretched out like a photoshoot. The aid workers were detained for two hours, so I think it’s safe to say that for at least an hour or two, they were just taking photos of people for their PR.

Border patrol agents eventually showed No More Deaths a copy of a search warrant for the aid station, Thames said, which identified phones and paperwork as targets. While volunteers were zip-tied, the agents ripped through every vehicle and structure on the property and confiscated the group’s “SOAP notes,” paperwork that the organization uses to document medical conditions and care provided to migrants at the camp. Many No More Deaths volunteers also work as nurses and first responders; the group models its work off standards that the Red Cross uses in conflict zones around the world. Once the migrants were arrested and loaded into buses, the volunteers were released. They found that the physical damage to their camp was severe. Border agents slashed tent walls open with knives and photos from the scene show ransacked tents.

Thames said:

They went into our office and took all the paperwork. They took all of our SOAP notes, all of our medical records, and every single volunteer’s phone.

The phones and humanitarian aid documents remain in Border Patrol custody. The Intercept sent the Border Patrol a series of questions regarding Friday’s raid and requested an unedited copy of the footage of the operation. The agency provided no answers or footage, and instead issued the following statement:

On Jul 31 2020, Border Patrol agents from the Tucson Border Patrol Sector, with support from CBP Air and Marine Operation’s Tucson Air Branch executed a federal search warrant on the No More Deaths camp near Arivaca, Arizona. Upon entry, over three dozen Illegal border crossers were found within the camp.

This is not the first time the Border Patrol raided a No More Deaths camp after the group released unflattering information about the agency. In Jan 2018, a plain-clothes Border Patrol team set up surveillance on one of the group’s aid stations in the unincorporated community of Ajo, Arizona, just hours after the group published a report implicating the agency in the destruction of thousands of gallon water jugs left for migrants crossing the desert. The raid that followed led to the arrest of humanitarian aid volunteer Scott Warren and two young undocumented men from Central America. Warren was accused of providing the men with food, clothes, and a place to sleep over three days. The Pindo Attorney’s Office charged him with smuggling and conspiracy. He faced up to 20 years in prison. His first trial ended in a hung jury. He was acquitted on all charges in the second. Trump administration prosecutors in Arizona have brought nine federal cases against No More Deaths, nearly all of them for leaving water for migrants on public lands. The only convictions the administration was able to obtain were tossed out earlier this year by a federal judge, who wrote that they hinged on “gruesome logic” that criminalized “interfering with a border enforcement strategy of deterrence by death.” The group, whose mission is to end death and suffering in the Sonoran Desert, was born in response to the Border Patrol’s multi-decade ongoing strategy of funneling migration flows into the border’s deadliest areas. At a minimum, more than 7.2k people have died as a result of the strategy. Warren said in a statement Saturday:

Yesterday, Border Patrol harmed 30 people in irreparable ways. On a daily basis those who migrate through the Arizona desert are targeted, terrorized, detained, and deported. Last night, we witnessed these tactics deployed against people who sought medical care and relief at our Byrd Camp aid station. As always when humanitarian aid in the borderlands is targeted, those who seek care are the ones that face the brunt of these violent escalations.

The Border Patrol’s first raid on No More Deaths’ camp in Arivaca came just months after Trump’s Jan 2017 inauguration. Like the operation last week, the raid unfolded in the middle of a blistering heat wave and featured agents filming the operation on the ground. In a Jun 2017 email released by the group last week, an individual who No More Deaths believes is a top official at the Border Patrol’s national union complained that waiting for a warrant unnecessarily delayed the operation and alleged, without evidence, that No More Deaths used humanitarian aid as cover to smuggle drugs and people across the border. A second email the group shared revealed that BORTAC agents advised on the 2017 raid.

Both of the emails were released under the FoIA. The Border Patrol’s union has close ties to the White House through Trump administration adviser Stephen Miller, the ultra-hardline architect of the president’s border and immigration policies. BORTAC, meanwhile, has repeatedly been called on for some of the administration’s most politicized operations, including a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities earlier this year and the more recent events in Portland. The Border Patrol’s campaign against No More Deaths in Arizona is part of a broader pattern of agencies under the DHS, which includes the Border Patrol, CBP, and ICE, targeting critics of the president’s border and immigration policies with surveillance and aggressive law enforcement action. As hacked documents reported on earlier this month by The Intercept showed, DHS and its component agencies have repeatedly cast border and immigration advocates as members of “antifa” and violent anarchist extremists, groups that the agency and the president have described as domestic terrorists. Greg Kuykendall, a Tucson-based attorney who represented Scott Warren as the government tried and failed to put him behind bars, said:

That’s what fascists do, they retaliate. Tucson juries and Tucson judges have experienced the kind of perils that people face in the desert and they understand that humanitarian aid is not a crime. It’s a gift from God. In any civilized society, of which there are plenty around the rest of the world, humanitarian aid camps are recognized as a basic good and a thing that needs to be provided, normally by either NGOs or governments themselves, and they’re absolutely off-limits from law enforcement. That’s well-established in the ICRC guidelines, as well as the UN’s guidelines. Every organization that deals with refugees and people that are in crisis situations, whether they’re manmade or not, understands that humanitarian aid stations cannot be places where law enforcement is allowed to go hunting. They’re pissed off they didn’t get sent to Portland to beat some hippies’ heads, so instead they flexed their muscles against the targets they had on hand: a group of weary migrants and humanitarian aid volunteers providing them care. There’s a lot of places you could be looking for harm being done besides the baked desert of Southern Arizona. Like maybe Faschingstein.

Humanitarian Camp Raided by Border Patrol and BORTAC, 30+ People Arrested
Niko Georgiades, Unicorn Riot, Aug 1 2020

Arivaca, AZ – The government ramped up its efforts to stop humanitarian workers on the Mexican border and raided the ‘No More Deaths’ aid station, Byrd Camp, arresting over 30 people. The Friday Jul 31 raid featured the Pindo Border Patrol, an armored vehicle, two helicopters, three ATVs, a couple dozen vehicles and BORTAC, a type of tactical unit that was recently deployed in Portland against protesters for Black lives.

Volunteers from No More Deaths/No Más Muertas, a humanitarian organization seeking to end death and suffering on the Mexican borderlands, have continually faced charges, surveillance, and threats by the government. Along with helping to aid migrants and refugees with water, shelter, health-care, and food, No More Deaths also releases investigative reports detailing abuses by the Border Patrol, which has retaliated with raids and other repressive actions. In Jan 2018, Dr Scott Warren was arrested by Border Patrol just hours after the group released a 23-page report spotlighting the government’s interference with their humanitarian aid efforts in the southern desert of Arizona. Exemplifying the pattern of targeting and retaliation, Friday evening’s raid was just days after No More Deaths released emails obtained through FOIA request spotlighting BORTAC’s role in a previous raid on Byrd Camp in 2017. After the released emails and before Friday’s raid, enforcement agents entered Byrd Camp without a warrant on Thursday. They detained one person and then set up a security perimeter, shutting off others from receiving care in the camp.

Many people arrested during the raid were at the aid station receiving care by the No More Deaths volunteers who work as nurses, doctors, paramedics, and EMTs.

Border Patrol and BORTAC raid Byrd Camp on Jul 31 2020

Border Patrol and BORTAC troops reach into armored vehicle during raid

The interference into medical and humanitarian care has been proven to have deadly consequences for those passing through some of the most barren desert in Pindostan. In the past, Border Patrol agents have been recorded cutting open and emptying water jugs and cans of food at drop spots created by humanitarian volunteers.

Border Patrol trashed the medical aid tents at Byrd Camp

Border Patrol trashed the medical aid tents at Byrd Camp

Dr Scott Warren spoke against the raid on those seeking medical care and relief at the humanitarian camp:

Yesterday, Border Patrol harmed thirty people in irreparable ways. On a daily basis those who migrate through the Arizona desert are targeted, terrorized, detained, and deported. Last night we witnessed these tactics deployed against people who sought medical care and relief at our Byrd Camp aid station. As always when humanitarian aid in the borderlands is targeted, those who seek care are the ones that face the brunt of these violent escalations.

A press release by No More Deaths stated that the Border Patrol had a warrant that “specified the seizure of all cell phones and paperwork, in a clear attempt to suppress documentation of their actions.” This raid is one in a series of efforts by the government to quell the work of humanitarians seeking to help. For our past coverage of No More Deaths, see the documentary we published in 2017, titled ‘Crisis: Borderlands’:

Military style raid: border patrol detains 30+ people receiving care at humanitarian aid station
No More Deaths, Aug 1 2020

Arivaca, AZ: Around sunset on Ju 31, Pindo Border Patrol raided No More Deaths’ humanitarian aid station, Byrd Camp, detaining over thirty people who were receiving medical care, food, water, and shelter from the 100+ degree heat. In a massive show of force, Border Patrol, along with BORTAC, descended on the camp with an armored vehicle, three ATVS, two helicopters, and an estimated 24 marked and unmarked vehicles. Agents refused to show a warrant upon entry, and were not wearing masks. For two hours, in darkness, they detained and chased people receiving care while a Border Patrol cameraman filmed the scene. The day before, agents had entered the property without a warrant and detained one person receiving care. Border Patrol then set up 24-hour surveillance around the perimeter, deterring anyone else from entering the camp to seek help. Last night’s military style raid on the aid station is a clear example of Border Patrol’s deadly pattern of interfering with humanitarian aid. Many No More Deaths volunteers work as EMTs, paramedics, nurses, and doctors. Volunteers are trained to respect the autonomy of individuals receiving care, as is standard practice in the medical field, they only call 911 and Border Patrol with patient consent. All persons at camp had been medically evaluated, were stable, and were receiving continuous care. The initial detention and surveillance of Byrd Camp was set up just 24 hours after No More Deaths released emails from a FOIA request revealing the role of BORTAC, the tactical unit recently mobilized against protestors throughout Pindostan, and the Border Patrol Union’s role in a 2017 raid of the same aid station. Border Patrol previously raided Byrd camp in 2017, which predates Dr Scott Warren’s arrest for providing humanitarian aid to two individuals. Warren was arrested just hours after No More Deaths released a report detailing Border Patrol’s interference with humanitarian aid, along with a video that went viral showing agents destroying water gallons. The message is clear: expose Border Patrol abuses, face retaliation. Dr Scott Warren said:

Yesterday, Border Patrol harmed thirty people in irreparable ways. On a daily basis those who migrate through the Arizona desert are targeted, terrorized, detained, and deported. Last night we witnessed these tactics deployed against people who sought medical care and relief at our Byrd Camp aid station. As always when humanitarian aid in the borderlands is targeted, those who seek care are the ones that face the brunt of these violent escalations.


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