continued "At one point, concerning the overcrowding of vehicles, I counted 119 people getting off a bus that has a capacity for 66. At another time we had to point out how many people had facial injuries, and the Border Patrol would respond, 'Well, they were running and they fell on their faces.' We asked, why are there no scratches? The best answer I got was from the Mexican consulate. They said, 'Everybody knows the rules. If you don't run, you don't get hit.' Well, the job of the migrant is to run, and the job of the border patrolman is to use only the reasonable force required to detain him. But you don't see as many people bloodied as you used to. The forms of abuse are -- people get kicked a lot, slammed against Border Patrol vehicles -- injuries that are much harder to relate to abuse."
Smith continues, "One of the issues we have to confront is that 40 percent of the Border Patrol is now Latino. Now, we could talk about the political theories of Franz Fanon and the identification of the oppressed with the oppressor and all that, but we have to face the fact that many of the complaints are about the Latino officers. I've never been able to figure out if the Latino officers actually are more abusive, or if it's just that the immigrants' expectations are so much higher for them, and then there is such a letdown.
"The real problem is simply dehumanization. There are a significant number of very abusive agents, and the bigger problem is that this conduct is tolerated. An example: the raft incident in El Centro last year. There was a Border Patrol agent who decided he was going to go shoot himself a raft -- the little rafts that the migrants use to cross the All American Canal. In the waterways in Imperial Valley, there have been about 175 drownings. Anyway, this Border Patrol agent told other agents what he was going to do. He actually shot the raft; it overturned, and one person has never been accounted for. None of the agents he told reported him or tried to stop him in any way." She concludes, "I want to make it clear, though, that I am not painting all agents with the same brush. I would not even hazard a guess as to percentages of abusive agents."
The Border Patrol, Smith said, is the biggest police force in the country, and yet it's the only police force that doesn't do any psychological testing of applicants. "Now, [testing] is no panacea," she says, "yet obviously it could help sort out some of the problem people. I mean, they shoot people. I'm not talking about whether some of the incidents are justified or not; I'm talking about the tremendous power they have." Smith says she is more concerned about testing than shooting; agents work in remote areas where their actions are not visible. They deal with a group of people who are least likely to complain. That said, the shooting still remains. "They use hollow-point bullets, which cause lots of damage; even the Army isn't allowed to use hollow-point bullets."
Smith addressed a December 8, 2000, letter to U.S. Border Patrol deputy chief Michael Nicely. She wrote to protest a shooting involving hollow-point bullets. "They have a metal jacket open at both ends, so they flatten on contact with living tissue and produce great internal damage. They are used for big-game hunting because of their great stopping power." The letter relates to an incident in which the victim of hollow-point bullets was allegedly throwing rocks at a Border Patrol agent. "Ramiro Ramírez (probably an alias) was shot in the stomach and left leg on August 22, 2000, near Goat Canyon. The shot to the abdomen caused such serious damage that he remained in the hospital for months. He was discharged only recently. Mexican authorities tell me the witnesses were adamant that Mr. Ramírez had no rock and made no threatening movements." Smith goes on to argue against the two purported reasons for the continued use of hollow-point bullets. One argument is that the bullets are less likely to ricochet and hit an unintended target. But the logic works both ways. Smith points out that should the hollow-point bullet hit an innocent bystander, or ricochet and inadvertently hit a Border Patrol agent, it would cause them more severe damage. Smith also takes up the argument that a single standard bullet might not be enough to incapacitate a suspect. "I am told by ballistics experts that a single hollow-point bullet is enough to stop a suspect," Smith writes. "If so, why have all the 'rocking' suspects of which I am aware been shot so many times?"
The sardonic conclusion of Smith's letter bears repeating. "In short, there is no evidence that the benefit of using hollow-point bullets outweighs the damage. Moreover, given that hollow-point bullets were outlawed by the Hague Peace Convention in 1899, their use at an international border is especially troubling. As Professor Jorge Vargas of the University of San Diego Law School asks in a treatise about migrants and the human-rights abuses to which they are subjected, 'Is there a valid reason for U.S. Border Patrol agents to use expansive bullets in their enforcement activities along the border with our neighboring country Mexico, our second-largest trading partner, when the U.S. Army would not be able to use these bullets in a war situation?'"
Though issues of abuse are of great concern to Smith, she is far more concerned with the deaths that she says Operation Gatekeeper is responsible for. "Somewhere along the line it started dawning on me; I was hearing reports of deaths here and there, and so I started to take a look at the strategy itself, and getting the death figures from the Mexican consulate, and mapping the locations of the deaths. Then I got hold of some of the Border Patrol documents, including the Border Patrol Strategic Plan; it was signed in August of '94. It was stunning to see that the plan was to move traffic eastward all the while realizing that they would be pushing people into more and more dangerous terrain -- places where migrants would risk their lives, and many would certainly die." The Border Patrol Strategic Plan states that illegal entrants who are "forced over more hostile terrain, less suited for crossing and more suited for enforcement, [would] find themselves in mortal danger.