07/23/2012 04:36 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2012

PBS 'Need To Know' Documentary Tackles Border Patrol Abuse

Watch Crossing the Line on PBS. See more from Need To Know.

The "basic values" of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency include, "professionalism, honor, integrity, [and] respect for human life." According to the second installment of a PBS documentary, "Crossing The Line," however, many of the agency's employees are falling short of their stated ideals.

In recent years, border agents have sexually assaulted, tortured and psychologically abused foreign nationals with impunity, the "Need To Know" documentary alleges. The second installment, which aired on Friday evening, features interviews with many who claim to be witnesses and victims of border patrol abuses -- including a Mexican woman who says she was sexually assaulted by a U.S. border agent, a Mexican man who maintains he was physically abused by a member of the same agency and a retired border agent who claims prisoners were at times intentionally abused in CBP facilities. The documentary also shows hidden camera footage of agents emptying out gallons of water set out in the desert by an NGO, intended to help border crossers stave off dehydration.

CBP spokeswoman Jenny Burke said in a phone interview that her agency was unable to speak by deadline about specific allegations made in the PBS documentary. However, Burke said in a statement given to The Huffington Post that, "We do not tolerate abuse within our ranks, and we fully cooperate with any criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, on or off duty.”

The documentary comes at a bad time for the agency. Civil rights complaints filed against the CBP have risen dramatically in recent years, while immigration across the border has simultaneously slowed. Allegations of corruption have also risen, according to Reuters, with 129 agents arrested on corruption charges between 2003 and 2009.

In recent months, numerous deaths on the border have brought the agency more bad press. In May of 2011, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, Carlos Lamadrid, was shot in the back three times by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while fleeing across the southern border into Mexico. Earlier this year, PBS unearthed footage of the beating of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas in the first installment of their "Crossing the Line" project. More than a dozen border patrol agents stood around the Mexican citizen while he was hogtied, beaten with a baton and shocked with a Taser, according to the documentary. The death of 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez-Guereca, a Mexican citizen fatally shot by a CBP agent in 2010, also sparked outrage in the immigrant activist community, after agent Jesus Mesa Jr. said he used lethal force because Hernandez-Guereca was throwing rocks at him.

In Nogales, Mexico, a nurse who provides medical assistance to border crossers spoke to PBS about caring for the victims of border patrol abuse.

"We are here. We are living it everyday. The abuses are frequent," she said in Spanish.



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