Series of incidents cause distrust in US border authorities

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Juan David Ortiz leaves the 406 District Court after his arraignment in January 2019, at the Webb County Justice Center in Laredo, Texas. Ortiz, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent, has pleaded not guilty to capital murder and other charges in the Sept. 2018 killings of four women who prosecutors say were sex workers.

NUEVO LAREDO, TAMAULIPAS – It’s the breakfast rush at La Finca Bruncheria & Café and waiters hurry plates of pancakes and huevos rancheros to tables of Mexican businessmen in shiny suits, chatting families and locals.

Behind the bar, bartender Angie Martinez draws up latte art and pours glasses of papaya juice.

Asked about the U.S. Border Patrol agent about to go on trial for murder, she stops mid-pour.

“You mean the one who killed his girlfriend?” she says.

No, the other one.

“The one who killed the Guatemalan woman?”

Not that one, either.

“Oh, the one who killed the four women?”

Juan David Ortiz, 39, the former Border Patrol intel supervisor charged with killing four women over 12 days here in September 2018, is set to go on trial beginning Monday. The murders stunned this border community and raised questions about the agency’s ability to police its own ranks.

Ortiz’s case, plus the string of other agents accused of murder just months before him, are not the only issues casting a shadow over the agency’s longtime presence in Laredo.  

His trial arrives as agents face a historically high number of migrants crossing the Southwest border, especially in Texas. U.S. border authorities encountered more than 2 million migrants in the fiscal year 2022, some of whom repeatedly tried to cross the border — more than any other year on record, according to CBP statistics.

Earlier this month, Chris Magnus resigned as CBP commissioner after facing criticism from within the Biden administration on how he was confronting the high number of crossings.

For years, CBP has also struggled with fully investigating and disciplining its own agents for using excessive force on the job, said Roxanna Altholz, co-director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. Federal law prohibits victims from successfully filing civil lawsuits against Border Patrol agents, making accountability of them even more difficult, she said.

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Source: USA Today

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