Immigration & Labor

Story Sparks OIG Investigation

In March 2012, The Investigative Fund and PBS' Need to Know launched an investigation into the death of undocumented immigrant Anastasio Hernandez Rojas at the hands of US border patrol agents. This week, in a tremendous victory, the Office of the Inspector General announced that it plans to look into the Use of Force protocols by border officials.

Hernandez Rojas, an undocumented immigrant, had lived in San Diego, CA for more than twenty years when he was deported. During the deportation process, border patrol agents claimed Hernandez Rojas became combative and reported that “a Taser was used to subdue him.” What they failed to mention in their official report was that Hernandez Rojas was beaten, Tased at least five times, and kicked, all while handcuffed and lying on the ground. He was then taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced brain dead. Hernandez Rojas died three days later. The San Diego coroner ruled his death a homicide. Yet no agents were charged or much action taken until the Investigative Fund/PBS investigation.

We uncovered new video evidence and located eyewitnesses never before interviewed by any law enforcement agency. Together, they proved that the border patrol agents' report was false and that Hernandez Rojas had been attacked while lying helpless on the ground. After the Need to Know episode aired in April, grassroots organizations and Hernandez Rojas' family worked together to organize protests, marches, and petition drives to put pressure on the authorities to investigate the killing. Sixteen Members of Congress signed a letterdemanding that the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security investigate excessive use of force. Thanks to our reporting, a grand jury is currently determining if charges should be brought against agents involved. And now comes the newsabout the Office of the Inspector General's investigation.

The OIG was established as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Its function is “to ensure independent and objective oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through audits, inspections, and investigations of the programs and operations of DHS.” Thus, every year, by law, the OIG submits a strategic plan that outlines the goals that the agency will use to gauge its progress. And despite the fact that the OIG is a part of the very department it is tasked with investigating, the DHS, it claims independence and objectivity.

This year, the OIG's strategic plan includes this entry:

CBP's Use of Force, Congressionally Requested

This review originated as a request from Senator Robert Menendez and 15 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who expressed concern about the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, who was in CBP's custody at the time of his death. The members of Congress requested that DHS OIG determine whether the Rojas incident is emblematic of a broader cultural problem within CBP. Objectives: (1) Examine and summarize reports of investigation alleging brutality or use of excessive force by CBP employees; (2) determine what reforms DHS has implemented to address the number of incidents involving the use of force by CBP employees; and (3) determine whether adding more agents and officers to the workforce has had an effect on training and professionalism.

Anastasio Hernandez Rojas died in May 2010. It has been two years, but perhaps justice will finally be done.

About the reporter

John Carlos Frey

John Carlos Frey

John Carlos Frey is an investigative reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles.