I was 50 years old when I learned that the Alamo was not fought over Texas independence but over slavery. I am a college educated woman, well read even. Yet, I had no idea for a half century that the tales of the Alamo we were told in school were lies.
Lies of white supremacy.
The truth about the Native American genocide, slavery, Jim Crow laws, the internment of Japanese Americans and their children during World War II, the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, the Trail of Tears, the Tuskegee Experiments and countless other American atrocities done in the name of freedom and God did not come from my public education. They came from my parents insisting I learn the truth from documentaries and books.
Still, I was ignorant of the truth about the Alamo just as I was completely uneducated about the atrocities that occurred in much of our southwest. When I joined the agency in 1995, I had no idea that the U.S. Border Patrol was born and bred in white supremacy, that the first agents were often former Texas Rangers known for vigilante lynchings and shootings of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, that our immigration policies where rooted in racism and brutality, that atrocities like the Holocaust were greatly influenced by our own immigration policies because they insisted that migrants carried disease, were lazy, were drug dealers, murderers and even rapists as our last president claimed.
These lessons only came to me by doing the job of a Border Patrol agent. They came from becoming an oppressor, from enforcing the racist laws and policies. They came from the moral injuries to my core values, from doing the opposite of what I had been taught as a child by my parents, from justifying my actions because of my own perceived needs and injustices. They came from serving in that green uniform both before the first walls went up to after they extended well past the deserts of California and into Arizona. I had witnessed how we were intentionally funneling families to their painful deaths in the name of national security. The lessons came from years of collecting those bodies only to have to collect more and more as each year progressed under deterrence polices. I learned the truth only when I witnessed BPCITs covering up incidents, when reading the generations of writers that have documented the atrocities of my former agency, from listening to those abused and who have suffered from the laws I used to take pride in enforcing.
I believe that this rewriting of history, that this intentional ignorance of our historical brutality and atrocities is the root of much of our problems today. Our leaders like to put up walls to our shameful past that obstruct and obscure the truth, but this also prevents us from learning from our failures and from healing.
From time to time, there is a small hint of progress. In 1988, former President Ronald Reagan issued a formal apology to Japanese Americans interned during World War II. Congress apologized to Hawaiians in 1993. In 2008, the House of Representatives apologized for slavery and Jim Crow laws. Apologies from the federal or state governments are rare. Restitution in the form of monetary compensation is always greatly appreciated though it is never enough to right the generational traumas that occur through oppression. These acknowledgments and asking for forgiveness by our leaders are required first steps if we are ever to progress from our past, but this rarely happens.
How do we learn from our past, atone, change our futures, move away from committing human rights atrocities if we do not know the truth, if we cannot even name and discuss them? If 2/3 of Americans believe that the Holocaust was a lie or that is was greatly exaggerated, how do we avoid such an atrocity in the future? If most citizens believe that the Alamo was about Texas independence and not slavery, then the only lesson we have learned is the lie of American exceptionalism which is a tool of white dominance and supremacy.
We are currently in an era where the U.S. government has the opportunity to right many wrongs. The truth about our history is coming out daily. Whether is is about slavery, Native genocides, structural racism and brutality against those of color, wartime atrocities...it is all coming out. The white supremacists on the right are fighting hard to stop the truth; the Republicans, the police systems that are dependent on structural and institutional brutality are for the most part in lockstep with each other. Everything from voter intimidation to banning books is being used to stop the spread of the truth, to continue the legacy and false narratives created by generations of white Americans more interested in guarding their made-up history than healing.
The promises made to us by the Biden Administration were to reverse course from the last four years of blatantly racist, classist and misogynistic policies. We were promised transparency, truth, accountability and humanity. While there has been some progress, it has been woefully too little and too late for many suffering. There has been ample opportunity for this administration to flex their transparency and accountability muscles, but they have instead chosen to quietly continue down the well worn path of hiding the truth.
In October of 2021, Alliance San Diego filed a complaint with Congress about the U.S. Border Patrol operating secret and unauthorized teams in each of their sectors called Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs). These teams have been operating for over 35 years with no authorization from Congress. Those who have been injured or lost their lives at the hands of Border Patrol agents, the victims' families and their attorneys were not aware that BPCITs were intentionally not collecting evidence that pointed to agent wrongdoings, that they were obstructing justice by destroying evidence or that the teams were in fact sent in to ensure that no agent would ever be accountable for their brutal actions. BPCITs have been so successful and so secret that not a single agent has ever been held accountable for a use of force death while on duty in over 98 years of the agency's history.
Alliance San Diego's documentation was so overwhelming that Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus ordered the illegal and secret teams disbanded this month. While this is an unprecedented and positive response from CBP, it is not enough. There is no guarantee that CBP is not just changing the name of BPCITs to CBP CITs and keeping the same agents who have already obstructed justice from remaining on the teams. Additionally, there is no indication that the administration is willing to engage in truth and reconcilliation hearings for victims and their families.
On November 4, 2022, the brutal use of force killing of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas will be heard before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). This case was never brought to criminal trial in the U.S. because the San Diego BPCIT unit destroyed videos, hid witnesses, failed to secure the scene, allowed agents involved to talk among each other and go home, shower and change their clothing after the killing, used an immigration subpoena to obtain Anastasio's medical records and refused to hand them over to the San Diego Police Department, and many other obstructions of justice.
The San Diego Police Department documented the actions of the BPCIT unit and identified every agent involved, but instead of doing the right thing and telling the truth, holding agents accountable and demonstrating that the Biden Administration intends to keep its word on transparency, accountability and the humanity that they claimed they would bring to our institutions, the federal government has decided to further obstruct justice by demanding the IACHR hold the hearings in secret, behind closed doors. If this happens, President Biden is breaking his promises to the the families who have suffered under the secret and illegal BPCITs and the U.S. is no better than the countries it routinely points its boney fingers at proclaiming human rights violations. BPCITs are the largest and most secret of any federal law enforcement agency. The utter lack of transparency the Biden Administration is proposing is abhorrent and equal to that of the Trump Administration's brutal and illegal actions.
Right now is the opportune time for the Biden Administration to practice what it preaches; to do the right and moral thing. Right now, President Biden could come forward and tell the truth about the Border Patrol and their BPCITs. Right now, President Biden could order truth and reconciliation hearings so that we may better understand our history along the southern border. Right now we could teach our children the truth about the grotesque injustices that have occurred behind closed doors and that have been kept secret for generations.
Anastasio's children, his grandchildren who have yet to be born can know the truth about how he was brutally killed and how the agency then covered up the crime with the illegal and secret BPCITs. They could receive those apologies from the federal government, from the Department of Homeland Security, from CBP, from the Border Patrol. Changing the systemic violence can actually be achieved right now in this very moment if only this administration would keep its word. If only we would stop building walls around our shame!
I am not optimistic. After I am long gone, I imagine a grandchild or great-grandchild of Anastasio's researching his death, stumbling across all the work and truths brought forward by Alliance San Diego. I can picture them wondering why we did nothing about it during all these years, and how the government chose instead to sweep the truth under the rug just as we did with slavery, Jim Crow laws, Native genocides, Japanese American internments, the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, the Tuskegee Experiments, etc. Their trauma and pain will continue through the generations until there becomes a time when no one remembers anything but the white lies and self righteous fantasies of exceptionalism our government guards with a vast array of institutions at their disposal.
In 50-100 years, people will ask why the Border Patrol and CBP operate with complete impunity, and we will have to say once again that it is because it has always been this way.