A U. S. Border Patrol agent in San Diego spent more than an hour Sunday evening taunting hundreds of Mexican migrants with slurs--many of them sexually explicit--that were amplified over his vehicle's public address system at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Michael D. Gregg, supervisory patrol agent, said the patrol is investigating the taunting, which was witnessed by journalists and occurred along the Tijuana River in San Diego, a major crossing point for those seeking to enter the United States from Mexico without documentation. Such verbal abuse would violate patrol guidelines, Gregg said.
The incident comes at a time when Border Patrol officials have maintained that they face increasing threats of violence from hostile crowds of would-be migrants who mass along the border each evening, occasionally harassing the agents verbally and pelting them with rocks. Less than two hours after the taunting was overheard, a Border Patrol agent near the same area shot and wounded a 15-year-old Mexican boy who patrol agents say was about to hurl a rock at another agent.
Three U. S. journalists researching the border area, including a reporter for The Times, were among the hundreds of people amassed along the border Sunday who listened as an agent--speaking crude border Spanish with a Texas Chicano accent--unleashed an amplified stream of invective at the migrants, often using vulgar sexual innuendoes.
Spoke From Vehicle
The agent spoke from a Border Patrol vehicle parked at the bottom of the mostly dry Tijuana River channel, about 250 yards north of the waiting migrants, who gathered atop the river's southern levee and along the nearby border fence.
"Your mothers are all whores!" the agent said over the loudspeaker at one point, punctuating his comments with a cackling laugh. "All Mexicans are whores!"
The agent elaborated with a series of crude and sexually explicit characterizations.
Among those gathered in the area were a large number of women and children, including many infants cradled by their parents, all seeking entry into the United States without papers.
The taunting, which was first heard at about 9:15 p.m., continued intermittently until 10:30 p.m., when the U. S. journalists left the area. Migrants interviewed said such broadcast broadsides are common among the agents working the area of the Tijuana River levees, which have become the most concentrated--and most dangerous--crossing region for undocumented people entering the United States along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
As the agent boomed the epithets Sunday, migrants gathered atop the river's southern levee returned the insults, using similar profanities to characterize the agent and his family.
The agent identified himself as a tejano, or Texan. The Border Patrol, an enforcement arm of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, has a significant number of Texas-born Mexican-Americans among its more than 700 agents posted in the San Diego area--the largest such contingent nationwide.
"Texans are the only Mexicans who are worth anything!" the agent boomed at another point.
He then laughed into the microphone and broadcast lively norteno music--from northern Mexico--over the public address system, explaining that the tunes were for the "whore" Mexicans.
Investigation Under Way
Gregg, the Border Patrol spokesman, said he had never heard of an agent using his vehicle's public address system to harass migrants. Such behavior would be against patrol policy, he said, as the intercom is strictly a safety device.
"It is being investigated, and if there is foundation to it, we will deal with that agent appropriately," Gregg said.
Roberto Martinez, a Latino rights activist in San Diego who monitors border issues, said the incident demonstrated that supervisors were aware of such abuse and condoned it, even though it could provoke violence. "There's no way a supervisor wouldn't have heard this," Martinez said.
In a related matter, Gregg said patrol agents do not employ any kind of explosive device designed to scatter aliens. At about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, a Times reporter witnessed a firecracker-type device flying from the driver's side of a Border Patrol vehicle cruising along the elevated southern levee. The device exploded in flame, causing the waiting migrants to flee. No one was hurt.
Migrants say the agents occasionally toss such devices from their vehicles.
Gregg said there is no authorized use of such explosive devices and they are not issued to border guards.