- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

McALLEN, Texas (AP) - Of 809 complaints filed against U.S. Border Patrol agents during a three-year period, disciplinary measures were taken in just 13 cases, according to a report released Tuesday by an immigrant advocacy organization.

The American Immigration Council reviewed complaints filed between January 2009 and January 2012 about incidents that occurred within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. It received the data through litigation involving the Freedom of Information Act.

The Border Patrol has faced criticism in recent years that its surge in hiring - the number of agents has more than doubled since 2001 - led to a less-disciplined force and more misconduct. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Jenny Burke said late Tuesday that the agency takes all misconduct allegations seriously and that they are referred for investigation and disciplinary action as warranted.

The group found that 78 percent of the complaints against Border Patrol agents concerned physical abuse or excessive use of force. The researchers, while unable to determine the merit of any of the complaints, said they believe a cumbersome complaint system likely kept many others from filing.

“The whole complaint system is very obscure,” said Guillermo Cantor, senior policy analyst with American Immigration Council. “It took us a while to understand the different routes that exist for people to file complaints and how the Department of Homeland Security handles the complaints once they get them.”

Apprehensions of immigrants who have entered the country illegally are still well below historic highs but have risen in recent years, driven primarily by Central Americans attempting to cross the border. Border Patrol made more than 410,000 apprehensions along the Southwest border last year.

Of the complaints, 324 were still under investigation when the data were released. On average, it took the agency 122 days to arrive at a decision on a complaint in cases where a decision was reached.

“We don’t know really how serious they are about investigating the complaints, but we have some clear indicators about the outcomes,” Cantor said.

The complaints reviewed were those that were passed from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General to Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Internal Affairs. Other complaints, for example those pertaining to civil rights violations, are routed elsewhere.

Jennifer Podkul, senior program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission, said that organization filed complaints on behalf of four juvenile immigrants it had interviewed in the summer of 2012.

“The system was incredibly complicated even for us to navigate,” Podkul said. She said they had still received no response to their complaints.

Her group and others recommended a number of changes at making the complaint system more efficient and responsive.

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