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Letter to Congress sounds alarm over Border Patrol "shadow units"

 October 29, 2021 at 2:41 PM PDT

Speaker 1: (00:01)

Calls for an investigation into border patrol and their shadow police units.

Speaker 2: (00:06)

Their job is to keep the agency or agents from being liable for things that happen.

Speaker 1: (00:11)

I'm Jade Hindman. This is KPBS mid-day edition. What our local scientists will prioritize at the global climate summit.

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93% of the heat that's been generated from greenhouse gases is in the ocean 93%.

Speaker 1: (00:38)

And the arts meet Halloween in our weekend preview that's ahead on midday edition.

Speaker 1: (01:02)

Congressional leaders were delivered a bombshell yesterday when an open letter to lawmakers raised caution over the border patrol's critical incident teams. According to the letter, these teams work to mitigate the culpability of agents that have either killed someone or use a problematic use of force in the field. The letter pinned by the Southern border communities, coalition and Alliance. San Diego indicates that these shadow police units have been operating since the late eighties, all without any actual authority under federal law. Joining me now with more is San Diego union Tribune reporter Kate Morrissey, Kate, welcome back to the program. Thanks

Speaker 2: (01:42)

For having me.

Speaker 1: (01:43)

So start off by telling us about these shadow units. What purpose do they serve?

Speaker 2: (01:48)

So according to this PowerPoint presentation that was obtained by a journalist and an included incited in the letter, they are to mitigate liability. That is, that is quoted from the presentation about what they are meant to do. And so when you think about what that, what that means, you know, their, their job is to keep the agency or agents from being liable for, for things that happen. And can you tell,

Speaker 1: (02:14)

Oh, it's about the letter and the call to investigate this, and also how they found out about these shadow units.

Speaker 2: (02:21)

The way that they found out about these units actually comes from a San Diego case. So there was a man who, um, was killed at the San Ysidro port of entry by, um, a combination of CBP officers and border patrol agents. Uh, back in 2010, um, her, his name was unassessed Hernandez Rojas, and his case has actually gone to an international human rights commission where, um, human rights attorneys are sort of arguing that there was obstruction of justice in, in the case. And that, and that charges should have been brought against the officials who participated in killing him. And so I've been, I've been reporting on that case for a little bit, which is, which is how this sort of came to me is that the attorneys working on that case began to notice these mentions of these units. And so they said to themselves, what are these units and, and started to find mentions of them in other places, um, which was difficult because there are not a lot of mentions of, of them in public documents. They're not listed in, you know, the traditional sort of definitions documents where the department of Homeland security explains what the different sort of elements of the department are. And so they were able to in, you know, different court transcripts from cases and, and places like that to find bits and pieces of information about them and piece together what these units are and how they operate. So

Speaker 1: (03:48)

These units there, they're not mentioned in public documents, who's in these units.

Speaker 2: (03:53)

So they are agents who are employed by the particular border patrol sector. So their boss is the border patrol chief. And that's really important because that is sort of a distinguishing feature as compared with people who work for the office of, uh, that is responsible for investigations, the CVP OPR, uh, which is separate from any of the sectors, right? So in this case, the people who are, who are doing these investigations and in, in gathering evidence in many cases are answering to the chief of the sector whose, whose interests in the case would be very different from someone whose, whose job is to do the investigation as a, as a third party, if that makes sense. So

Speaker 1: (04:38)

They are border patrol agents, they're just acting in this sort of clandestine unit,

Speaker 2: (04:43)

Right? And I, and so what's significant about them is that they're, they're doing investigative work and gathering evidence in cases involving border patrol agents in their sector. So instead of having somebody else come in, who is a more neutral entity, they're gathering it themselves. And that's where this question of sort of conflict of interest and the potential for bad behavior comes about.

Speaker 1: (05:09)

And what's been the reaction from border community groups to the revelation of these units.

Speaker 2: (05:14)

There's been a good bit of outcry since the letter came out. Um, a lot of people who are working in this space have expressed sort of a mixture of shock, but also lack of surprise. Um, and so I would, I would say that's probably what I've heard the most is sort of that, that combination of feelings and you write that

Speaker 1: (05:37)

These units have existed since the eighties. Why are we only hearing about them now?

Speaker 2: (05:42)

That's a good question. And I think that goes back to how secretive these units have been. Um, the letter points out that there was an audit at one point of some, um, you know, internal border patrol and, um, handbook that was not available to the public. Um, and the audit suggested that the agency needed to explain what these units were because there was a very small mention of them in this handbook and rather than explaining what they were and developing that in the handbook, the agency chose to remove the mention all together. There, there seems to be a deliberate, um, lack of transparency about who they are and what they do in the public record.

Speaker 1: (06:30)

You had any kind of response from border patrol themselves on what the purpose of these units are.

Speaker 2: (06:36)

Yes. Um, they sent me a statement saying that, you know, these units are meant to, um, you know, assist investigators that sometimes, um, the incidents that they're investigating for example, happen in rural areas that are difficult for these entities to reach. And so these teams would go, would have easier access to some of those places in order to gather the evidence, but that they're acting under under supervision of these other entities, even though hierarchically speaking, those aren't actually their bosses.

Speaker 1: (07:14)

I have been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, immigration reporter, Kate Morrissey, Kate, thanks for joining

Speaker 2: (07:20)

Us. Thanks for having me.

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Speaker 1: (07:43)

San Diego researchers are traveling to and watching Scotland online next week as scientists and world leaders gather there to talk. Climate wildfires, drought and damaging storms are heightening the sense of urgency to ramp up efforts to slow climate change, KPBS environment. Reporter Eric Anderson tells us what the study of ocean life and other local research will bring to the climate change debate.

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UC San Diego master's student Gabriella Berman holds up a jar that contains what appears to be a white plant.

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And this is a piece of bone. So they grow in that. And I study the animal.

Speaker 5: (08:20)

Yes, animals. Those noodles shaped frons are worms. And they're unique because they live on bones in the deep ocean bones like this chunk of whale vertebrae in a saltwater tank in the Rouse lab

Speaker 6: (08:33)

Used to it's kind of old. Now, I think it's from 2019, but it used to have a oh two docs is the name of the organism that I studied. Okay.

Speaker 5: (08:41)

The decks rely on roots to draw nutrition from bones. Let's settle on the sea floor.

Speaker 6: (08:46)

They colonized the bone. It's both their home and a source of food.

Speaker 5: (08:51)

Uh, whale backbone provides a boost of nutrition in a place. Food can be scarce. Berman's deep ocean samples live in the fridge in the lab until she can photograph process and sample the animal's genetic blueprint. She's helping establish a baseline for the species

Speaker 6: (09:09)

We're looking at now is, um, new is completely new information about where they are and how they're distributed in the ocean,

Speaker 5: (09:17)

But Bermin worries. The push to mine, the ocean floor for scarce resources puts the species in harm's way. And she's concerned about an ocean that is changing as the climate warms. That's one reason why she plans to go to the climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland,

Speaker 3: (09:33)

That conference and the deliberations of, uh, all of the nations that are part of it really rely on science in order to inform the way that they approach the problem of climate change.

Speaker 5: (09:49)

Margaret Leinen is the director of the Scripps institution of oceanography. She says the ocean is finally an important part of the climate discussion.

Speaker 3: (09:59)

33% of the heat that's been generated from greenhouse gases is in the ocean 93%. So it has really protected us from far greater impacts on

Speaker 5: (10:14)

A recent UN climate report concludes the world isn't moving fast enough. The UN secretary general says time is running out to meet the Paris climate accord, greenhouse gas reduction targets. And the UN chief Antonio Gutierrez says there is a leadership gap, but linin remains optimistic that the scientists and world leaders will make progress at cop 26. The conference of parties gathering in Scotland.

Speaker 3: (10:41)

The advocacy is to say, do this as rapidly as we can. And the role of sort of the permit pragmatic negotiators is to say, this is how fast we can do it without, you know, without killing our economy,

Speaker 7: (10:57)

We're going to save the world. We're going to do it with

Speaker 5: (10:59)

Michael ferry is the director of energy storage and systems at UC San Diego. He says, batteries are uniquely positioned to help decarbonize two of the economy's largest and most important sectors.

Speaker 7: (11:12)

First is the power sector, which is electricity production and supply and transportation, which is of course how we move ourselves, how we move our goods.

Speaker 5: (11:23)

Food very says electric cars and utility scale battery storage is getting better and more efficient. He says, advances in the past five years prove the technology is already mature enough to have a positive impact. California hit a milestone this past June, when for about 10 minutes, 4% of the state's electricity was supplied by batteries. Very well be in Glasgow next week to huddle with other scientists, he says he looks forward to seeing the United States re-establish as a leader in addressing climate change.

Speaker 7: (11:56)

I think it's incredibly important. Um, and I think we have to be again optimistic. Uh, we have to be bold, and we've been doing that in California for the last 15 years when it comes to climate change and we have results to share with the world.

Speaker 5: (12:13)

He says, if it can be done in California, it can be done elsewhere. Eric Anderson, KPBS news,

Speaker 1: (12:32)

You're listening to KPBS mid-day edition. I'm Jade Hindman. You can add some art and culture to your spooky weekend without door performances of Shakespeare's creepiest scenes, Latin inspired, classical ballet, and some artistic community offering does joining me with all the details is, are KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans. Welcome

Speaker 8: (12:52)

Julia. Hi Jane. Thanks for having me on.

Speaker 1: (12:55)

All right. So let's start with the Shakespeare. Uh, we have two ways to get a Shakespearian fixed this weekend, both of them free and both of them outdoors,

Speaker 8: (13:05)

Right? And I think it's so perfect that we're bringing in the spooky weekend with Shakespeare because he's written some of the darkest stuff. Uh, first is the old Globes free globe for all tour, which is it's an annual program. They do to bring Shakespeare performances out into the community. And this performance, this year is kind of a mashup of famous Shakespeare works, but using an audience call and response style. So with actors, improvising and a DJ who is the Globes teaching artists wrapper Mickey Vale, this tour lasts for about two weeks and chances are, you'll have a performance near you this afternoon. It's at three 30 at the Martin Luther king Jr. Memorial park in Southeast San Diego. And then Saturday at four at the Chula Vista public library, both of these are outdoors and official seating is first come first serve with masks required, but you could also bring a blanket or a chair of your own to sit or stand nearby. And at the San Diego museum of art, they're doing an outdoor version of one of their SDMA plus programs. This is partnering with the San Diego Shakespeare society. There'll be in the sculpture garden. That's just behind Panama 66. And actors will perform spooky scenes from plays like Macbeth and the Tempest. These are near the sculptures and there'll be taking some cues and inspiration from those artworks as well. They're short shows on Sunday. So it's actual Halloween and the show times are 3, 3 45 and four 30 in the afternoon.

Speaker 1: (14:37)

Shakespeare call and response is today at three 30 and Saturday at 4:00 PM. And the San Diego Shakespeare society performs at the S D M a sculpture garden Sunday afternoon at three in the classical music world. Collegium kicks off a new season with some works of music, both written in the year, 1707. Tell us about this show.

Speaker 8: (14:58)

Yeah, they're calling the concert as Sonic youth because both of these are really early compositions by Bach and Handel. Um, there's some of their earliest surviving manuscripts, even including box Chris lag in totally Bandon, which translates from German into Christ's play in deaths bombs And on a brighter note, Bach Collegium performs at all souls church and point Loma, which has this really lovely wall of stained glass by local artists, James hovel box

Speaker 1: (15:39)

Collegium perform Saturday at 7:00 PM at all souls and point Loma. This week, you wrote about the San Diego ballet who are bringing back their REIT, most Latinos concert. Tell us about this.

Speaker 8: (15:52)

Yeah, the show runs this weekend and next with two afternoon performances each weekend, and these are outdoors. The choreography is inspired by and set two different styles of Latin music. So like Mambo or mariachi though, it's still very much a classical ballet. So you'll have the dancers dancing on Pointe and doing the traditional foot positions, but with costumes and music that reflect the Latin roots and folklore

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Speaker 8: (16:37)

I talked to choreographer Javier of Alaska this week, who is the long-time artistic director of the San Diego ballet. And he said that a lot of this is inspired by his own family history, like the mariachi number they're doing K Benita and more, the first time he heard that was when his aunt sung it to the bride to be at a family wedding 20 years ago. And another number mama mania is a mashup of music by Cuban Mambo, legend Perez Prado. And he said, this also came out of his own childhood.

Speaker 12: (17:08)

When my parents used to have parties at the house, I was responsible for like putting records on the record player. I just remember the great time that my parents had, but I also remember the album covers. They have these, you know, twisting wild women in these vibrant colors. It always just sort of stuck with me

Speaker 1: (17:28)

That San Diego ballet choreographer, Javier Velazco, the San Diego ballet performs read most Latinos Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 PM on Liberty stations, new outdoor stage. There are also some DIA de Los Muertos celebrations this weekend, but you have a few off renders or community altars at art galleries to check out,

Speaker 8: (17:51)

Right? So you belong here in city Heights has one, and you can send in your pictures via a Google form ahead of time, and they will print them out for you and add them to the altar. It's viewable from the sidewalk through the windows 24 7 all weekend through Tuesday, but they also have some indoor hours where you can actually go inside and spend some time with it or place your own items there. Those hours are Sunday from 11 to 6:00 PM and then Monday and Tuesday, 11 to 7:00 PM. And in Logan Heights at bread and salt, they're building out an Altera with the help from the public on Sunday, all day from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. And it will be on view Monday and Tuesday evenings. In fact, Tuesday, the artists Pancha will be at the gallery and we'll give you a personalized item for your own friend day. If you show up

Speaker 1: (18:42)

And you can find more DIA de Los Muertos events on our website, get details on all of these events and also sign up for Julia's weekly KPBS art slash arts. I've been speaking with KPBS arts, producer and editor, Julia Dickson Evans. Julia. Thank you.

Speaker 8: (19:00)

Thank you so much, Jane. Have a good weekend.

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Congressional leaders were delivered a bombshell yesterday when an open letter to lawmakers raised caution over the Border Patrol’s Critical Incident Teams. Plus, San Diego researchers are traveling to and watching Scotland online next week as scientists and world leaders gather there to talk about climate. And, this weekend, you can add some art and culture to your spooky weekend with outdoor performances of Shakespeare's creepiest scenes, Latin-inspired classical ballet and some artistic community ofrendas.