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U.S. Border Agency Report: Some Agents Create Justification To Use Deadly Force

BEAVER ISLAND STATE PARK, NY - JUNE 03: U.S. Border Patrol agents talk while at a marina on the Niagara River at the U.S.-Canada border on June 3, 2013 in Beaver Island State Park, New York. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, monitors the 5,525 mile long border, including Alaska, forming the longest international border between two countries in the world.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

BEAVER ISLAND STATE PARK, NY - JUNE 03: U.S. Border Patrol agents talk while at a marina on the Niagara River at the U.S.-Canada border on June 3, 2013 in Beaver Island State Park, New York. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, monitors the 5,525 mile long border, including Alaska, forming the longest international border between two countries in the world. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

Some Border Patrol agents have used excessive force during the course of their work, even putting themselves in situations in order to justify an overly aggressive response, according to a new report. 

The report, which the U.S. Border Patrol's parent agency released Friday, was commissioned amid complaints that agents used excessive force, a step that the new commissioner said was part of a commitment to transparency.

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) found some agents are suspected of intentionally placing themselves in the escape route of assailants in fleeing vehicles before firing guns, creating justification to use deadly force. 

The PERF is a nonprofit group that advises law enforcement agencies. It reviewed 67 Border Patrol cases related to use of deadly force from January 2010 through October 2012, 19 of which resulted in 19 death.

The report said some shootings of rock throwers were questionable, especially when the attackers were hurling projectiles from across the border in Mexico. The 21-page report, which does not address specific cases, said some agents may fire at rock throwers and vehicles because they are frustrated.

The report was released with revised guidelines on use of force that prohibits agents from firing at moving vehicles or rock throwers unless there is "imminent danger of serious physical injury or death" to them or someone else.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said in a statement that the release of the report is an encouraging step toward improving transparency at Border Patrol. However, he said the findings speak for themselves.

“The PERF report unfortunately also confirms what we have known for far too long: We need significant improvements in policy uniformity, transparency, and accountability at CBP," he said. 

"More work is needed to establish uniform and clear practices that put an end to preventable deaths at the border," he added.

The Customs and Border Protection agency had kept the report under wraps since it was completed in February 2013, resisting calls from members of Congress and immigration activists. R. Gil Kerlikowske was noncommittal at his confirmation hearing in January but said Friday that he prevailed in an internal debate about whether the report should be made public.

"We had a difference of opinion, and I won," Kerlikowske said at a news conference in Washington.

The agency had refused to make the report public even after the Los Angeles Times reported on its contents in February. The American Civil Liberties Union's San Diego affiliate sued in federal court last week to try to force the agency to turn it over.

Immigration activists, who urged Kerlikowske to release the report when they met with him Tuesday in San Francisco, claimed victory. Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, called it "a turning point for the strained relations between Customs and Border Protection and civil society."

Presente.org, the nation’s largest online Latino organizing group, released a statement by its executive director, Arturo Carmona, saying the CPB report confirms what has been long known, "that the U.S. Border Patrol is an agency out of control whose agents are murdering Latinos on the border for rock throwing and other similar incidents." 

“We need more than words – he added – more than a review to honor the lives of those we have lost: we need action to change these policies and guarantee that our Border Patrol is not in the business of murder."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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