In March of 2022, Alfredo fled his home country of Guatemala due to a lack of economic opportunity. Two days into his journey of crossing through the desert, Border Patrol found his group and began pursuing them. A Border Patrol agent ran into Alfredo with his ATV. After he was already on the ground, the agent then ran him over with the ATV, causing immediate excruciating pain to his leg.
Officers went as far as to push him into the ground and handcuff him despite the clear damage that had been done. They eventually put him in the back of a quad bike and drove him two hours on bumpy desert roads to an ambulance, and he was taken to a Tucson hospital where he was told the damages were not significant.
After that, the U.S. Border Patrol attempted to expel Alfredo to Mexico under Title 42. This was unsuccessful because Mexican immigration officials refused to take him when they saw his injury. Because of this, he spent an entire day being taken back and forth between detention centers. Alfredo used the little energy he had left to beg for more medical attention to ease his agonizing pain, but he was mostly ignored.
Border Patrol agents eventually expelled him at 10pm because at that time Mexican immigration authorities were not on duty and therefore could not object to his return. It was then that he found his way to the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora.
“I remember that he came in and he was limping,” said Sr. Tracey Horan, the Associate Director of Education and Advocacy at KBI. Upon hearing his story, she directed him towards a medical specialist that confirmed he had substantial damage to his knee and needed surgery.
Sr. Tracey also helped him file a complaint with two government accountability offices: CRCL (Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties) and OPR (Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility). To her surprise, both CRCL and OPR responded and agreed to conduct an investigation on the incident. OPR even conducted an interview with Alfredo at the port of entry. “Sr. Tracey is like an angel to me,” said Alfredo.
A year after the complaint was filed, we received a response from the agencies saying that they had reviewed the footage and interviews and found that the complaint was substantiated. They recommended disciplinary action against the agent.
“Border patrol accountability has been one of our advocacy goals for the past several years. This particular complaint and the fact that we got a response that said that someone was actually held accountable, that’s a first for us in the years that we’ve been filing complaints,” said Sr. Tracey.
Alfredo spent around three months in Nogales accompanying other migrants who came into shelters. “I saw migrants come all the time with injured faces, hands, feet and more, and it was all from Border Patrol officers. I constantly thought to myself that Border Patrol often treats us like animals, as if we aren’t human,” said Alfredo.
KBI got Alfredo in contact with an ACLU lawyer, and he eventually crossed over to the U.S. on humanitarian parole. With the help of Casa Alitas, he reunited with his sister in Seattle and began his long and difficult search for health insurance so he could get treatment for his knee.
Through KBI, Alfredo was also connected with St. Joseph’s Parish in Seattle. Because he already had housing and a lawyer, St. Joseph’s Faith Justice Commission found small ways to accompany him, such as giving him rides or inviting him to social gatherings. “It’s really been just a joy to get to know him as a friend,” said Mark Petterson, the Director of Communications and Justice at St. Joseph’s.
When he spoke to Alfredo for the first time, Mark was “unfortunately not surprised” upon hearing of the abuse that had happened to him. “It’s incredibly unfortunate how agents of our government treat the most marginalized people among us and the folks who need the most help. Far too often our migrant neighbors and friends are used as political pawns in totally off-based rhetoric, and what I would say is that they’re literally our neighbors, and we’re called by the gospel to treat our neighbors as ourselves.”
Alfredo’s surgery was finally scheduled a year and three months after the incident on June 6th, 2023. Mark and Alfredo’s sister waited for him in the hospital all day and took him home. Though the surgery was a success, Mark recounted the surgeon’s reaction to his case: “I would say his tone of voice was almost horrified when he actually got into the surgery and saw all the damage to Alfredo’s knee.”
Alfredo is now resting, spending his days in intensive physical therapy and working through his trauma with a mental health professional. “They ruined me, cost me my happiness. I liked to play soccer and run outside, and I liked to dance at parties happily with my family and friends. I can’t do any of that anymore. I’ve always been a hard working man, and I can’t do heavy work anymore either. It’s gonna take me a lot to get out of this.”
Though Alfredo is currently in the U.S. through humanitarian parole, he is seeking a path to legally stay in the U.S. for a few more years. “I want this to be an example to migrants not to be dismayed. If Border Patrol hurts you, reclaim your rights, because we all have rights.”
Like St. Joseph’s Parish, it is imperative that more communities and parishes open up their hearts to lend a helping hand to migrants. As Mark said, “It’s actually very simple to just accompany someone through what can be a complex system, but you don’t have to know the system. You just have to be willing to be there with someone.”