In This Episode
DeRay, De’Ara and Kaya cover the underreported news of the week— including a stark racial bias among forensic scientists, the unique impact of Roe v Wade on Black women of the South, and a US Representative’s public declaration of “victory for white life”. DeRay interviews leader and activist Andrea Guerrero of Alliance San Diego about the cover up unit within the U.S. Border Patrol Agency.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, Kaya, De’Ara talking about all the news that you don’t know, the news that didn’t become big stories but should be things that you know about, with regard to race, justice, and equity. And then I sit down and have one of the more fascinating conversations I’ve had where I learned a ton, because it’s about U.S. Border Patrol. And I know about Border Patrol, I’ve heard about it, but I’m not an expert on it. We deal, mostly in my activism world, mostly with the local police department. There are 18,000 of then. Border Patrol is the biggest federal agency for sure. And I learned a ton. Because I sat down with Andrea Guerrero, Executive Director of Alliance San Diego, to get to the bottom of what’s going on at the border. I learned a ton. I hope you learned a ton. And let me tell you, this will influence my activism day-to-day, and my organizing, because I love the conversation being like, Oh my goodness, we have a lot of work to do.
You’re angry. We’re angry. Let’s do something about it. From directly supporting patients who need abortions right now, to electing pro-choice candidates in 2022 and building a progressive majority over the long term, you can find everything you need to fight back in our Fuck Bans Action Plan hub at VoteSaveAmerica dot com/Roe. The advice for this week is talk to your friends. So a lot of stuff is going on. It is you know, Roe v. Wade gets overturned. Clearly the police are still very much being the police–like, it’s just a lot going on. You know, the Supreme Court struck down the conceal-carry law in New York and have been around for a hundred years. I say talk to your friends because you got to process this stuff. The only way that you’ll start to organize or start to build power, it like, starts with you having an understanding of the issue deeply. And the only way you can have an understanding is to talk about it. So get some friends together, ask each other all the questions, read the articles. Like, you got to start talking about this stuff, and all the best organizing starts like that. It’s like a call to a friend that’s like, Hey, this, what do you think about this, da, da, da? Got to practice it. People like me, we’ve had a lot of time talking about it because our work is to talk about it, but you got to do it too. And there are a lot of issues that I’m not an expert on, and the way that I become informed about the path forward is by talking about it. So please talk to friends, process it with people. Don’t just take in all this stuff without some processing.
De’Ara Balenger: Family! Welcome. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @Dearabalenger.
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me @Hendersonkaya on Twitter.
DeRay Mckesson: And that’s DeRay. DERAY on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: Woe is me. Oh, you know, it’s interesting because I think we knew this was coming since the draft of the Supreme Court ruling was already leaked. Like, I think we knew what was coming, but still, it was so shocking to see Roe versus Wade be overturned. Now, of course, I have lots of feels, because as you all know, I worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016, and this is especially for the white ladies, because remember how y’all didn’t like Hillary? And we tried to tell you what was going to happen? Now, I’m not trying to blame or shame, but I really do want white women to get together. Kaya and I will help you, with venue, with programing. We will get together, and understand how to heal, because I think some is going on with y’all. And not that I’m blaming y’all, but in in my search for how to process this, I keep coming back to the same insight: we just didn’t like her. We didn’t like her. And here we are. Roe versus Wade is overturned. And not only that, my little gas-ass marriage may be overturned too. You know, there’s so many cases now where crazy-ass Clarence Thomas–probably not supposed to say that word–is now like, his insight was like and this precedent is going to lead us to overturn all the, relook at all these other things. It’s just–I mean, obviously, we’re all angry. We’re all, in shock, I think, even given what we’ve been through in the last, you know, kind of whatever, 4 to 6 years, Trump, etc.–but I think this is really a shock to the system that, I was surprised how upset I was, even though I knew it was coming. So, I don’t know, just, y’all will have obviously more insightful, helpful things to say. I’m just being petty and, you know, and looking for blame.
Kaya Henderson: I don’t know about insightful or helpful, but there’s so much to be angry about. There’s so much to be angry about, right? Like this court wilded out this week. They said yes more guns than anybody could do whatever.
De’Ara Balenger: Oh my god, the guns!
Kaya Henderson: No, the police don’t have to read you your Miranda rights. And to put the icing on the cake this week, let’s claw back abortion. And I mean to watch these people sit here like–you know, the thing about democracy is it’s supposed to be representative, and when 60% of the country or upwards of 60% of the country says that they don’t think, that they do think that women should have access to abortion, but these sanctimonious people sitting there that were appointed by a president that didn’t win the popular vote, and who lied in their confirmation hearings and said that they would not upset the precedent, went up there and gutted people’s uteruses. Like they performed, I mean, it’s beyond me to think about how this is, especially with a party who is all about choice for a whole bunch of other things. And so I don’t understand, I really don’t understand how on the one hand, you should say–I mean, the way they think about gun ownership is about choice, right? People should be able to buy as many guns, however, wherever, however, right? It’s their right to do that. But women don’t have the right to decide what to do about their bodies. It is like, I am, you know, because it’s a few days later, I am like calmer about it, but, you know, this is where I want to just flee this place because it sucks living here sometimes. And not all of us have that option, so Imma stay with my people. But jeez, Louise. Maybe DeRay has something insightful to say.
DeRay Mckesson: I just say, you know, so all the shock and all the horror. I think that I was frustrated by, the thing that really pushed me over the edge was on our side, when the Dems stood on the steps of Congress and sung whatever they sung, God bless America. And you’re like, Ya’ll, what the right understands is power. They get it. And they, rules be damned, whatever. They just get power. And I think that we are going to like play by the rules into oblivion. It’ll be one of those things where we’ll be like, Well, page 62 said–they gonna burn all the books, they’re gonna destroy everything–we’re like, But on page 80, we are supposed to—and like, you know, people are frustrated with AOC, and I do think AOC pushes the line in the envelope and I support it–but people are frustrated with her being like, You could open things up on federal–and it’s like and what I loved about AOC’s push is she’s like, Well, put out a better plan. She’s like, You know what? If this ain’t the plan, put out something better. But you know, Hillary said this, and Hillary said it people said she was being dramatic, she was saying it to be inflammatory, da, da, da. And like, here we are. So shout out to abortionfunds, you know, dot org. We had some people on the podcast a while ago to talk about medical abortion. I didn’t even know about medical abortion before a couple of months ago when we had people in the power to talk about it. So I am, I feel, I hope that this will lead to some activism, but I do worry that people are, that we got to build more activist space so people know how to get involved and know what to do. Because I’ve seen a lot of people think that, like donating just isn’t enough, and we will need more bodies to, like, show up and push and understand policy and elect the right people. The last thing I’ll say is that there is disinformation going on–I don’t know if you saw it–around voting. That bots are telling people not to vote. That like part of the strategy is to say, is to over-index on this idea that voting doesn’t matter and da da da, to depress the Democrats from coming to the midterms, which I thought was interesting.
De’Ara Balenger: I think the other side to that, DeRay, and this is, I mean, I wanted to throw my phone to the ground, but I’ve lost two phones in one month, so I didn’t do that, but when I saw Nancy Pelosi’s tweet that said it was something along the lines of like, We need to get them at the ballot box. Now, we did that. Joe Biden is president. We have a majority in the Senate, in Congress. What more could these Dems need to get something done? So I think it’s partly, it’s just, like I’ve been just reflecting on like, are our leaders like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi? I mean, for crying out loud. And I think just my experience, for years in the Democratic Party and working on presidential campaigns, for the Dems, it’s so much about individual power control and so less about collective good, and actually like bringing democratic values to life. And so I see so many people that are allowed to be in politics for so long, and, you know, what is most important to them is keeping their power and keeping their position versus the good of the people. So I think, in terms of the action, I think that’s where my head is, is like, how can I hold elected officials in our party accountable in ways that make them really, really, really, really uncomfortable because I think that’s where I am. I’m just like, enough is enough. To us, just having mediocre power-driven leadership, like we actually need people that can bring about change and care more about the collective than their own individual being in Congress for 30 years. And speaking of that, I’m going to jump into my news. And my news is old. It’s like, it’s not that old–it’s from June 20th–but it is about Black activists, Black women activists who are, who’ve been very active and in their advocacy and they’re pushing in terms of reproductive health for Black women. And I wanted to highlight this because I’ve had the pleasure of working with and knowing Monica Raye Simpson. And she is the person that I go to when, when anything is happening around abortions because her perspective is so Black women-centric, particularly what’s happening to Black women in the South when it comes to abortion and reproductive health and the lack thereof. She’s a leading activist in Georgia. Again, her name is Monica Raye Simpson. Please, y’all get to know her. Her organization is called SisterSong, and what she talks about–and I think DeRay you’d be interested in this–is she was already saying like, you know, it’s going to be overturned, and what we really, in addition to worrying about Black women’s health already, because we’ve we’ve talked endlessly about how Black women are more vulnerable when it comes to maternal health care, is the over-criminalization that will come with making abortion illegal, right? So we already know that Black folks obviously are, you know, there’s over-criminalization that happens with Black folks, but given now, particularly in the southern states, that abortion is going to be illegal, the number of Black women that will be, you know, sought after, terrorized, prosecuted, incarcerated, because they’re trying to make a decision about their body. I think that’s really where, where my mind is now going, getting that we’re like, you know, trying to process everything that happened, is like what is, what are going to be the consequences of this? And I think that’s going to be a huge consequence across the South for Black women. So, you know, I think it’s something that we should really be paying attention to. It’s something that we should also be creating activism around, creating insight around, because I think it is going to be a real, real concern.
Kaya Henderson: Yeah. I mean, this just continues the conversation. As I was listening to pro-life activists celebrate this decision, one of the things that came up was this thing that this article actually talks about, and that is that these people are not pro-life, they are pro birth, right? So they want women to have the babies, but they don’t take into account things like the mortality rate for Black women who are pregnant, which is much higher than white women. They talk about these crisis pregnancy centers that they are setting up in their churches, but these are not usually hospitable to people who look like us. We’re not dealing with what happens when babies are born, we’re not making sure that there’s health care in place, we’re not making sure that child support is in place, we’re not making sure that a decent early education is in place. And so, you know, I want to know whether all of these folks who are pro-life are going to adopt all of these babies that are now flooding the market because these women can’t afford or don’t want to, or whatever. I mean, it’s just bananas. And so I’m thankful to people like Monica Simpson who are on the ground, working it out. For so many people, we woke up and this, you know, terrible thing happened, but this sister has been toiling in the vineyard on this issue forever. And, you know, if we remotely have a chance of pushing this back or figuring out what to do, it’s people like her who are going to lead us in that direction. I do want to know, like, you know, I think the Republicans are quite witty about it, right, like they’re tricky with it, as DeRay said. So why are we now pursuing all of the things that I see on the socials, right? Why don’t we from the moment of conception, let’s make sure that the father’s insurance covers 50% of health care and that we start child support immediately? Why don’t we ensure that women have paid time-off to take care of all of these babies that they’re going to have? Why aren’t we, as Democrats, pursuing legislation to make sure that every single baby born has health care that covers them up until whenever? Why aren’t we making sure that we’re doubling down on early childhood education? Why aren’t we making sure that these kids have a guaranteed place to live? Like you just can’t tell me you’re pro-life–I mean, literally, y’all, a couple of weeks ago, we didn’t have baby formula enough for the children in this country that are here. But we need more babies, right?
De’Ara Balenger: Come on, Kaya.
Kaya Henderson: Okay. Sorry, I’m done.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, this is actually going into my news. No need to wait. Is that at the first rally that Trump was at after Roe v. Wade gets undone, there is a Representative Miller in Congress. She literally says, “President Trump, I want to thank you for the historic victory for white life in the Supreme Court yesterday.” And I say that because, you know, people–Kaya had brought it up at one point before–but people would say things like, you know, the idea that this is a part of the Republican strategy to literally just birth more white babies–that that’s like a little conspiracy theory-ish and you guys are like being dramatic, and, you know, the talk about white supremacy is overblown. And then she literally says at a rally, “this is a victory for white life.” This is not about babies. This is not about–I mean, it’s like out in the open.
Kaya Henderson: You can’t make this up. You can make this up. You all were like, Oh, my gosh, Kaya, that’s so oh–that’s not where this–
De’Ara Balenger: But wait, did y’all–to get back in my petty–did you all see Lauren Santa Domingo’s tweet about Ivanka, which was, I mean, she later took it down.
DeRay Mckesson: She said, We remember the abortion that we took you to.
Kaya Henderson: Whoa!
De’Ara Balenger: Your friends remember, Ivanka.
Kaya Henderson: Wait, wait, wait. Then somebody, hold it, hold it —I can’t remember, I’m a old lady, I can’t remember nothing–but somewhere on a Twitter, some representative made a, you know, a sort of We’re so excited that, you know, this thing has been overturned, and, you know, we can birth the babies that God sent. And somebody else was like, except when your son forced me to take Plan B when we had whatever, whatever. Come on. Listen, this stuff–and here’s the thing, people are like, Oh, we’re going to shame them into . . . the thing is, these people ain’t ashamed. They’re not ashamed. They’re going to keep on getting abortions. They’re going to keep on doing all of the things that they want to. This is not about them. We got this wrong. That lady said, “victory for white life.” Y’all, come on. But this lady also, you know, said some Hitler stuff. She quoted Adolf Hitler earlier, I think earlier this year, where even Republican folks rebuked her, and was like, This a little too much. She said something like–if I remember correctly–she said Hitler was right about one thing. I think Hitler said something like, if you have the youth of a country, you have the future of the country. And she was making the case that the GOP needed to deeply win the hearts and minds of young people, and she decided to pull out the Hitler card, because that’s a popular one.
De’Ara Balenger: That’s appropriate. That’s appropriate
Kaya Henderson: It’s a winner. It’s a winner, with some subset of people. And so she was rebuked by the government–by the Republican Party for her comments about Hitler. But then to add insult to injury, did you see this picture that she posted in her, she, you know, her clapback tweet is, I will always defend the right to life. And she has this picture with her and what is probably her husband and a whole bunch of little children, some of whom look like me and you, ya’ll, and, er, I’m not really sure if that’s her family. I’m like, I don’t know. But it creeps me out, I’m just going to tell you.
DeRay Mckesson: It is nuts. It is out in the open and I think that people, you know, it’s an interesting too–and this is just like what annoys me–is that people will say things like, Take to the streets, we got to fight, da, da, da. And I’m looking at all those people who weren’t, they weren’t ready to fight at any of the other stuff. Like, you don’t have the moral license to tell anybody they need to go outside and go to battle when you stand up in the house, chillin.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is Coming.
Kaya Henderson: Well, speaking of women having babies, my news this week is a really disturbing article about how–let’s see, what is this about? It’s about so much–it’s about medical examiners who complete autopsies, and the question as to whether or not they’re influenced by prejudice, racial bias, and a close relationship with the police. There was a study done by the Journal of Forensic Sciences that showed evidence of cognitive bias by forensic science scientists. What they did was they gave over 133 scientists two identical cases, right? The evidence was identical in both cases, and it was around the death of a baby. And one baby–the scientific circumstances where the exact same–but one baby was under the care of a white caregiver and the other baby was under the care of a Black caregiver, specifically the mother’s boyfriend. I think it was a mother’s boyfriend in the Black case and the white grandmother in the white case. And this this study overwhelmingly showed that damn near all of the medical examiners ruled it an accident, the death as an accident when it was the white caregiver, and as a homicide when it was the Black caregiver. This bias in the medical examiners profession is huge. In fact, the way deaths get investigated, there are medical examiners, there are freelance experts, there are coroners who–we’ve already talked about on this podcast are elected, some of them, and have no medical training whatsoever–and these people work together to decide what happens when people die. And in this these particular cases, you have three things that are conspiring to work against fairness and objectivity. One, there’s a reluctance to admit even the possibility of bias. So when this report came out, the medical examiners were like, Oh, hell no, that’s not us. They say there are just a few bad actors, right? In fact, one expert who sits on a federal committee to reform the medical examiners profession said that medical examiners where uniquely resistant to adopting reforms, and that they stand out in their recalcitrance. So this is a profession that is reluctant to admit bias. This is also a profession where there’s a tremendous lack of diversity. And they go through a case of this amazing woman, Dr. Carter, who’s an African-American medical examiner, who was the only, you know, went to Howard, which has the only pathology school at an HBCU. She was the only Black in her residency and her this and her that and the other, and her unique perspective matters quite a bit. And I’ll tell you why. The third issue is a cozy relationship with law enforcement. So these medical examiners work with law enforcement hand-in-hand. And all of those things increase the chances of racial disparities when medical examiners make errors. This comes to life in a in a story about a woman who lived in Georgia, ended up giving birth in Mississippi to a premature baby, and the hospital’s released the baby even before she began to gain weight. And the woman took the baby home. The baby wasn’t thriving appropriately, and the mother was concerned. She was calling doctor’s office and trying to figure out what was going on with her baby. At some point, the baby’s in crisis and not breathing. She brings the baby to the hospital and they take on Herculean efforts to try to revive the baby. And the baby dies. They never explain to the woman why the baby dies. The woman goes home, she’s grieving this child, and the medical examiner, when they did the autopsy of this baby–I mean, this lady is calling all every day because she wants to understand what happened to her child. And there’s a backlog. And there’s a this and there’s a that. More than a year after the death of this baby, the the medical examiner makes a ruling that this was a homicide, that the mother killed the baby, that rectal tears, that blunt force trauma, that all of these things that could frankly have been caused by the life saving efforts, that they actually were indicative of a homicide. And the long story short is this lady goes to jail, right? She is charged with capital murder. Her two toddlers are taken away from her. She’s you know, I mean, she’s just in hell in jail for almost a year. And her lawyer is saying, you know, how could this be? When you look at the medical examiner’s report, the medical examiner never talked to the doctor after or examined the hospital records. The medical examiner made this determination solely on, I don’t know what. And luckily, this woman’s lawyer was exhausting all efforts and she got the expertise of Dr. Carter, this one Black woman who’s a medical examiner, and Dr. Carter read the report and was like, This is absolutely crazy, there’s no way this lady could have killed her child. And because they were able to to challenge the prosecution and send, you know, evidence that this is inconsistent with any other autopsy that would be conducted, the charges were dropped, literally the day before this lady was to go to trial. She had had a farewell dinner with her colleagues at work. She was, she had given her children to–you know, this lady was upending her whole life because she was about to go to jail for a long time. And Dr. Carter’s professional expertize as a Black woman and lack of cognitive bias in the autopsy is the thing that changed everything for her. And so, you know, these are the things when we talk about systemic racism, people want to act like, you know, Oh, it’s just a couple of people are–no these are the things that are baked into the way we live. Could you imagine losing your newborn and grieving your newborn and trying to deeply understand what happened, and nobody is telling you and then all of a sudden you’re charged with capital murder and in jail for a year?! Like, that wouldn’t happen, that is not likely to happen to a white woman, but very likely to happen to a Black woman. And it did. And so we have to, I mean, there are all of these things that we’re not paying attention to where bias and racism just pop up and, you know, consume our abilities to thrive. It just, I hate this place, sometimes. I won’t give it up because we built it. But this is, this, this story was so egregious and hurt my heart for a mother who wanted her child, who did everything that she knew how to do, and this profession won’t stand up and recognize that it’s unwillingness to act is literally helping to compromise people’s lives.
DeRay Mckesson: So forensic science, a big sham. And we’ve done it for a long time, but it’s not really public. So these stories help to legitimize it for people, that forensic people, the medical examiners and the coroners, it’s like, it really is a whitewash. And there’s no accountability. And with the medical examiners, people feel like their doctor, da, da, da. So it’s like really hard–literally. I mean, this story highlights—it’s like, only the medical examiners can challenge the medical examiners, right? Or a prosecutor maybe. But it becomes really, really hard. And I don’t know if you knew this Kaya, but that study has been widely contested by, the medical examiners are fighting the study tooth and nail.
Kaya Henderson: Tooth and nail.
DeRay Mckesson: They are like, they are hell-bent on trying to discredit the researchers, discredit the research about it. But it just is in line with everything that we know to be true already. But across the country, the medical examiners are a real challenge. And there’s never been like an organized front to challenge them. It really does become these like pockets. It’s like one story, one story. But this study was a game changer, because it was the first study that validated people’s feelings about medical examiners being like site of contestation, and what happens when it’s like all white, when people come in with their beliefs about communities and family and what it looks like. And, you know, same thing with SIDS. You know, there’s a conversation about all these families that were accused of killing their kids because of SIDS, but really like it wasn’t actually them. And like, how do we stand up to people who have the academic credentials but sometimes that are wrong, and we have to bake in the fact that they can be wrong.
De’Ara Balenger: I mean, I think Kaya, this takes me to something to DeRay covered a while back just about medical examiners being elected. Medical examiners, actually not being as I think what we all assume they would be, like trained doctors. Right. And so I think this is just lends itself, you know, it all becomes, it all, you know, makes perfect sense. But I think, you know, I think to your point around how her life was completely turned upside down in that her children are, you know, she wasn’t able to care for her children for a year. This article talks about how her children had to strip naked to to undergo an exam. But it’s just like–how can, how can this be? But it is. And it can happen to any one of us, at any time.
De’Ara Balenger: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome activist, organizer, leader, Andrea Guerrero, to chat about the cover-up unit within the U.S. Border Patrol Agency, and a whole host of other things. Let me tell you, I learned that time. There were things about Border Patrol that I had heard, but I had never really talked to somebody who, like, understood it really well, like, who had worked on these issues who like knew border patrol, until my conversation. Andrea. Amazing. I hope that you learn from it too. And the folks at Alliance San Diego are doing incredible work. Shout them out. I will stop talking now so that we can get the conversation. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson: Andrea, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Andrea Guerrero: Thank you for having me. Really excited to be here.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, I was excited to talk to you because, you know, I don’t know as much about the nuances of your work as I want to know. I care about the issues around the border, I care about the issues around Border Patrol, but like just not an expert there. I know a lot about the police departments and local and local communities. Can we start by your story, though? How did you get to this work? How did you get to Alliance San Diego? Why have you chosen this as your work?
Andrea Guerrero: So I come from a mixed-race, mixed background. I started my journey in Mexico, and moved to the United States when I was very young. And I have, throughout all of my life, experienced the challenges of being an immigrant, of being a border resident in various states along the border. And my heart and my passion is to build a more inclusive democracy, and part of that involves making sure that people, no matter where they live or where they come from or what they look like, that they have the same access to civil and human rights, constitutional protections, that all of us should have. And that led me to this fight with Border Patrol, because they, more than any other law enforcement agency, are infringing on those rights of citizens and non-citizens alike.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. And what is Alliance San Diego.
Andrea Guerrero: Alliance San Diego is a community organization working to build collective power to create a more inclusive democracy. We’ve been around for about 15 years. We are small but mighty, and we lead a number of coalitions, and also participate and follow others in coalition work around the country.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well let’s get into the nitty gritty. What’s going on at the border? What’s going on with Border Patrol? And can you maybe start zoomed out? Like, can you tell us like, for people who have only heard the phrase Border Patrol, like what is Border Patrol? How many people? What’s different between Border Patrol and like your local Joe Schmo Police Department or sheriff? Can you start there, and then lead us into the issue?
Andrea Guerrero: Sure. So Border Patrol is a 98-year old law enforcement agency that has a troubled history. It began as part of the slave patrol in Texas, morphed into a patrol that patrolled for migrant workers, and ultimately became the U.S. Border Patrol. It is now part of the Customs and Border Protection or CBP agency, and that is the largest law enforcement agency in the country, larger than all the other federal law enforcement agencies combined. And so when we think about an LAPD or a NYPD, think much, much bigger about CBP, and specifically about Border Patrol, which has about 20,000 agents on the southern border region alone–60,000 agents total for CBP. So that’s a lot of agents. The Border Patrol agents outnumber local police in nearly every city and town along the southern border, and they have more power than other law enforcement agencies have. So in the McCarthy era, in the 1950s, Congress gave, what was then a much, much smaller Border Patrol, gave them the power to enter onto property and board planes, trains, and automobiles to search people within a reasonable distance. That reasonable distance creeped over the years, and post-9/11 has become essentially the whole country. We see Border Patrol agents showing up at police reform protests in Minneapolis and Portland, and we see them showing up at First Amendment protests in Washington, D.C. and major cities around the country. Remember they have the ability to search without warrant, according to the statute that Congress passed in the 1950s. They have other powers as well. There are all sorts of exceptions that they benefit from that other law enforcement does not. And they have more abuse and more impunity than any other law enforcement agency in the country, with very little oversight and accountability. When you think about, for example, FBI, the ratio of internal investigators that are overseeing the activities of FBI, the ratio is 1 investigator for 50 agents. But at CBP, which is largely made up of Border Patrol, the ratio is 1 to 500–so very little oversight of the agency, which has led to a whole host of problems. In the 98 years of Border Patrol’s history, no agent has ever been successfully convicted of killing someone here in the United States, and they’ve killed probably thousands. We’ve been tracking the killings since 2010 and they’ve killed over 200. So we are very concerned both about the abuse and the impunity. We’re concerned about what I call the triple threat: Border Patrol has extraordinary powers, they have extraordinary jurisdiction, and they have extraordinary resources. And all of that comes with very little oversight, which makes them a threat not only to us here in the border region, but to the country as a whole. Their vision is to become a national police force, and that is, we founded this country in a revolution to reject a national police force, i.e. the Redcoats, and here we are with an agency who has designs to become a national police force, something that at the outset of this country we said ‘No’ to, and we should continue to say ‘No’ to.
DeRay Mckesson: Andrea, I have a million questions that came up from that, that overview. The first is, can you tell us why did Congress give such incredible latitude to Border Patrol with warrants in all this–like, what was the what was the rationale back then? And why has nobody, even a Democratic trifecta when we had Congress and, why was this, why couldn’t we change that?
Andrea Guerrero: You know, that’s a really good question. And we’ve looked into the legislative history and it’s unclear. And, you know, the 1950s McCarthy era, that was a very anti-immigrant period in our history and Border Patrol was much smaller at the time, and their range, which was much smaller–think ten miles instead of hundreds of miles. And so maybe it felt like no big thing to give them this pass on what is a constitutional right to be free from warrantless searches. But Congress gave them a power in the statutes that is called “powers without warrant” allowing them to board and search within a reasonable distance. So that’s what the statute says, “within a reasonable distance.” That reasonable distance has creeped and creeped and creeped and post-9/11, it essentially is the United States. There is a 100-mile marker where they have automatic power to do these things. We don’t concede that they should have that power. The Constitution is sacrosanct. Congress, we believe, doesn’t have the authority to give them a pass, But they have been operating with that perceived authority and it’s been very difficult to charge them in the courts. Because the other thing that we’re dealing with is that is sovereign immunity. You can only sue the federal government if they give you permission to do so. And recently the courts have been unwilling to allow for that, and Congress has not legislated for that. We’ve asked for that. There’s a bill pending that Senator Padilla has introduced that would give everyday people like you and me the ability to sue agents who violate our civil rights and our constitutional rights. But right now that hasn’t been passed, and we are in a, between a rock and a hard place now.
DeRay Mckesson: Where does Border Patrol operate? I would–obviously along the border–but is there like a part of the border that’s particularly bad? Is that everywhere? I feel like people see one part of the border conversation in the news. So is it concentrated, you know, around the southern border? I don’t know, like, or is Border Patrol an issue everywhere or is it not? Is it really just the southern border of the country?
Andrea Guerrero: Border Patrol is absolutely concentrated in the southern border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. They also operate in the northern border states and in the perimeter of the country. But if you look at their own map, Border Patrol jurisdiction map, it covers the entirety of the United States. And so, for example, I live in San Diego. The San Diego Border Patrol sector ends at the Oregon border. And the sector above that goes all the way to the Canadian border. And those, that coverage is repeated eastward with complete coverage throughout the United States. They operate at all of the airports in the country. They, and as I mentioned earlier, they have been showing up at First Amendment-protected protests around the country that have nothing to do with their mandate, have everything to do with asking for reform of police, for government accountability, and for protection of our civil, constitutional, and human rights.
DeRay Mckesson: How did you get to this? Like did you have an encounter with Border Patrol one day and you’re like, This is wild? Or did you–I don’t know, did you did you grow up around Border Patrol or did you watch a documentary? Like, what was the thing that got you to be like, Wow, we need to focus on this?
Andrea Guerrero: A lot of things. You know, my own family has had interactions with Border Patrol their whole lives. I myself have as well. And I’ll give you one anecdote. I was on a train from San Diego to Los Angeles to give a speech on immigration-related matters, specifically on Know Your Rights in Los Angeles. So I’m on a train, I am northbound. I am just outside of Disneyland. I’m close to Los Angeles, but I’m not quite there. And I could see Disneyland to my left, when Border Patrol agents board the train. It’s an early-morning train, there aren’t a lot of people on the train, and I’m talking to my father in Spanish over the phone, and Border Patrol agents hear me and they approach. One sits down next to me and the other hovers over me and they block my exit and they ask me where I was born. Now, that’s a complicated question for me because I was born in Mexico. I don’t travel with my passport or proof of citizenship or proof of ability to be in the United States. And I knew because I am, I was previously an immigration attorney, that it’s no big thing for them to haul people off the train and even deport them and put the burden on them to prove their citizenship, from outside of the United States. So having handled cases like this, I knew that the danger of me answering that question was that I would be taken and deported. And so I didn’t answer that question. I paused, I waited, and I said, I’m a U.S. citizen. Again, I didn’t have any proof of that on me. And we played a staring game and ultimately they walked away. Now my English is without accent. I’m fair skinned. I’m guessing that all of those worked in my favor, and that’s why they moved on. But if I had been my brother or my father, darker-skinned or with an accent, perhaps I wouldn’t have been as lucky. And certainly there are other people, many other people who have not been as fortunate, right? And so I’m a person who trains people on Know Your Rights. I’m a person who knows the laws. I’m a person who allegedly knows how to defend myself. And I can tell you, I was scared to death. I was a single woman on that train with two large agents who looked menacingly at me, who had no goodwill in their eyes, whose every intention was to search out people who gave them the wrong answer. They were hunting for people. And to be the object of that hunt was terrifying. It was terrifying. So that’s an example. And then, of course, the work that we do here is to assist people–in places like San Diego, half of all children are children of immigrants, and one third of all of our residents here are immigrants, from all over the world, not just from Mexico. So the issue of immigration and also the issue of law enforcement, because for us, this is as much about immigration as it is about law enforcement. We very much treat this as in the bucket of law enforcement reform. Every egregious thing you could think of police doing, multiply that by ten and that’s what Border Patrol is doing.
DeRay Mckesson: What can we do? Like, what’s the fix? Is there like a, do we want a different person to lead the agency right now? Do we want congressional hearings? Do we want like, what do you what can we do?
Andrea Guerrero: Well, that’s a really good question. I mean, you know, I’ve been at this, I’ve been looking to reform Border Patrol and CBP my entire professional career, and ultimately, the answer may be to disband this agency that has racist and rotten origins, and has proven itself to be corrupt and abusive, right? And so most recently, we have been able to expose cover-up teams operating inside of Border Patrol that have allowed them to operate with impunity. So our concern about this agency is is twofold. One, the abuse that they commit, and two, the impunity that they get away with. And it turns out that there is a cover-up unit operating inside Border Patrol. It’s the largest and longest standing cover-up unit in the federal government. It’s known by many names, but we can just simply call it the Cover-up Unit. And there are these units that answer to the Border Patrol chiefs. They are not authorized by Congress to exist, and yet they operate to handle evidence or mishandle evidence to cover up for the actions of agents. They show up every time somebody is killed or seriously injured. And their own stated purpose is to protect agents in the agency against any civil liability. That’s not a neutral role. That’s not an independent fact-finding role, and these agency, these units do not have any congressional authority. So we recently exposed these units to Congress. We sent a letter in October 2021 to Congress, which has prompted a congressional investigation. It’s also prompted the new commissioner of CBP to announce the elimination of these units. But we know that the commissioner’s announcement is not enough. And we know that they, the Border Patrol, is very capable of just reforming, reshaping, and operating these cover-up units in some other fashion. The fact that they had the audacity to mount a unit’s–investigative units, that are not internal affairs and are not authorized criminal investigators, but are specifically formed to protect the agents–the fact that they had the audacity to create that without congressional approval, run them in the shadows, makes us believe that they’re willing and able to do that again. Nothing about this agency has proven that they actually care about adhering to best practices when it comes to law enforcement. So we are working with senators in particular, to policymakers, to introduce legislation that would tighten up the oversight and accountability of Border Patrol. And when that legislation comes forward, we need everybody’s support to make sure that we have the mechanisms to hold the largest law enforcement agency accountable.
DeRay Mckesson: And what are some of those things that would that would tighten up the accountability? And what do you say to people–so when you talk about disbanding Border Patrol, I can see some people saying, Well, you know, there probably a lot of bad apples, right, but the whole thing’s probably not bad. What is going to keep the border safe, what’s going to make sure that people don’t–like all the racist tropes that you’ve heard over and over–what is the response to those people?
Andrea Guerrero: So we have, within the Department of Homeland Security, we have a number of agencies that are all focused on the border, and, you know, it may be, and all of them operate better than Border Patrol. Border Patrol has a particular history that is very problematic. Do we need inspectors at the border for agricultural purposes, for flows of goods and services, people? You know, that’s for, that’s for Congress to debate. We have seen in other parts of the world, like in Europe, the breaking down of borders. And it is my belief that perhaps not in my lifetime, but in my child’s lifetime, that the internal continental borders will push out to the to the continent. We just have too much in common with Mexico not to be trying to figure that out. But, you know, putting that aside for a moment, I want to tell you a story to really make it real, if I may. So I represent a gentleman by the name of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas and his family. He is deceased. He was killed in 2010 by border agents. He was a long-time San Diego resident who was apprehended because he did not have papers, as you know, millions in the United States do not. And because he held his head high and looked straight in the eyes of the agents who were handling him, he was described as “uppity”. He was described as somebody who did not know his place, and he was beaten for it. He was beaten repeatedly. His pants were removed. He was hogtied, placed face down in front of hundreds of bystanders, and he was tased repeatedly. Ultimately, an agent kneeled on to his neck, much like George Floyd, until he stopped breathing–put him into the same positional asphyxiation until he stopped breathing. But this story doesn’t end there. That’s the abuse. That’s what took his life. But what happened after is, should wake us all up. What happened after was that border agents approached the hundreds of people who were witness to this atrocity, and they took their cell phones and they erased the video. Then they dispersed the eyewitnesses. They never called the criminal investigators, which would have been the local police department. Instead, they went, they accompanying the body to the hospital, and Anastasio was resuscitated temporarily, and they there they removed the Taser wires from the hospital trays.
DeRay Mckesson: What?!
Andrea Guerrero: They ordered, they ordered blood samples from the doctors, blood samples that never appeared in the hospital record. They proceeded to do other things, including erasing the surveillance video, the government surveillance video that was on site. And they did this by, you know, all the while lying to local police about what was available and not available. So you don’t have to take my word for it. You can look at the San Diego Police Department investigative report, and you can see all of these things happening in the report. This is normal business for them, right? This is normal business that they would handle evidence, disperse witnesses, destroy video, and then pass anything that they learn–they create their own reports–they pass everything that they learn, and they pass them to the attorneys for the agents. They don’t give them to the police or the criminal investigators or internal affairs–no, they pass them directly to the agency. So what I’m talking about is a cover-up unit that we as taxpayers are paying for. They are abusing their, our resources. They’re certainly operating without any authority. And they are at the heart of impunity, right? So when I talk about a cover up, you should know that this cover up was done by agents locally under the supervision of the sector chief, with the blessing and approval of the U.S. Border Patrol Chief that oversees the entire operation of Border Patrol nationally, and not a single one of these agents has ever been held accountable. Not only that, but the Sector Chief during that incident was Rodney Scott, and Rodney Scott went on to become the U.S. Border Patrol chief under President Trump, right? So not only are individuals allowed to get away with all of this, but they are promoted up. In fact, if you want to be promoted up in Border Patrol, one of the questions you have to answer on the job application is having been a part of one of these teams, and if you have, they tell you that is viewed favorably, and so on and so forth. So we’re talking about–you know, these cover-up units have operated since 1987–we’re talking about generations of leadership in Border Patrol and CBP, because they promote up from Border Patrol, up to CBP, who have been a part of a cover-up units. What does that say about the integrity of the individuals involved? So when I say that the answer may be to dissolve Border Patrol and to stand up something else, I say it because it isn’t about a matter of bad apples. It is a systemic structure of impunity that includes, in its job applications, questions about participation in these units. You know, I think there’s an important role for inspectors to play at the border, and those inspectors should then refer to law enforcement, the appropriate law enforcement, when that’s needed. But should every inspector be a law enforcement agent? I’m not sure that’s necessary. And given the way that that Border Patrol has operated in its history is is honestly quite shameful, and certainly not consistent with the values and tenets of a democracy.
DeRay Mckesson: How did you find out about all this stuff happening with the cover up in this case? Like that is extensive cover up. I mean, that’s a lot. That’s a lot.
Andrea Guerrero: Right. Yeah. So it was through this case, we could see that there were people showing up, agents showing up, in these different places throughout the investigation, but what we didn’t understand was that together they all formed part of the same unit, a cover-up unit, which we did not–it’s like an assignment, right, that they have, to be a part of this unit. We didn’t understand that they were all part of this unit. Well, we got some inside information that helped us connect the dots. We worked closely with Jen Budd, a former Border Patrol agent, who allowed us to understand what we were seeing. And then we once we understood what we were seeing, then we could, then we started looking for these specific people everywhere. And we could see, you know, every autopsy where someone has died at the hands of Border Patrol, there is a Border Patrol agent present, and they are part of one of these cover-up teams. Every time that there’s an incident, these cover-up teams are the first on site. They have you know, they have special clothing, they they are proud of what they do, and they create these badges or these challenge coins and they collect them, and there’s a coin for every sectors unit. So they’re very proud of this. And we’ve come to discover them, right? So they say, you know, Critical Incident Team or whatever their name is, they have all the margins of what an investigative unit would look like, and this is how we know where they are, how they exist. We were able to look at people who had participated in this, who didn’t know any better so they were bragging about their work on LinkedIn and other social media, and we just started to pull the thread and we’ve been pulling it ever since. It started with one case, the case of Anastasio, a man and a name that is synonymous with the fight for border justice and dignity, and we hope it ends with, not just the elimination of the Border Patrol, a cover up unit. That is not enough. They have done so much harm over at least 30 years. You know, this is, the amount of harm to families and communities is egregious. This is really a moment for a truth and reconciliation process. This is more than a number of single cases, right? Looking at individual cases, we can see 45 cases where they are involved. But it’s getting harder and harder to see those cases because under Trump, CBP became a national security agency and became exempt from FOIA disclosures about their personnel. So, you know, we’re at a crossroads, America. We’re at a crossroads where the largest law enforcement agency–which only became the largest law enforcement agency after 9/11– this agency, CBP, enjoys extraordinary resources, extraordinary power, and extraordinary jurisdiction, and has demonstrated a level of abuse and impunity that is not incidental, but intentional, that we should be very, very concerned about. Until and unless we get justice for the families whose loved ones have been killed, which include U.S. citizens, include women, include children, we are all in danger. If they’re coming to your neighborhood, a neighborhood near you, you should be very concerned. What’s happening down here is a harbinger of what’s coming to the rest of the country, or is already there.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, I read that CBP said in a memo that they were phasing out these units by October. Do you believe that is that is that a good thing? Is that, what do we understand to be true?
Andrea Guerrero: Right. So the Commissioner issued a directive or a memo–a memo is the you know, the least form of policy imaginable, right? What we need is legislation. So a memo can be overturned, and we’ve seen through the years memos overturned as administrations change. But the memo directs the agency to eliminate these cover-up units following the exposure that, that we led. That’s a great first step. And I know, I want to believe that CBP Commissioner Magnus has the best of intentions, but I don’t think he understands the hydra that he’s dealing with. And we know that when, in the past, when these cover up-units have been exposed, that they simply change their name, right? And so it is not enough to eliminate them. We need to make sure that no part of Border Patrol is investigating itself. No part of Border Patrol has access to evidence or witnesses or autopsies or any part of the investigation of their own, because they are, well, it’s just not a, it’s not appropriate. It’s not appropriate. Investigations to have any integrity have to be independent, and they have to be external. So what we seek is independent and external investigations of law enforcement agents or officers at any level of government, but particularly within Border Patrol. They are the only law enforcement agency that we are aware of that has a unit like this, has a cover-up unit that whose job is to mitigate the civil liability of the agents. And they don’t, they have never denied that. They have never said that’s not what they do. What they’ve said instead is, Well, you know, it’s, so what? They’ve said. So what? And to that we have said the What is that in a democracy, there is no place for an unauthorized and rogue law enforcement agency to be involved in investigations. So we hope that Congress does more than applaud Commissioner Magnus for eliminating these units. What we really need is a full truth and reconciliation process to understand the harm they’ve done, reopen the cases that they’ve been involved in, and prosecute for obstruction of justice. You know, it’s, the abuse, it may be too late to prosecute for the underlying abuse, for the killing of people like Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, because the evidence was destroyed, the witnesses were dispersed, the agents have made it impossible to prosecute–but what they can do, or what we can do and and what criminal investigators outside of Border Patrol can do is now prosecute for obstruction of justice, because we have that in the record.
DeRay Mckesson: Where can people go to stay in touch with what you’re doing? How do people get involved? Should they follow you on Twitter or Instagram? What?
Andrea Guerrero: Yeah. So there are two places to get involved. One is my own organization Alliancesd dot org across all of our platforms, or southernborder dot org, which is the coalition website. We house a Southern Border Communities Coalition website, which is leading the charge on issues border-wide, and it’s a great resource page. It’s got a lot of information. It tracks the killings, it tracks other information about the border region, so you can know about the southern border region. And of course, you can track on me, andreacuerrero on social media or or elsewhere and you can find me on the website. But everyone should remember that even though I live in the border region, I’m telling you a story about the border region and the concentration of agents is in the border region, they are everywhere. They have the power to be everywhere. They have the jurisdiction to be everywhere. They have the resources to be everywhere. And increasingly, they are showing up to to inhibit First Amendment-protected activities calling for government oversight and accountability. And we should be very concerned about that.
DeRay Mckesson: What’s a piece of advice that stuck with you over the years? It’s a question we ask everybody.
Andrea Guerrero: Rest in reason, move in passion. And, I think in this work of social justice, often a David-and-Goliath fight, it’s important to sustain your energy and do so strategically. And so the mantra that I live by is to “rest and reason and move in passion.”
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. And the last thing I’ll say is there are a lot of people who feel like they’ve done everything they called, they emailed, they donated, they joined your thing, they joined my thing, and the world hasn’t changed in the way they wanted it to. What do you say to those people?
Andrea Guerrero: Sometimes we are the agents of change, and sometimes we are the people who are creating the conditions for a next generation that will effectuate that change. So I think about the Martin Luther King’s, I think about the Mandelas, I think about the Gandhis, and the Cesar Chavez’s and the many others who, and the civil rights activists, named and unnamed, who created the conditions for change that we have benefited from in our generation. And so I think we have to have some humility about what our role is in the historical arc and march towards justice. But I would also say this, that we are making change. The fact that we were able to expose these cover-up units and get the agency head to announce the elimination of these units within six months of our bringing them into public view, is extraordinary. The fact that we have legislation on deck that would eliminate them forever, and lead to obstruction of justice charges, and greater oversight and accountability of the agency, is, hasn’t happened and it’s about to happen. So, you know, look, I’ve been at this for 25 years and there’s certainly frustrating moments. But then there are moments, you know, when I see these kinds of of policy changes about to happen or I see government moving–which is like moving the Titanic–or I see, more fundamentally, I see the family of an Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, and I see the strength and their courage and the fight that they’ve given to fighting for justice for Anastasio–we recently erected a mural here in San Diego. If you ever here, come to Chicano Park and you’ll see a mural that it’s essentially an altar to Anastasio and the larger fight for justice. And it’s a reminder that our fight isn’t about a single incident. It may have begun with a single incident in this case, but our fight is about dignity. And that fight is an enduring and never-ending fight.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well, we consider a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back, appreciate you making time today.
Andrea Guerrero: Thank you for the opportunity.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out, make sure to rate it where every you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else, and we will see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrie and mixed by Veronica Simonetti, and executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.
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