Congress: Do Your Part to End Border Patrol Abuses
Yesterday afternoon advocacy organization representatives and congressional staffers gathered in a small room in the Canon House Office Building for a congressional briefing on No More Deaths’ “Culture of Cruelty” report. As we have reported previously (here and here), No More Deaths conducted interviews with nearly 13,000 migrants and documented 30,000 incidents of abuse and mistreatment by the U.S. Border Patrol in short-term detention over the course of three years. At the briefing, Danielle Alvarado from No More Deaths, Jennifer Podkul of the Women’s Refugee Commission, and Tania Chozet from the ACLU of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights each spoke about their experiences working with migrants near the border and their frustration surrounding the Border Patrol’s flat out denial of the report’s findings.
While the report presents a multitude of alarming statistics about the situation on our southwestern border (for example: “out of 433 incidents in which emergency medical treatment or medication were needed, only 59 (14%) received it before being deported – the other 86% were deported without receiving needed medical care”), yesterday’s briefing focused on the actions that members of Congress can take to alleviate the situation.
Despite the report’s disturbing findings, the Border Patrol has been unwilling to meet with No More Deaths locally. This is not an isolated incident–Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has a reputation for being unresponsive to both civil society and congressional information requests. The only existing oversight mechanism–the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties (CRCL)–is understaffed, does not have the authority to issue penalties or make binding recommendations, and is not independent enough to truly hold the agency accountable. Consequently, no one is asking questions about questionable Border Patrol policies.
In contrast, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has introduced access policies to allow advocacy groups to visit their detention facilities and conduct independent monitoring. This program allows ICE to benefit from the expertise and advice of the advocacy community as well as fosters dialogue about ICE policies. This model could provide similar accountability for Border Patrol policies and facilities.
The panelists emphasized that they are not asking that the laws go unenforced, just that they be carried out in a humane way. This kind of abuse and mistreatment is inexcusable, particularly in the United States of America. Moreover, though these policies are conducted under the guise of national security, human rights abuses do not make us safer. Congress can do a number of things to hold the Border Patrol accountable for their actions including adding oversight and reporting conditions in budget bills and calling for oversight hearings. Our members of Congress need to start asking the tough questions and requiring the executive agencies to take responsibility for the abuses occurring on their watch.
Want to do something about Border Patrol abuse? Sign our petition. Call the White House and ask the administration to launch an investigation. Contact your members of Congress and ask them to call for an oversight hearing. Make your voice heard!