As Congress considers legislation that trades more border militarization for Dreamer protections, SBCC urges policymakers to consider the guiding principles below to prevent throwing good money after bad in any legislative negotiation.
LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES - DECEMBER 2017
The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) represents border communities in the four southern border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas who are living within 100 miles of the US-Mexico border. An estimated 15 million people call this diverse, vibrant region home. It is biologically rich, economically vital to the nation, and one of the safest areas of the country, according to FBI statistics.
For more than a decade, the Southern Border region has borne the brunt of an insatiable political drive to militarize our border with Mexico, which is, ironically, our second largest trading partner and a country that is historically tied to ours. The region already has close to 700 miles of border fencing, more than 30 permanent interior checkpoints, and nearly 20,000 border agents operating throughout our counties under the control of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), now the nation’s largest law enforcement agency with a $14 billion budget.
The increased militarization of our communities has occurred without a commensurate increase in agency accountability, without community consultation, and with little data-driven decisionmaking. Consequently, CBP has become, arguably, the most corrupt and abusive agency in the federal government and one of the least responsive to our communities. It grows without restraint, fed by political rhetoric rather than informed reality.
As Congress considers legislation that trades more border militarization for Dreamer protections, we remind policymakers that one-fifth (20%) of the Dreamers live in the border region. For them and their families, increased funding for CBP and heightened militarization in the region translates into an expanded deportation force in our communities. Increased militarization also means more abuse, more corruption, more interior checkpoints, more racial profiling, more unwarranted searches, and more impediments to legitimate trade and travel.
The well-publicized case of Rosa Maria Hernandez, the ten-year-old girl taken into custody by “border” agents at an interior checkpoint while traveling between her hometown of Laredo, Texas, to the closest children’s hospital, in Corpus Christi, for emergency surgery was unfortunately not an exception. Residents living inside the United States in border counties are regularly stopped and questioned, sometimes with dire consequences.
SBCC urges policymakers to consider these guiding principles to prevent throwing good money after bad in any legislative negotiation:
- Ensure CBP adheres to the law and is held accountable for civil rights abuses and corruption.
- Ensure affected communities are consulted to understand the impact of legislative proposals.
- Ensure border security policies are driven by data and take into consideration threat to life.
To inform the discussion about possible legislation, SBCC offers the following recommendations for and recommendations against specific border-related proposals. SBCC also offers itself as a resource for further information and guidance related to any other border-specific policies not mentioned below. Contact Christian Ramirez, SBCC director, firstname.lastname@example.org; Vicki B. Gaubeca, SBCC policy and communications strategist, email@example.com; or Jennifer Johnson, SBCC border policy advisor, firstname.lastname@example.org.
SBCC RECOMMENDS THESE BORDER MEASURES
Border communities want measures that ensure accountability, community consultation, and data-driven decisions that consider threats to life. Some of these elements are in bills sponsored or supported by Republicans.
- More Investigative Personnel. Fund adequate oversight: (1) more CBP Office of Professional Responsibility personnel (Rep. McSally’s amendment to Rep. McCaul’s “Border Security for America Act of 2017,” H.R. 3548, added 550 OPR personnel) and (2) more DHS Office of Inspector General personnel.
- Body-Worn Cameras with Privacy Protections. Rep. Espaillat’s “ ICE and CBP Body Camera Accountability Act” (H.R. 1608) includes provisions to expand body-worn cameras for agents and officers. H.R. Rept. 115-239 (for H.R. 3355 FY18 DHS Appropriations) page 25 refers to the need for clear policies that protect the privacy of both CBP personnel and the public. In September, 20 House Republicans supported an amendment by Rep. Castro to add funds to CBP's body-worn camera program.
- Reduced Zone for Border Patrol Activities. Sections in both Rep. McCaul’s bill (H.R. 3548, Sec. 106) and Sen. Cornyn’s bill (S. 1757, Sec. 106), call for Border Patrol to operate “as close to the physical land border as possible.” This may be an opportunity to reduce the 100-mile zone authority, which Rep. McSally indicated she supports. The Senate's 2013 immigration reform bill (S. 744) included an amendment by Senators Leahy and Murray to reduce the 100-mile zone to 25 miles at the northern border.
- Analysis of Impacts of Border Enforcement on Border Communities. Rep. McCaul’s bill (H.R. 3548, Sec. 115) and Sen. Cornyn’s bill (S. 1757, Sec. 120) require a threat analysis and strategic plan. Rep. Hurd’s “Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology Act (SMART)” (H.R. 3479) provides a strategic analysis specific to the effectiveness, costs, and community effects of a border wall (Sec. 102). Any analysis and plan should factor in civil liberties, property rights, and quality of life, which were in a bill unanimously passed by the House Homeland Security Committee in its 2013 Border Security Results Act, H.R. 1417.
- Data Collection on Stops. More data collection is needed than what was in Rep. Thornberry’s FY17 NDAA and should be expanded to include stop data such as in Sen. Gillibrand’s 2013 “Immigration Enforcement Transparency Act” (S. 260). Sen. Gillibrand has a new version of this bill pending.
- Study on Deaths in Custody. Sen. Cornyn’s “Building America’s Trust Act” (S. 1757, Sec. 505) requires the GAO to submit to Congress within 6 months a report on the deaths in custody of DHS detainees including number of deaths, whether they were preventable, policies followed, and proper reports made.
- National Border Security Advisory Committee. Sections in both Rep. McCaul’s bill (H.R. 3548, Sec. 113) and Sen. Cornyn’s bill (S. 1757, Sec. 114) establish an advisory committee of landowners. B order communities would amend these sections to include a broader cross-section of stakeholders.
- Rescue Beacons with 9-1-1 Relays. Rep. McCaul’s bill (H.R. 3548) requests improved communications capabilities for agents in the Big Bend, Del Rio, Blaine, Spokane, Havre, Grand Forks, Detroit, Buffalo, Swanton, Houlton sectors. Rep. Hurd’s SMART bill, H.R. 3479, provides satellite phones with GPS and 9-1-1 capability for people in remote areas. The Senate's 2013 bill (S. 744) included 1,000 rescue beacons.
- Study on Migrant Deaths & Grants to Facilitate Identification. Sen. Cornyn’s bill (S. 1757, Sec. 506) requires the GAO to submit data on migrant deaths as well as CBP’s procedures for notifying relevant authorities or family. Under Sec. 153, the bill would also provide grants to state and local governments and NGOs to reimburse costs associated with transporting and processing unidentified migrant remains.
SBCC OPPOSES THESE BORDER MEASURES
Border communities oppose proposals that would further militarize the region to the detriment of our communities. These harmful proposals are found in several House and Senate bills.
- Additional Border Wall, Fencing or Other Physical Barriers. These include gates, vehicle barriers and levees that threaten irreparable damage to fragile ecosystems, harm transborder trade relationships, risk life-threatening floods, trample sacred indigenous land, and involve the unjust taking of private property.
- Waiver Authority that Rolls Back Protections for Our Communities. Waivers eliminate environmental, health, cultural, and other safeguards that protect us. Sections of Rep. McCaul’s “Border Security for America Act of 2017” (H.R. 3548, Section 112) and Sen. Cornyn’s “Building America’s Trust Act” (S. 1757, Sec. 113) provide broad authority to CBP to waive at least 36 Acts within 100 miles of the border. Cornyn’s bill (Sec. 161) authorizes the appropriation of $200 million to implement these waivers.
- Additional Border Patrol Agents - A Regional Deportation Force. The Border Patrol functions as a deportation force in border communities, instilling fear not trust. In 2017, agents apprehended a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy on her way to the hospital, arrested a domestic violence survivor at a courthouse, and regularly harass border residents inside the country. The agency operates with near total impunity, subjecting border residents to abuse and jeopardizing the country with corruption. The agency has failed to meet its existing hiring quotas and has not demonstrated the need for additional agents to patrol the actual border, especially when each agent is apprehending an average of 1-2 people per month.
- Watered-Down Hiring Requirements for CBP Applicants, Including Polygraph Waiver. Watering down CBP hiring standards jeopardizes national security and public safety. Applicants hired during the last CBP surge, including former military and police officers, engaged in corruption at a rate far exceeding other agencies. Some worked for international drug traffickers and others engaged in notorious abuse and sexual assault.
- More Funding for Excessive Authority in Expansive “Border” Zone. Under 8 U.S.C. 1357(a), border agents operate interior checkpoints, board and search vehicles, and engage in other enforcement within 100 miles from any land and sea border. Currently, border agents are deployed in the southwest, but they assert the jurisdiction to operate anywhere in the 100-mile perimeter of the country, which encompasses a full two-thirds of the U.S. population. We oppose any additional funding for this excessive authority, which subjects residents to checkpoints and roving agents who assert the right to stop, frisk and interrogate anyone without probable cause, contrary to the 4th Amendment.
- Surveillance Technology Devoid of Privacy Protections. U.S. border communities have had to endure the indignity of surveillance technologies in our neighborhoods, including unmanned aerial vehicles, drones, automatic license-plate readers, facial recognition scanners, and backscatter X-ray vans at interior checkpoints. Some legislators suggest deploying further surveillance technologies to the border (Cornyn’s S. 1757 and McCaul’s H.R. 3548) with zero privacy protections. This is invasive and unnecessary.
- More Resources to Prosecute Non-Violent Entry and Reentry. Sen Cornyn’s bill, S. 1757, aims to increase criminal prosecutions for illegal entry by 80 percent. Members of Congress have also suggested a “Kate’s Law” measure that would further criminalize entry. But enhanced penalties for entry or reentry, which are non-violent offenses, would only clog our court system and prisons at the expense of prosecuting violent offenses. It would also exacerbate the Inspector General's identified concern about prosecutions of asylum seekers. Draconian enforcement is not a substitute for reforming our broken immigration system.