Southern Border Region: The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), led by the relentless efforts of border residents and families of victims, have pushed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to recognize the need for meaningful transparency, accountability, and oversight within the nation's largest law enforcement agency. SBCC efforts led to Congressional inquiries, national, and international pressure for reform, the public release of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report along with the revised Use of Force Manual and now the piloting of the use of body worn cameras. The implementation of body worn cameras is a significant step forward that acknowledges the concerns of the border communities and will be implemented in El Paso, Texas, Seattle and Blaine in Washington, West Palm Beach, Florida, and Detroit.
Although the piloting of body worn cameras is a step towards progress in accountability and transparency, we must see a tangible change in the culture of violence and impunity within CBP to prevent the frequent tragedies and human rights abuses that take place in our region. CBP has a history of violence and impunity: since January 2010, CBP officers and agents have killed at least 38 civilians, and no agent has been publicly held accountable. Last year marked the most violent year in the past five years for border communities as human rights groups documented CBP agents or officers fatally shooting at least 9 individuals.
Several police departments around the nation are already using body worn cameras and have seen improvements in accountability. In Rialto, California, where the impact of the cameras has been studied systematically, the number of complaints filed against officers as well as the reports of use-of-force by officers fell significantly. If the use of body-worn cameras is considered to be a best practice for police departments, then it should also apply to CBP whose officers we encounter daily in our communities.
Implementation of body worn cameras can be an effective tool for curtailing law enforcement misconduct and documenting incidents when they occur. There have been several incidents where eyewitnesses have documented the use-of-force by border patrol agents against unarmed persons which have raised concerns in border communities. The videos documented in turn created the space for the public to hold the agency accountable. One of these use-of-force incidents recorded by cellphone and personal video cameras by passersby was the horrific beating of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas on May 28, 2010. The damaging video aired nationally on PBS' "Need to Know", which brought national attention to the brutality and lack of accountability within CBP.
In response to this latest development, Christian Ramirez, Director of Southern Border Communities Coalition, released this statement:
Border residents must remind the President that our region is home to tens of millions of people from San Diego, California to Brownsville, Texas and should be consulted in policies that address accountability in border agencies. Border communities urge the White House to mandate CBP, nation's largest law enforcement agency, which continues to be plagued with serious cases of misconduct, to fully implement the body worn camera program which is vital to improving professionalism and transparency within the agency.
Vicki B. Gaubeca, Director, Regional Center for Border Rights and SBCC Co-Chair stated:
Finally, the cries of harassment, abuse of power, and fear from border community members have been heard. Equipping port-of-entry officers and Border Patrol agents with body-worn cameras, governed by privacy protections, will help protect abuse victims, and if used appropriately, these cameras will help ensure that CBP's interaction with community members is fair and lawful.
Alyssa Hernandez, from the Northern Borders Coalition, stated the following:
Testing body worn cameras is a good step toward curbing abuses by Customs and Border Patrol Agents by making operations more transparent. We also need a change in the culture at CBP to respect the civil and human rights of immigrant families. That change in culture has to come from the top through training and accountability.
Maria Puga, widow of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, released this statement:
Body worn cameras will be an important tool for greater accountability of Border Patrol and Customs agents in their day-to-day operations, but only if effective rules are in place that removes individual discretion for when agents can turn the cameras on and off, and also if those regulations include disciplinary action when agents fail to operate their cameras during contact with civilians. I believe that body-worn cameras would have provided necessary evidence in the death of my late husband, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, if they would have been in place in 2010.
While this is a tremendous step forward, we are concerned about the lack of meaningful support for full implementation of the program from the White House. We urge congress to stand with the border communities.
The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) brings together more than 60 organizations from San Diego, California, to Brownsville, Texas, to ensure that border enforcement policies and practices are accountable and fair, respect human dignity and human rights, and prevent the loss of life in the region.