New DHS Use of Force Policy Does Not Do Enough to Protect Human Life

SOUTHERN BORDER - This week, Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas announced updates to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Use of Force Policy. The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) commends Secretary Mayorkas and the Biden Administration for their efforts to respond to the national outcry for use-of-force policy reform and improved accountability mechanisms. While the new policy is a step in the right direction, it falls short of meeting international human rights standards and does not do enough to protect human life, putting communities across the country and in the border region at risk. 

Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of DHS, is the largest law enforcement agency in the county whose agents are responsible for over 250 deaths since 2010 and numerous violent encounters with migrants and border residents. According to the CBP’s own data, there were nearly 1,000 use-of-force incidents last year — a record —which averages out to three incidents a day. In the history of border agents, not a single agent has been convicted for taking a life on-duty and few are held accountable for excessive force leading to serious injury. 

CBP’s Use of Force Review Board has exonerated all agents for taking a human life, finding that their actions were within policy. That points to the inadequacy of the use-of-force policy, which is not sufficiently changed to make a significant difference. It also points to the lack of effective mechanisms to hold agents accountable. This includes the agents responsible for the killing of longtime border resident Anastasio Hernandez Rojas. In a landmark hearing before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights on that case in November 2022, the U.S. Government failed to meaningfully respond to allegations of ongoing abuse and impunity. 

While the standard for the use of lethal force was changed to ‘necessary’, it still falls short of meeting the international standard of ‘necessary and proportionate’ that is critical to protecting life. In fact the policy does not require agents to meet force with equal or lesser force. Although the policy includes language around de-escalation, that language is offset by a “no retreat” directive that undermines it. 

It is imperative that President Biden and his administration do more to ensure that all policies protect human life. For the millions who call the border region home and newcomers alike, this means having border agents that are trained to adhere to international obligations to protect human rights. It means having a use-of-force standard of “necessary and proportionate” that is adhered to without exceptions. It also means having the mechanisms to hold agents accountable if they violate our rights. This policy does not do that.

Lilian Serrano, Director, Southern Border Communities Coalition said:

“Life, liberty and security of person are the most fundamental rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Deploying use-of-force standards that are anything lower than “necessary and proportionate,” undermines the dignity of life and puts border residents at risk. There is more work to do to improve these standards and we stand ready to partner with the administration to do so. 

Alba Jaramillo, Chair, Southern Border Communities Coalition and Co-Executive Director of Immigration Law & Justice Work said: 

“This moment in time calls for bold change. While the new DHS use-of-force policy is a step forward, it must go farther to prevent the serious injury and tragic loss of life that persists unabated. It must also institute meaningful accountability, especially in light of the revelation that border agents have been covering up for each other through Critical Incident Teams. Border communities do not trust border agents to respect their rights, and they do not trust them to be held accountable when they violate them. DHS must do more to build our trust.”   

Andrea Guerrero, Executive Director, Alliance San Diego said:

“Human dignity is the point of a democracy. The notion that all of us are created equal with inalienable rights inspired the Declaration of Independence. The United States later led the world to proclaim the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which began, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas, you can lead with the power of example by protecting those promised rights, beginning with changing the use of force standard.”


About the Southern Border Communities Coalition

The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) brings together 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.



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Southern Border Communities Coalition is a program of Alliance San Diego.


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