_Congratulations to SBCC steering committee member and attorney Ian Seruelo, also a member of Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), on receiving a Community Service Award from the San Diego County Bar Association for his outstanding contributions to the needs of the San Diego community.
_A belated congratulations to SBCC co-chair Alba Jaramillo of Arizona Justice for Our Neighbors who received the Laura Penny Community Impact Award from the Women’s Foundation for the State of Arizona.
_DHS Secretary Mayorkas announced a newly re-constituted Homeland Security Advisory Council, which we hope will bring improved accountability and oversight of Customs and Border Protection.
_The dark side. Wow, the administration seems to have crossed over to the dark side when revealing a rapid response plan to address any potential irregular migration events in the U.S.-Mexico border. This plan seems to be precipitated by an alleged waning of the pandemic that struck the administration’s heart with fear and forced them to finally consider stopping the use of a weaponized public health statute, Title 42, to quickly expel migrants back to Mexico or to the countries from which they fled (note: alleged because on the horizon is the possibility of another COVID-19 variant that seems more contagious than Omicron). Well, it’s about time! If you’ve been living under the shadow of a rock for the past two years, our colleagues at Human Rights First just issued an explainer on the suffering created by this unlawful use of Title 42, including having tracked at least 9,886 kidnappings, torture, rape, and other violent attacks on people blocked in or expelled to Mexico — all, under the Biden administration.
But probably the darkest part of this rapid response plan is that the administration created a “Southwest Border Coordination Center (SBCC), essentially a war room to coordinate an interagency response.” Wait, what?
Not only have they co-opted our acronym, but they’ve also disingenuously stolen and co-opted part of our New Border Vision by stating, “. . .[the response plan] is good government in action. As always is the case this Administration is working every day to provide relief to immigrants, restore order, fairness, and humanity to our immigration system and bring it into the 21st century.” We coincide with the spirit of the statement, except the part that this coordination would be under Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency that has a long history of abusing people in their custody and that doesn’t even have a humanitarian attitude towards people seeking safety. Think about it. CBP created the position of Border Processing Coordinators, so that Border Patrol agents could instead go out into the field, chase down, and apprehend and separate families seeking safety. That’s way more fun than filling out paperwork or caring for people in their custody. To illustrate how unhumanitarian this agency is, check out the renovations they boasted about that were made to this processing center in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. A fine example of a gilded cage. Seems dark and sketch to us.
_Hiding the ball. This time congressional appropriators really hid the ball on Fiscal Year 2022 funding bills. We were surprised and deeply disappointed when we saw the negotiated text of Fiscal Year 2022 funding for the Department of Homeland Security shortly before it was passed by the House and swiftly passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Biden.
As noted in the release we jointly sent out with the Defund Hate campaign, “All along this federal funding bill has been kept secret, negotiated in backroom deals and left out of sight from the public and the majority of lawmakers. This was no mistake. It was Congress’ blatant attempt to conceal and quickly pass a bill that continues funding the violence of immigration enforcement at obscene levels, all while hoping to evade public scrutiny and backlash.” Pow!
The bill gives CBP a whopping $14.8 billion dollars, including $30 million for new border worn cameras and video recording equipment for Border Patrol Stations, which may provide a necessary first step for border accountability. Another $353 million is given to CBP for port of entry technology, border technology and so-called non-intrusive inspection systems — which we suppose is the administration’s attempt to build a virtual wall. Will there be any safeguards to protect the privacy of borderland communities?
But then the bill includes some puzzling items, like $23 million for “onsite mental health clinicians and resiliency efforts,” $30 million for “processing improvements,” and $1 billion for increased “border management requirements.” Hmmmnnn…Sounds like the administration and Congress is thinking about how to ramp up their rapid response plan noted above — and actually funded it before letting the public know what it was about.
After slogging through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 we found, on page 681, “SEC. 213. For an additional amount for ‘‘U.S. Customs and Border Protection—Operations and Support’’, $100,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2023, in addition to amounts otherwise available for such purposes, for Border Patrol hiring and contractors, retention and relocation incentives and contract support.” Nice way to hide the fact that CBP plans to hire up personnel in Border Patrol. Rep. Henry Cuellar cleared up the mystery by noting that part of the $100 million will go to hiring “about 800 new agents,” presumably Border Processing Coordinators because in his press statement he says, “For the past few years, I have witnessed this scenario time and again. Instead of conducting patrols and uncovering smuggling activity, Border Patrol agents are forced to spend the majority [of] their time caring for people already in custody and administrative tasks that are unrelated to border security. Processing coordinators help ease the workload on agents and bring a much-needed humanitarian approach to the care of unaccompanied children and other migrants in CBP custody.” Which is exactly the point we were trying to make above.
CBP, frankly, should be cut out of any effort to create an orderly, efficient and humane process. Even the mental health and resilience specialists may be corrupted in CBP’s toxic work environment. Maybe, just maybe, DHS could consider in its Fiscal Year 2023 budget request putting all of this coordination under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Afterall, FEMA is the DHS agency that has the most experience and expertise in coordinating and managing large responses in collaboration with other agencies and nongovernmental organizations. Too logical?
_Justice Delayed. Nearly 70 organizations joined us in continuing to demand a thorough and transparent investigation, justice and closure in the death of Carmelo Cruz Marcos (¡presente!), a 32-year-old father of three, who was fatally shot by a Border Patrol agent on February 19. SBCC member organization Frontera de Cristo organized a vigil for Carmelo on Tuesday, March 1, that included the virtual participation of his mother and sister. This vigil was part of their Healing Our Borders Prayers Vigil in Douglas, Arizona, which has been held every Tuesday evening since Dec. 10, 2000, to remember those who died while crossing through the desert in Cochise County. Several groups of faith also traveled to the remote area northeast of Douglas where Carmelo died to place a cross in his memory (story quotes SBCC steering committee member Mark Adams of Frontera de Cristo and Yours Truly). Border Patrol needs to be held accountable for excessive and fatal use of force. Justice cannot be delayed or denied any longer.
border_lines is published every other Friday for your reading pleasure. If you’d like to submit an item for inclusion, please email Vicki B. Gaubeca at [email protected], by Wednesday COB. The Southern Border Communities Coalition is a program of Alliance San Diego.