Members of Senate Gang of 8 to Visit the U.S.-Mexico Border Wednesday

Border Groups urge Senators to bring accountability and oversight to border enforcement operations.

March 25, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

U.S.-MEXICO BORDER—Four U.S. Senators are planning a trip to the U.S.-Mexico Border later this week, prompting border groups to reaffirm their demands for more accountability and oversight to border security operations. The visiting senators are members of the Gang of 8, the Senate bipartisan group working on an immigration reform deal.

Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, will host Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado this Wednesday for a visit to the Arizona border to view conditions there as they try to finalize the bipartisan effort.

In response to this visit, border organizations re-affirmed that the border is safer than it has ever been and that there is no need for additional border security resources. Instead, the groups expect that resources be directed to more accountability and oversight.

"It is fiscally irresponsible to add more Border Patrol agents to an already bloated immigration enforcement apparatus," states Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, Texas. "Customs and Border Protection is now the largest law enforcement agency in the United States. U.S. taxpayers now pay more on immigration enforcement agencies ($18 billion) than we do on all other enforcement agencies—the FBI, DEA, ATF, U.S. Marshals, Secret Service—combined."

The Border Network for Human Rights, along with the ACLU of New Mexico and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, has recommended a DHS Border Oversight Task Force—composed of diverse appointed stakeholders, from northern and southern border communities and experts on border issues— to bring accountability to border enforcement programs, policies and strategies. The Task Force would oversee the implementation of federal policies and programs on the borders, and review the activities of federal agencies at the borders and in the immediate interior. The Task Force would also provide a mechanism to hold federal border enforcement agencies accountable and provide recommendations regarding border operations, complaint procedures, conditions in Border Patrol facilities and vehicles, DHS training programs, and federal border security and immigration policy. The Task Force will conduct independent investigations, evaluate, and submit reports, findings, and recommendations to the President, Congress, and relevant federal agencies on a semiannual basis.

"While Senator McCain contends that some areas along the border are not secure, the reality is that the number of border patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border has doubled since 2004," notes Vicki B. Gaubeca, director of the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights in Las Cruces, New Mexico. "A larger concern for border communities is that this massive increase has come with little oversight, which has led to human and civil rights violations and virtually no accountability."

There has been unprecedented expansion of personnel and technology at the border, including 10 border drones, 300 observation towers, and 21,394 agents—18,500 of which are stationed on the U.S.-Mexico border. Fencing now covers 651 miles of the border, twice the length in 2009. Despite this, some out-of-touch politicians still call for more.

This rapid and unchecked expansion has come at great cost to border communities. In addition to the use of excessive force, including deadly force, immigrant and border rights groups along the U.S.-Mexico border have registered thousands of abuses and racial profiling of people—including U.S. citizens—at the hands of CBP officials, including sexual abuse, unwarranted and invasive personal searches, unjustified and repeated detention based on misidentification, and the use of coercion to force individuals to surrender their legal rights, citizenship documents, or property.

"No one is above the law," states Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, a group that brings together 60 organizations from San Diego, CA to Brownsville, TX. "Congress must establish accountability and oversight measures to ensure that we put an end to the pattern of abuse and violence perpetuated by an out of control Border Patrol."

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