A proposal for a new law aimed at improving training and accountability for U.S. Customs and Border Protection is moving forward.
Congressman Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) are working on legislation that would include improved training for border patrol agents and hope to introduce the bipartisan bill by the end of the month.
The congressmen said their offices receive frequent reports of excessive force and other misconduct involving border patrol agents from people in their communities. Right now there isn’t a coherent complaint process, but legislation from the two congressmen aims to create one.
In early March, the border patrol announced new rules for agents in the field, reiterating how the agents should respond to fleeing vehicles and threats of violence. The directive from Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher limits agents from shooting at moving vehicles or people throwing rocks at the them.
A recent independent review of border patrol shootings criticized the agency for “lack of diligence” in investigations. The review looked at 67 shooting incidents, resulting in at least 19 deaths, along the U.S. borders from 2010 to 2012.
One example of the stories their offices are hearing occurred Dec. 12, 2012 when a New Mexico woman was at the El Paso border entry port. She was subjected to more than six hours of searches on the suspicion she was carrying drugs. Border patrol officers found nothing.
Pearce said he hopes his proposal will help solve problems along the border.
“This proposal further emphasizes that together, our nation can find simple solutions to our broken system,” Pearce said. “Together we are moving the ball forward."
The two congressmen are pushing for new legislation so all individuals, U.S. and non-U.S. citizens, are treated fairly and respectfully when crossing the border into the country.
In the border patrol directive, Fisher also reminded agents they should not place themselves in front of moving vehicles or use their body to block the vehicle in the case of opening fire on the driver.
Border patrol policy allows agents to use deadly force if there is a reasonable threat of serious injury or death. This directive reiterates that agents should not be using their weapons unless absolutely necessary.
Local communities will have close involvement in the development of the legislation. The proposal hopes to create new channels for individuals in border communities to resolve issues with border patrol.
It also hopes to create multiple levels of oversight and accountability within the border patrol and independent of the agency. One way this would be done is through a Border Oversight Commission, which would have subpoena authority to examine agents and their actions including, use of force and search and seizures.
The bipartisan proposal will also look at how to develop new changes to training programs for agents as well as establishing stringent tracking of migrant deaths.