ACLU Border Affiliates Oppose Border Enforcement Provisions in S.744 Immigration Reform Bill

The ACLU Southwest Border affiliates, including the ACLU of California, issued the following joint statement in response to the Senate’s vote to proceed on immigration reform:

The Southwest border affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union strongly oppose the provisions in the S. 744 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act that hyper-militarize U.S.-Mexico border communities without  adequate accountability and oversight of border enforcement resources.  The rhetoric of a military-style “surge” on America’s home soil, akin to U.S. military operations abroad, reflects how misguided and offensive the substance of the border enforcement provisions has become.

[Lea la declaración, en español, aquí.]

As amended, S.744 calls for billions of dollars of wasteful spending on border enforcement at a time when border communities are among the safest in the nation, net migration from Mexico is at or below zero, and apprehension rates are near historic lows. The proposal ignores the unprecedented level of investments already made to secure the border and does not provide basic protections that are necessary to prevent the continuation of human and civil rights violations in the border region, which include rampant racial profiling and systemic excessive use of force.

S.744 would appropriate $46.3 billion or $38 billion more than the funding included in the committee-approved version of bill. It will more than double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol at the Southwest border to more than 38,000 agents in 10 years at a cost of $30 billion, mandate the construction and maintenance of hundreds of miles of border fencing at a cost of $8 billion; and require a $3.2 billion high-tech surveillance plan using drones and other surveillance technology in border communities.

When America’s school budgets, safety nets, and other vital programs are being cut, we abhor this massive increase in already bloated border enforcement resources. Just last year alone, $18 billion in U.S. taxpayer’s money was spent in border and immigration enforcement—more than all the principal federal law enforcement agencies combined.

As the immigration reform debate continues, we will work to improve accountability and oversight of immigration enforcement and to ensure that robust civil and human rights protections are in place, including:

  • Checks and balances on Customs and Border Protection (CBP) use of force:  Requiring better training, public reporting, and prevention of CBP uses of force to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths, including meaningful accountability and discipline for improper and unlawful use of force.
  • Humane detention:  Establishing short-term custody standards to ensure people in custody receive constitutionally guaranteed access to medical care, due process, and reasonable accommodations.
  • Accountability systems:  Improving the management and oversight of border forces and pushing for additional mechanisms for ensuring accountability for agents who abuse their authority. For example, by requiring CBP officials in the field and at ports of entry to wear lapel cameras that record all encounters with agents, protecting civilians from abuse and agents from false claims of abuse.
  • Reduce CBP authority to engage in warrantless investigative stops, which currently extends to 100 miles from the border, as well as authority to enter private lands within 25 miles of the border.
  • End the senseless and exorbitantly expensive prosecution and jailing of tens of thousands of migrants annually who pose no threat to public safety and could be processed administratively rather than sending them to abusive private prisons.

If immigration reform passes through the congressional process with this offensive “surge” in military resources and treatment of our border communities and without basic checks and balances, the ACLU stands ready to fight for justice and accountability through all legal means. With offices in Brownsville, Las Cruces, Tucson, and San Diego, a Regional Center for Border Rights, the coordination of a binational abuse documentation system, and a new Border Litigation Project—along with the partnership of allies and the backing of a strong ACLU National Office, we are committed to a long-term struggle to win back equal rights for our border communities.

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In a quote in today’s New York Times, the government of Mexico weighed in on the Senate’s compromise:

Its provisions, the toughest in the history of border-enforcement buildup, got Mexico to break its silence on Tuesday, when Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade told reporters: “Fences do not unite us. They are not the solution to the migratory phenomenon and are not consistent with a secure and modern border.”