Bipartisan bill aims to hold border law enforcement accountable

Updated: Monday, March 17 2014, 09:00 PM MDT
Bipartisan bill aims to hold border law enforcement accountable story image

By: Bill Melugin
EL PASO, Texas – U.S. Reps. Beto O’Rourke and Steve Pearce are pushing a bill that seeks to hold U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents accountable for human-rights violations.

O’Rourke, a Democrat serving El Paso, and Pearce, a Republican serving New Mexico, are proposing the bill after a U.S. citizen filed a lawsuit against CBP in December alleging excessive search procedures.

“Unfortunately, we had a situation here in El Paso where a U.S. citizen woman was crossing the Bridge of the Americas,” O’Rourke said. “She was suspected of having drugs, she was detained for over 6 hours, she was invasively searched, strip searched, body cavity searched. She was given laxatives and forced to perform a bowl movement in front of CBP officers. She was taken to University Medical Center; there, doctors performed more invasive searches and X-rays against her will. And then at the end of the day she was sent a bill for $5,000. They didn't discover any drugs or any traces of drugs."

O’Rourke told KFOX14 the bill would give more training to CBP and Border Patrol agents, and help to hold them more accountable.

"The bill includes a commission with representatives from southern border states and northern border states that will have subpoena power to get information we need from CBP, from ICE, and from the Border Patrol,” O’Rourke said. “We’ll also have an ombudsman to whom anyone who has a complaint about how they were treated by law enforcement on the border can file that complaint to that person, and that complaint will be resolved in a timely manner."

O’Rourke expects the bill to make life on the border better for U.S. citizens and Mexicans, but also for the border agents as well.

“We can support those men and women who have those tough jobs with necessary resources, but there's also oversight, accountability and transparency,” O’Rourke said. “So when we want to know about the policies and the use-of-force guidelines, when we want to have someone who can take complaints from those who are traveling along the border that those things are resolved and processed, we can get that done."

O’Rourke said these days it’s rare to see Republicans and Democrats working together on something, especially when it comes to the border. Because the bill is bipartisan, he is expecting it to garner serious support inCongress.

"I see this improving the quality of life in our community. A lot of people don't know this, but we have 22 million crossings every year in just El Paso,” O’Rourke said. “Those are Juarenzes coming over to spend money in our stores, to go to UTEP, to work in our economy, but those are also U.S. citizens returning.”

On Friday, Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher issued a directive for agents to stop shooting at fleeing vehicles, and to consider all possible alternatives before using lethal force when projectiles like rocks are being thrown at them.

That directive reads in part, "Agents shall not discharge firearms in response to thrown or hurled projectiles unless the agent has a reasonable belief based on the totality of the circumstances to include the size of nature of the projectiles that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious injury.”

Bipartisan bill aims to hold border law enforcement accountable
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