Border Patrol Will Change Its Use Of Force Tactics, But Is It Enough?

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) will restructure its training program in light of 19 detainee deaths at the hands of border patrol agents since 2010, according to a statement released on Wednesday.

The “Border Patrol Training Manual” will now include more than 90 recommendations culled from three reports (“an outside review, an internal audit and a separate report by the department’s inspector general”). It will implement a major change to the “Use of Force Policy Handbook” in which “excessive force is strictly prohibited.” Agents “shall use only the force that is objectively reasonable to affect an arrest, while protecting the life of the agent, officer, or others.” And deadly force is allowed when the individual will likely harm themselves or others.

Agents will also have to undergo several days of force training. New training facilities will include simulations like a fake border fence. The agency will also take up an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recommendation to mount cameras on vehicles and bodysuits.

A February 2013 survey by the Kino Border Initiative found that Border Patrol agents verbally abused one in ten migrants. Worse, agents committed some other form of abuse against one in four migrants.


Vicki B. Gaubeca, director of the ACLU of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights said in a statement on Wednesday, “The biggest missing piece here is clear and transparent accountability for officers involved in use-of-force incidents that lead to serious physical injury or death. Without a commitment to end the culture of impunity at CBP, the agency’s good first steps will lead nowhere.”

The Border Patrol has promised to make future advancements, but it remains to be seen whether it will make changes to other policy areas. Here are some of the CBP practices that have come into the spotlight within this year that are testing the limits of its authority:

The Border Patrol agency discriminates on the basis of race. The U.S. Border Patrol settled a lawsuit on Tuesday which charged that patrol agents racially profiled against three U.S. residents who were stopped at the U.S.-Canadian border during “suspicionless stops.” As a result, the U.S. Border Patrol will have to share information about its traffic stops with the ACLU of Washington and the Northwest Immigration Rights Project over the course of an 18-month period.

Agents use the border search exemption of the Fourth Amendment in order to justify searches that have nothing to do with the border. The Fourth Amendment requires court-ordered search warrants, but searches on the border are exempt under the guise of border protection. Along the lines of “suspicionless stops,” agents search individuals at the border who carry in electronic devices such as laptops and cell phones without “reasonable suspicion of a crime or without getting a judge’s approval.” On more than one occasion, federal investigators used its border search authority as a means to investigate U.S. citizens to get around violating the Fourth Amendment.

Asylum seekers are threatened with deportation orders. Under the 1996 immigration law, asylum seekers who believe that they will be harmed if they return to their country have the right to speak with an asylum officer. Some asylees are held in temporary holding cells for more than 13 days. The shared cells are called “hieleras,” or iceboxes by CBP agents, according to AIJustice, wherein detainees find their extremities turning blue from the cold. Detainees are not given blankets and the toilet is out in plain sight. AIJustice interviewed several detainees who said that CBP officers threatened to send them somewhere “worse than the hieleras’” if they don’t sign their deportation orders.