This article originally appeared on VICE.com.
On March 26, representatives Steve Pearce (a Republican from New Mexico) and Beto O’Rourke (a Democrat from Texas) introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would make the US Border Patrol more transparent and accountable by creating a commission to oversee the agency, establishing a process for filing complaints against it, and forcing agents to document instances when force was used against migrants.
It may not get very far in the process of becoming a law, but it is important legislation. Generally, when people talk about immigration reform and so on, “border security” is usually described as an agreed-upon good thing. It isn’t.
Searches conducted by law enforcement on people crossing the border don’t need to satisfy rigorous Fourth Amendment requirements about “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
This might seem logical, especially in the post-9/11 era, when fears about insecure borders feel reasonable to many people.
But most of the 21,000 Border Patrol agents aren’t trying to stop Osama Jr. from driving from Tijuana with a truck full of smallpox; they’re manning checkpoints — which can be up to 100 miles from the border — that harass both peaceful immigrants just looking for work and US citizens.
And while some of the more insane aspects of the war on drugs are being challenged, there’s still a bipartisan consensus that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol, is Keeping America Safe.
On April 10, the Daily Beast reported on some of the abuses perpetrated by the Border Patrol in a piece titled "The Border Towns the Constitution Forgot," which is well worth a read if you need something to be outraged over.
The core of the piece is a series of complaints filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in October and again in January over the Border Patrol’s propensity for harassing people in Arizona.
The ACLU’s account from Clarisa Christiansen, which was posted on their blog earlier this month, describes how the resident of Three Points, Arizona (a town 40 miles from the border), was pulled over by Border Patrol agents last May while driving with her two small children.
She said she was an American citizen, but the agents became nasty and then downright threatening when she asked them why they were searching her car. Allegedly, one agent even pulled out a knife and asked if he needed to cut her seatbelt off.
There are other horrors stories about law enforcement becoming overly aggressive near the Mexican border — sometimes this means local cops conducting body cavity searches for drugs, sometimes this means Border Patrol agents breaking the windows of a pastor’s car when he resists being searched.
As O’Rourke told the Daily Beast, “There are some really egregious incidents — people being detained for hours, their personal belongings confiscated, forced to undergo cavity searches, defecate in front of officers, and undergo CT scans to prove that they’re not smuggling anything.”
The sacrificing of rights in the name of border security hasn’t made the headlines very often, maybe because most of the people being hassled are minorities, maybe because “protecting America’s borders” sounds like an easy, noble cause.
The Pearce/O’Rourke bill is a step toward correcting the abuses perpetrated in the name of that cause, but the cause itself is a rotten one.
Photo via Flickr user Mark