On May 13, dozens of members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the U.S. side of the Santa Fe Street border bridge in El Paso, Texas were handing out pamphlets to people they refer to as “international commuters” from Mexico, listing their rights under American law. The group is part of the ACLU’s “Know Your Rights” campaign, which encourages immigrants – both legal and illegal – to report abuse when their rights are violated while crossing the border.
“We are working towards policies that will change that, and will address that type of treatment to innocent people.” said Cynthia Pompa, representing an ACLU office New Mexico, as reported by local El Paso news station KTSM. “Everyone should feel like they can be respected, that they’re not criminals. They are just here to go to school, to contribute to the economy.”
But even Pompa acknowledged that the vast majority of border crossers who come into contact with Border Patrol agents or CBP inspectors at the ports of entry are not subjected to any abuse at all. She gave KTSM an example of a 54 year-old woman who underwent a fruitless cavity search because a narcotics dog falsely detected the presence of drugs on her body. While Pompa admits most crossers don’t undergo invasive searches, she believes not everyone has a pleasant experience. “Verbal abuse, asking a lot of questions that are humiliating” are the examples she provided.
Customs and Border Protection are just as concerned about the mistreatment of both legal border crossers and illegal immigrants. Unnamed officials told KTSM that if you believe you have been treated unfairly, there are a few things you can do. “The best option…speak to an on duty supervisor where the interaction occurred immediately,” they explained. “Or note the name of the officer, the date and time of the interaction, and exactly where it happened.”
In practice, few illegal immigrants detained by U.S. authorities who truly believe they have been mistreated feel comfortable reporting wrongdoing, fearing they will be judged uncooperative and face deportation.
Like any other law enforcement agency, the Border Patrol has officers who behave unprofessionally and inappropriately with detainees. However, instead of improving internal agency practices to prevent mistreatment of detainees, campaigns and pamphlets like these created by the ACLU can do more harm than good. Honest reports of mistreatment provide crucial feedback to CBP managers, but false reports – which could be exploited by groups like the ACLU for publicity – can damage CBP’s reputation, and ultimately prevent agents from doing their jobs.
A small-scale effort like this one in El Paso is unlikely to cause a major shift in reporting of alleged abuses by illegal immigrants – or “international commuters,” as the ACLU refers to them – but it’s worth noting, in case this sort of campaign grows larger in the future.
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about cross-border issues in her latest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.