U.S. Customs and Border Protection Announces New Use-of-Force Review Process: Update

UPDATE: Gil Kerlikowske, U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, just today announced that the agency will implement a unified, formal review process for use-of-force incidents. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson also announced a new delegation of criminal misconduct investigative authority to hold CBP personnel accountable. Representatives of the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, Border Action Network of Arizona and the ACLU of Texas welcomed these moves toward greater transparency but also noted there has been no disciplinary action taken for use-of-force incidents that have resulted in at least 29 deaths since 2010.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are on the move.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are on the move.
CBP/Wikipedia Commons

United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) engages in unlawful excessive use of force and lacks accountability and transparency, according to a report to the United Nations by the UC Irvine School of Law's International Justice Clinic.

The report, which was endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, was filed as part of a periodic review of all countries under the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review.

"International Justice Clinic students conducted research and visited the border earlier this year," explains third-year student Vahe Mesropyan, lead drafter of the International Justice Clinic report. "CBP officials are slowly acknowledging the problems of excessive force, accountability, and transparency, but serious problems remain. Greater international and domestic attention is necessary to generate lasting and meaningful policy change."

The CBP had not yet responded to a Weekly request for comment before this post was published. That will be provided in an update should it come.

The students, lawyers and activists that are part of the UCI law clinic surveyed reporting from the media and non-governmental organizations to demonstrate that dozens of use-of-force cases--including 47 involving death or injury since January 2010--have not resulted in transparent investigations or any accountability for those involved in the incidents.

"While there have been recent steps taken by CBP, such as releasing internal audits and a revised Use of Force Handbook, much more is needed," reacted Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. "CBP officials should be held to the highest standards of professionalism and the rights and dignity of tens of millions of border residents need to be protected."

Along with the CBP, the law clinic recommended the federal departments over it--Homeland Security and Justice--take steps to ensure accountability and transparency.

The UN General Assembly created the Universal Period Review in 2006, making every nation's implementation of human rights law subject to the scrutiny of governments on the Human Rights Council. The U.S. is next scheduled to be subjected to a Human Rights Council review in 2015. The UCI report certainly provides talking points.

In the meantime, the law clinic and ACLU plan to present their findings directly to the CBP, according to UCI. The CBP should be getting used to the UCI scrutiny by now; a separate law school clinic dedicated to immigrant rights is investigating roving CBP patrols in Southern California.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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